Using Hong Kong Octopus card for multimodal transport

Although still in its infancy, multimodal transport ticketing – the integration of multiple modes of transport into one centralised platform – is already finding purchase in the UK transport market. Composite networks bridge the gaps between various, disparate transport types, different towns, cities and even regions.

Of course, multimodal transport has existed in some form for generations – just look at your local park and ride. It’s only the past decade, however, that transport networks have begun to explore the real potential of a truly connected, cross-vehicle approach to transport.

Why go multimodal?

The value of multimodal transport is clear: no one transport can cover every area (at least without incurring extortionate costs). Enabling passengers to change between different means of transport streamlines the journey for everyone and reduces strain on the dwindling resources of urban areas.

Every mode of transport comes with its own distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. Accessibility, space consumption, speed and efficiency vary according to the means of travel. The multimodal model aims to utilise the distinct strengths of specific forms of transportation to provide an integrated travel experience for every passenger. By integrating infrastructure and operational data along with information on routes, schedules, and fares, companies from a range of transport types can develop a seamless network that encourages mass transport and delivers complete connectivity from the first to the final mile.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

The modern traveller

This need for a composite of transport networks is particularly felt in built-up urban areas, where people may have to commute from outside the city on a daily basis. The passenger could still be dropped many miles from their destination, however, and that’s when additional means of transport are needed. According to the study Millennials and Mobility, nearly 70% of people 18 aged to 34 use multiple travel options several times or more per week.

The study, released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), found that while transport types like car-sharing, bike-sharing and walking play a part in the multi-modal network, public transportation is ranked highest – at 54% of respondents – as the best mode to connect to all other modes. Of course, this is largely due to it being one of the most affordable means of transport, another reason multimodal transport will only work if it retains a modest pricing strategy.

The primary reason for this uptick in demand is simple; price. It’s cheaper to utilise a range of transports across the day than rely on one means of transport, even if it’s less convenient.

Another reason for increased use of multiple means of mobility, industry figures argue, is that public transport enables the new generation of tech-first socialisers to utilise onboard technology such as WiFi for socialising, entertainment and even work – whereas transport via private car and taxi are less likely to offer these amenities.

Double decker bus public transport in the UK

Creating a multimodal transport network

Creating a multimodal transport system is a complex, multi-department task that requires the integration of different institutions, networks, stations, user information, and fare payment systems.

For bus and coach companies looking to establish a multimodal transport model, the challenge lies in developing a cohesive service between multiple companies within designated parameters. These could include studying the different zone configurations around a city, then combining these with data on the current road and rail network configurations, as well as the average speeds, passenger numbers and frequencies of these services. From this information, a detailed, flexible mobility model can be drawn up.

For private coach companies, where journeys can be to locations around the world, the solution can be as simple as developing coordinated partnerships with local ride-sharing companies – linking the apps & offering unique deals from drop-off points to take passengers direct to their doors. Integrating the cost of pickup by ride-hailing apps into the overall ticket price can be complex, but that consummate service can lead to increased bookings and better overall passenger satisfaction.

The smartphone generation

Passengers want flexible services that can be customised to suit their needs, and they want it all in one place – on their smartphone. The modern traveller expects service capable of providing the same level of flexibility as the car. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world – and with good reason. This means more reliable networks, capable of providing real-time updates and additional services upon request. Multimodal transport, when designed around a mobile-first approach, can do just this.

Apps that connect together the myriad means of transport will become an indispensable feature to travellers, while mobile technologies that unify ticketing systems under one platform will become even more popular. Millennials now expect onboard WiFi or 3G/4G wherever they go.  When transport companies leverage technology through real-time transit applications, mTicketing and the provision of WiFi and 3G/4G, passengers have the freedom to create their own journeys. In turn, these passengers are more likely to give positive reviews, recommend to a friend and, most importantly, use the service again.

Using your mobile smartphone device on public transport

Environmental impact

75% of traffic congestion is caused by excess traffic. Poor air quality causes 40,000 to 50,000 early deaths in the UK at a cost of roughly £20 billion to the UK economy every year. Simultaneously, traffic congestion in the UK’s largest cities is now 14% worse than it was five years ago. The proliferation of multimodal transport programmes provides a real opportunity to improve air quality in urban areas and enable cities to attain targets in CO2 reduction.

More people using public transport means fewer cars on the road, which results in less congestion and cleaner air in urban areas. Not only this but as more people turn to a multimodal means of travel, the more money can be invested in improving infrastructure and investing in green technologies.

For coach companies, multimodal travel provides an opportunity to develop their eco-credentials. As if reducing your company’s carbon footprint wasn’t enough, these measures can open doors to tax relief schemes that could lower outgoing costs.

In London, the introduction of the Oyster Smart Card (and the subsequent Oyster App) enabled seamless integration across various modes, including metro, buses, light rail, and taxis. The multimodal institutional framework saw 32 million fewer paper tickets distributed within the first two years.

Driving revenues with shared profit

Because multimodal transport requires the coordination of multiple companies, there is a general assumption that overall takings will be lower for each company. However, public tenders can lead to lucrative contracts. Government initiatives for cleaner urban transport can offset initial costs to transport companies and lead to opportunities in other regions.

Of course, all coach companies must first consider how a new contract will affect their bottom line. Thankfully, initial expenditure to develop a centralised, coordinated platform, informed by data and intermodal terminals will pay dividends in the long run.  

The path to improved sales for every transport network involved in a multimodal system lies in developing and enhancing cooperation between the different stakeholders.

In Hong Kong, the introduction of the ‘Octopus Card’ integrated the two primary transport methods – metro and bus – to great success. In fact, the Octopus scheme was so successful, it was extended beyond initial use in public transportation to include payments at car parks, vending machines, convenience stores, pay phones, supermarkets, and schools. Because the Octopus initiative was developed as a joint venture with Hong Kong’s major public transport operators, the operators and infrastructure that support it had real incentive to install the Octopus system.

Using Hong Kong Octopus card for multimodal transport
Image courtesy of Ka890 CC-BY-SA-3.0

New visitors

Perhaps one of the most significant benefactors of a multimodal transport model is the traveller or tourist. Navigating a new city can be a daunting task, particularly when there are various, disparate means of transport, each with their own particular set of routes, pricing and regulations. Combining several key means of transport enables visitors to explore an area using just one ticket. If that ticket can be paid for and downloaded direct to a mobile phone, then it’s even more convenient.

Multimodal networks don’t have to be confined to one particular city, however. Coach companies that operate on a regional, national or even international basis can procure partnerships with local bus companies, taxi firms and bike-sharing initiatives. Through these partnerships, visitors can explore a city using a single ticket, then use the same ticket system to travel to another city entirely. Not only does this increase the likelihood visitors will opt for your coach network over another – it raises the profile of your company and increases the likelihood of developing similar partnerships elsewhere.

In China, over 60% of cities now have some kind of multimodal system in place. The bike-sharing scheme in Hangzhou has allowed locals and visitors alike to travel around the city, reducing congestion and encouraging a healthier last- or first-mile approach to travel.

Legal issues

Anywhere that a service is spread across numerous different companies/regions/municipalities, issues of liability will inevitably arise. The challenge in multimodal transport comes in apportioning blame in the event a customer is not satisfied with the service. After all, should a full refund be forthcoming when only one transport company was to blame?

Public transport networks have, at present, sought to sidestep these issues by instituting a specific network liability rule, whereby any issues with a service are dealt with by the particular transport mode in question. This is just a short-term solution, however. If companies are to provide a truly unified service, they must begin to look at means to tackle these issues. In Latin America, for instance, the elaborately titled Latin American Association for Integrated Transport Systems and Bus Rapid Transit was set up to discuss the challenges of implementing new transit systems. In addition to this, national companies discussed regional strategies to help modernise urban transport through standardised, pan-enterprise coordination.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

As our understanding of the interconnected nature of our modern world develops, we will undoubtedly begin to explore the potential of multimodal transport in more detail. But if multimodal transport networks are to become a common feature in cities, and a solution that includes all modes of transport, both public and private companies need to begin integrating greater data-sharing technologies now. It’s only through a willingness to adapt and include new technologies that transport networks, including coach companies, can hope to confront the growing challenges of our increasingly urbanised world.

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