Christophe Brusset
Responsable d'activité Transports urbains, BU Conseil
Published on November 21, 2018

Reading time : 2 min

Mobility: reinforcing public transport authorities against Internet giants

The mobility sector, and most notably local transport, is going through a phase of profound disruption which is set to significantly impact our ways of life. This disruption is primarily due to the boom in information and communication technology (ICT) which has allowed many services to emerge which could not otherwise have developed. For example, how could you conceive a dockless bike hire service without an application that helps you find the nearest bike? How can you hail a private hire vehicle without using your smart phone?

Mobilité : renforcer l'autorité organisatrice face aux géants du web

- Crédits : © ipopba - Thinkstock

So ICT has facilitated the proliferation of new mobility players, start-ups for the most part, who offer new services* supplementing traditional transport modes which had hitherto been the norm: the personal automobile which still commands majority modal share, and public transport which struggles to win over majority preference in spite of all the efforts - especially financial - by transport authorities. Indeed, these new mobility players are often independent from these transport authorities and function without the need for grants which are so essential to the economic stability of public transport.

And yet, due to the fact that they offer an alternative to the personal car, these new services nonetheless constitute a public service which more often than not contributes sustainably to the development of mobility. People on the go will ultimately use a chain of services that necessarily includes public transport. The user may for example pick up a self-hire bike or a shared taxi from their doorstep, which takes them to a mainline transport service (tram, metro, regional train) before picking up an e-scooter for the final leg of their journey.

Internet giants, eyeing up transport

However, alongside these start-ups which provide often original and innovative solutions, major new players, generally headquartered on the other side of the Atlantic, are seeking to gradually impose their services: Google, Uber, Apple, Tesla… They may well be joined soon by Chinese firms: Baidu, the Chinese Google, is currently testing a driverless bus in Japan! Having become firmly rooted in the economy, these major players are threatening to become an unavoidable oligopoly. As they are not dependent on transport authorities either, public regulators would therefore be powerless to enforce their political will and the orientations that they wish to lead in mobility.

It is therefore essential to act today to build the tools that will allow public transport authorities to retain their full powers in defining transport policy in their communities. Specifically, this means securing total control over passenger information, timetables or the ridership capacities of different modes. And also the ownership of unified means of payment so as to offer subsidies that encourage the use of the mobility chain which from a sustainable development perspective (social, economic and environmental balance) would be most “cost-effective”.

These tools must be invented without delay in order to guarantee the future that we wish to build.

*This increasing development of new mobility services is now commonly called MaaS (Mobility as a Service), in reference to the same concept employed by SaaS (Software as a Service) which seeks to prioritise the use of the service over the ownership of the solution.

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