Nathaniel Giraitis, strategy director, Smart Design, says urbanisation is more than the growth of urban population, it is changing the way we live our lives.

Urbanisation is the adoption of the ever-evolving culture and living environment of the city, and the build-up of new environments. As we move into cities, most of our travel remains within these environs. The number of kilometres we travel is expected to triple by 2050, and the anticipation is that urban goods distribution will follow a similar pattern, fuelled by growing e-commerce and the associated shift in customer expectations, as well as population growth.

All this is putting pressure on cities to ensure healthy living and sustainable environments through improved planning, governance, regulation and new models of collaboration.

It’s going to take a more considered approach than we’ve seen so far to design future mobility services that allow our cities to flourish and grow.

Let’s explore what this might look like for two aspects of city life :

  1. Personal mobility (moving people on-demand)

New York City has seen the 13,000 yellow cabs on the streets grow to over 100,000 in one decade, with the addition of Uber, Lyft, and others. The number of trips has tripled in the past year and a half and, even worse, a recent study suggests many of these rides took passengers out of efficient public transportation and into street-clogging vehicles. We need a solution that has higher capacity, yet offers the dynamism to flex to demand.

Today, technology can allow that to happen – in the form of dynamic (on-demand) shuttles or buses. These vehicles take into consideration the origin and destination of every passenger and work collaboratively to spontaneously generate routes that are bespoke to the city’s needs at that moment. Routes that are well-trodden into city life and can be expected to be routine, however, others will be dynamic and can be willed into existence by resident demand.

The ‘first mile challenge’ – getting people to stations so that they can, in fact, get into the city more quickly and efficiently than by driving or hail-riding – is a scenario where the demand is not likely to be dense enough to require a bus or a shuttle, but a smaller-scale dynamic system could work. Established ride handlers like Lyft or Uber could provide custom vehicles to connect people to the most efficient arteries into the city.

Nathaniel Giriatis

The challenge here is to try to facilitate service that syphons people into mass transit that doesn’t end up being used for end-to-end journeys, so contributing to inner city congestion. One solution could be on-demand vehicles that only service your neighbourhood: suddenly you’re thinking of this as a convenient replacement for your car to the station, rather than a taxi that will take you all the way into town.

  1. Parcel mobility (moving goods on-demand)

Delivery vehicles have taken an increased toll on our roads and living environments as a result of the convenience of online shopping. Add to this the supermarkets, eBay, meal kits, pet food etc. and you have highly inefficient, unilateral delivery systems, resulting in multiple vans clogging up city streets and parking spots, often parking some way back from the parcel’s destination.

In our research, we met a van driver who delivers in London and talked of 40-mile drives taking eight hours, thanks to all the stopping and starting throughout the day, plus walking 17km, with heavy parcels. There has to be a better way.

One approach is aggregation across certain providers. We currently have a heterogeneous flow of FedEx, UPS, Yodel, Hermes, private and business all going down the same street. Imagine vehicles going from a consolidation centre to node points within the city and at those points offloading to nimbler, delivery modes suited to cities, such as couriers on foot or cargo bikes.

In London, we’ve seen this modelling work in a digital simulation format. We’ve also spoken to van drivers and cycle couriers who see great benefits to this approach, namely, allowing people and employees do what they enjoy doing most. We’ve also found in our simulations that a van increases productivity because it can go back to the warehouse many times in one shift, having offloaded its cargo elsewhere for the nimble work. Increased productivity, less congestion, greater worker satisfaction and fewer inner-city emissions. Who doesn’t win?

Addressing the consequence of convenience

In the end, we are serving society, ourselves and future generations when we broaden ‘convenience’ to consider the greater good. To improve everyone’s quality of life, it’s critical to be mindful of what behaviour we’re replacing and also encouraging – how are we designing services to reach higher and higher modes of efficiency?

Creating a product or service that is good value and convenient for the end customer, but also beneficial to and enables better flow for the cities we serve, makes good business sense.

The author of this blog is Nathaniel Giriatis, strategy director

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