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Disruptive Trends Transforming Urban Mobility

Expert panel at the 2017 Smart City Expo World Congress

In November, we had the pleasure of spending three days at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2017 in Barcelona. Now in its 7th year, this exciting annual event brings together cutting-edge businesses and key stakeholders within urban innovation and technology. During the 3-day event, our CEO Ignasi Vilajosana was joined by three multidisciplinary smart city experts for a fascinating discussion on the future of urban mobility. We were lucky enough to hear these global thought leaders share their experiences and insights into disruptive trends transforming urban mobility today:

Peter Marland (@pete_marland), Mayor of Milton Keynes, UK
Ignasi Vilajosana (@ivilajosana), CEO of Worldsensing, ES
Will Judge (@wjudge2014), VP of Enterprise Partnerships, Mastercard, UK
Chris Atkins (@cdatkins74), VP of Digital Government Transformation, SAP, US

The speakers discussed how the cities of the near future need to be more responsive if they are to survive. Metropolises are becoming the centers of global economic development, but their leaders need to overcome pressing challenges before they can reach their true potential. City authorities are under more pressure than ever before, from forces as various as the growing push to increase civic participation in public decision making to sweeping geopolitical changes and squeezed budgets.

In the crucial area of mobility, cities must cope with overcrowded public transport systems alongside the rise of private-sector apps taking over public mobility services, such as Uber and Ouigo. Air pollution has evolved from a serious concern to an urgent public health issue, with transport systems taking much of the blame. It’s clear that a number of social, economic, political, and technological trends are working together to disrupt traditional urban mobility planning, as demonstrated by Mckinsey’s recent report on the future of mobility. We’ll bring you our key learnings from the panel, concerning the major trends that are changing the face of mobility in cities today.

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Disruptive Trends Transforming Urban Mobility

Prioritizing citizens

The speakers talked about the shift towards placing citizens at the heart of urban mobility policy and innovation. Both city councils and private companies are not only looking to develop their transport plans according to citizens’ evolving needs but also to actively involve them in forming and deploying these strategies, “co-responsibilizing” citizens in the process. Co-responsibilizing refers to making citizens feel invested in their local community through their participation in local policy-making and practice, in order to create communities where all citizens are mutually invested in each other, and the environment’s, well-being and success.

This is a result not only of disruptive solutions, such as Uber and CityMapper, directly responding to an individual citizen’s needs where local governments are failing but also of a recent trend within local government practice to increase civic participation in all types of political decision-making.

Civic participation can be enacted through “passive” means – data given consensually by citizens through their use of apps or low-grade sensors deployed citywide – or through more “active” methods, like civic hackathons, public forums and debates, or citizen surveys. Both public and private sector stakeholders now realize that listening to the varying transport needs of different population groups, particularly those who are vulnerable or marginalized (women, children, elderly people, ethnic minorities, peri-urban populations etc.) is key to developing effective transport solutions for the future.

New technologies for urban mobility management

We learned about the range of new technologies currently disrupting the urban mobility market. From artificial intelligence and blockchain to IoT, sensors and data, new innovations are making cities smarter every day. These technologies and innovation accelerators are creating new business models in mobility and, ultimately, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of transport services for citizens.

Sensors and the data that they provide, alongside that derived from other sources such as apps, are particularly important for the development of smart cities. Members of both the public and private sectors now have the necessary data to research mobility questions and provide the insights needed to create new business and mobility models. Much of this data is shared through open APIs. In Milton Keynes, for example, timetable data and real-time service status data from across the transport ecosystem is pulled together into the “City Motion Map”, a holistic AI system. By having access to a wider range of data on citizens’ mobility including from private sector companies such as Uber and Lyft, local authorities can also provide suggestions of how to nudge citizens to make journey choices which benefit society as a whole.

Authorities need not solely rely on data from sensors to influence citizens’ choices; they can also collect data directly from the local population. Citizen apps equipped with geolocation intelligence, such as Worldsensing’s incident app with the “share my location” function, or the Google-owned app Waze, for example, use data provided by citizens to help cities respond to traffic incidents faster. In addition, they give citizens direct access to information that allows them to choose the most efficient routes. This is particularly useful when it comes to congestion, traffic incidents, and public safety threats, which remain considerable influencers in the domains of urban mobility and citizen engagement. These are challenges that cities will still need to manage, especially if citizens switch to private transport. These apps not only decrease emergency response times, but also actively involve citizens in traffic management, saving precious public-sector time and money, and contributing to the “co-responsibilization” of citizens.

New technologies are thus disrupting the status quo when it comes to urban mobility, but they are only useful insofar as they prioritize the needs of local citizens. Data should, therefore, be deployed within the framework of a citizen-centric approach, where it can be analyzed in order to further develop business and mobility models that are beneficial and accessible to all.

Intermediation and interaction with stakeholders

Open APIs, start-ups, and well-established digital players are progressively intermediating the relationship between citizens and transport services. The distance between rider and individual transport companies is, therefore, growing as consumer attention increasingly shifts instead to the digital actors who coordinate the totality of their journey. These digital stakeholders, such as Citymapper, provide a holistic visualization of a journey, making travel simpler and quicker for citizens and rendering obsolete the individual information platforms of government bodies (like online bus timetables).

Increasing disruption by private-sector digital stakeholders is also leading to the “mobility as a service” concept. This goes one step beyond intermediation to a situation where these digital stakeholders actually own the complete business relationship between the rider and transport service. They, therefore, have total commercial control of a citizen’s journey, whether as standalone rides (Uber, Halo) or a bundle of services (Whim, a Finnish app about to be launched in the West Midlands in the UK).

Multi-leg journeys and route-shortening

We now live in a world where most consumers have devices in their pockets that can plan their journey in seconds. The decrease in the complexity of journey-planning resulting from automatic apps leads to an increase in mode changes as digital algorithms produce the most efficient travel solutions – regardless of how many changes per journey are required. This means that in future, multiple-mode journeys, for example with 3-4 changes, will become increasingly common.

This journey fragmentation has different effects in different city zones. In city centers, citizens have multiple transport options that take them close to their destination. At the urban periphery, however, traditional transport modes are insufficient for door-to-door travel. Customers may therefore increasingly shift to ride-share and e-hail for the first and last mile of their journeys, resulting in an erosion of the revenue base of buses. Some cities will need to respond by route shortening – in other words, only running buses where there is sufficient aggregate demand to make it economic to do so.

TNCs are of course very happy to support this trend, and there are some partnerships in the US where cities are spending their transport budgets on subsiding ride share schemes, rather than on traditional public transport services. This is particularly useful for specific population groups, such as women, who are both more vulnerable at night and need transport options that accommodate family life.

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Breaking down the barriers

These disruptive trends demonstrate that cities need to get ahead of the game when it comes to making their mobility systems smarter. There are still many barriers to innovating urban mobility that must be urgently tackled by local authorities – silos within government bodies prevent data-sharing, and certain population groups’ lack of access to digital resources impedes their access to smart mobility solutions, to name a few.

There also remains the basic question of exactly who should be providing transport services in an increasingly digitized age. A citizen-centric, data-driven approach to urban mobility would suggest that the solution to these problems lies in cities proactively striking innovative deals and partnerships with private-sector stakeholders. However, while this “who” may ultimately be digital companies, public authorities must continue to provide leadership and vision when it comes to future urban mobility solutions. It is their role, after all, to steer private-sector players to prioritize citizens above all else.


The development of new smart city technologies is an opportunity that cannot be avoided – fail to invest, and you will become obsolete. In certain organizations, particularly government agencies and departments, this may require a culture change, restructuring, or new leadership. But these often difficult changes will pay off in the long-run by placing cities at the forefront of socio-political, economic and technological innovation.

The Smart City Expo World Congress brings together more than 17,000 professional visitors, with over 600 exhibitors, representatives from at least 650 cities, and over 400 experts and thought leaders. Discussions such as these provide illuminating insights into the future of urban mobility, and it was an honor to be a part of this global community committed to developing powerful solutions which will transform the cities of tomorrow. See you next year for the 2018 Smart City Expo World Congress.

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