What changes could we make in our cities today that would help us have excellent urban transportation systems? What have we been missing?
We need service-oriented infrastructure for mobility. Typical mass mobility infrastructure consists of vehicles, roads, parking zones, bays, passenger stations, etc. For tomorrow’s intelligent, demand- responsive, and possibly autonomous mobility systems, most of this is not available today in India. Starting nice and easy, we begin creating intelligent and lean infrastructural provisions such as flexible and non-permanent fleet parking, smaller and more efficient vehicles, and multifunctional touchpoints for commuters. The most interesting thing about this – none of it has to be “capital intensive”. In fact, all three so-called infrastructure provisions will rely on information and not capital, and are being designed for being lean and lightweight.
What is the Urban Mobility Architecture? Why do we need it?
The Urban Mobility Architecture is a new mobility system to supplement public transport in cities small and large. The architecture is a set of technologies, methods, principles, and operating environments to develop highly efficient, novel, fully scalable, and differentiated high-volume demand-responsive transit services (Mobility-as-a-Service or MaaS) for the cities of tomorrow. Any new transit modes or services developed using it have an automatic emphasis on the following key ideas:
Simplicity | High Volumes | Accessibility | Shareability | Intelligence | Efficiency
The Urban Mobility Architecture encourages innovative business models around services, creating differentiated service offerings over a common infrastructure in order to distribute costs. At the core is a network of roadside hardware touchpoints for users, quite like the card-scanning devices used in fixed-route public transport services. This foundation, preferably along with a vehicle parking infrastructure, enables intermodal integration among services including public transport, improves flow of people, dictates flow patterns of vehicles, results in well-managed streets, reduced traffic, and overall enjoyable transit experiences.
In the long run, the architecture is also intended to integrate urban cargo movement in addition to people movement to become a comprehensive logistics platform.
Why should we think about more than just the efficient ride-sharing services of today?
Traditional ridesharing services are predominantly based on a service model that encourages the use of 4-wheeler passenger cars and vans, and to a much lesser extent, smaller vehicles like rickshaws. The two core service models – on-demand private trips and pooled rides – both require costly back-end technologies and make smartphones necessary for transit seekers.
In the Indian context, we need solutions for general-purpose mass transit. We need services that operate on the logic of quality and net welfare, instead of simply minimizing operating cost. Instead, from the macro view of the urban mobility ecosystem, we need to be thinking about services that bring the best of both worlds – the accessibility of fixed route services and the convenience of on-demand services. The Urban Mobility Architecture is designed to add meaningful supplements to mass transit.
How will the Urban Mobility Architecture uplift the city?
The architecture encourages, and can support, the development of transit infrastructure through toolsets, products, services, and thought frameworks for the private sector, city, and citizens. With the roadside hardware layer, the pedestrian environment will be transformed into active transit-oriented spaces. With the integration of several services over this base layer, the nature and face of the city’s transit lifeline will change completely.
Transport efficiency will be improved greatly.
Intermediate transit will become more effective for general trips as well as feeder trips to public transport.
The flow of people from transit into pedestrian spaces will be streamlined, improving walkability, hygiene, and beautification of the urban environment.
Private vehicle use will become balanced and more environmentally sustainable.
The Urban Mobility Architecture internalizes Smart City and Electric Mobility. The services that will result from the architecture will help propel our cities into the age of smart transportation for all, and environmentally sustainable transport free of noise- and air-pollution. With the logistics arm of the architecture, the city will see efficient cargo movement and increased economic output.
What type of infrastructure is part of the Urban Mobility Architecture?
- A citywide network of roadside hardware touchpoints (Beacons) is the foundation of transit services based on the Urban Mobility Architecture. These devices, meant to serve as gateways to access the variety of services available, are spread out in deliberate locations throughout the city to maximize accessibility and coverage. Users can simply walk up to these devices and perform a multitude of trip-related operations, such as hailing, payments, and so on.
- A carefully curated network of multiple grades of parking locations for fleet vehicles, which is optimized for a given city. Parking is an important part of a transit system, because vehicle dwell time is both unavoidable and necessary. Different areas of a city put forth different parking requirements, but there is a specific pattern to this. The several types of parking locations, small and large, permanent and ephemeral, are based on this pattern.
The beacon network, deeply embedded in the city environment itself, is in the future intended to act as a chassis to support other applications and business avenues besides transit.
What is the scalability of the Urban Mobility Architecture?
National context: The Urban Mobility Architecture scales in two ways: (1) Zones in a city, (2) City to city.
- Firstly, the smallest independent unit of any service model may be zonal, i.e. in a small zone or zones in a city, say a township with specialized services. Each zonal unit consists of all three building blocks – fleet, roadside hardware network, parking network.
- Next, zonal units can be aggregated to cover an entire city with a high coverage to offer generalized services.
- Finally, as more and more cities are designed for in parallel, cities can be interlinked in certain contexts of the architecture, e.g. fleet load balancing.
- The operational and business context of the architecture spans zones, cities, and across cities. A variety of business models are possible over and above generalized services, with a variety of possible stakeholders at each rung of the architecture, e.g. drivers, fleet owners, franchisee operators, and so on.
Matatus bring Nairobi to life (see Digital Matatus project), Paraguayan cities have mototaxis, Thailand has songthaews, and India has rickshaws & chhakdas. Designing with local solutions in mind will reap better results.
What is the core competency of the Urban Mobility Architecture?
- Primary : Transit-related devices and hardware; UI design; Service design; Fleet management; Flow management – crowd, vehicles; Transportation network design; IoT applications for smart transit; Integrated and intermodal transit; Trip algorithms; Intelligent transportation system (ITS);
- Secondary : System development platform; Application development platform for transit/urban applications; Urban aesthetic
How can transit pricing be brought to a utility-like level because of the inherent design of the system? How can pricing play an important role in the design of a system within the UMA?
- Utility-like pricing for services based on the UMA is a goal for us.
- With the use of dynamic service control, real-time optimization, fleet management, low-tech commuter touchpoints/interfaces, intelligent parking, etc., it is possible to begin imagining the downward spiral of operating cost. This yields tangible scope to evaluate utility-like pricing scenarios.
- On the flipside, utility-like pricing may play an important role in the development of the UMA system in the first place.
Why is the net fleet size required per city for optimal operations lower than the present fleet size in most cities?
- Demand-responsive transport services, which operate a technology platform to manage a fleet to serve real-time demand rather than a fixed schedule, have lean and flexible operations and in general can serve much higher demand volume based on the concept of shareability of trips and higher occupancy levels of every fleet vehicle.
- Estimating shareability of real-time demand, several trips are matched and pooled together. In an ideal scenario where pooling is maximized, the net fleet size required to service the anticipated scale of DRT demand may be lower than 50% of the present fleet size (some cities have 1-2 lakh rickshaws on their roads!).In reality, not all trips will be shared, but fixed route services naturally have a high shareability value. Given that fixed route services comprise a good portion of travel demand, overall shareability of the combined on-demand and fixed route system will be quite high.
- We anticipate a similar result with Indian cities, and thereby the opportunity to improve urban transport in India like never before.
What are you building first? What are rickshaw services in the context of the Urban Mobility Architecture?
We are developing a two-tiered service offering - ‘On-Demand’ and ‘Fixed Route’ services using rickshaws, but with an intelligent twist. The roadside hardware touchpoints (“Beacons”) are the basis for both types of services.
- First, our Fixed Route (shuttle) services operate on pre-planned routes in a demand-responsive manner rather than on a fixed schedule like bus services. Vehicles move on the route from Beacon to Beacon. This helps us provide greater service coverage, better availability for commuters, higher throughput and perhaps counterintuitively so, lower prices because of lean operations. These fixed route services are the easiest way to get around town at the least expense – available at almost every street. The only other thing you might prefer is public transport.
- Second, our On-Demand (private) services allow you to book a private ride from any Beacon in the city (or from your app). A dedicated vehicle assigned to your request picks you up, along with any co-passengers, at the Beacon and takes you wherever you want to go. No more searching for rickshaws – you have the power to summon it.
Why to consider rickshaws to lay the foundation of the Urban Mobility Architecture?
- A strong need for a standardized transport infrastructure within a city that is accessible to all, at all places, at all times.
- Rickshaws are small, agile vehicles available in abundance in almost every small and large city.
- Geographic serviceability using a well-deployed rickshaw service network is and can be extremely high.
- Operating costs are significantly lower than 4W and only slightly higher than 2W.
- Labour costs are very low.
- Rickshaws have a bright electric mobility future, which means even lower operating cost and better vehicles.
- Thus, taken to high volumes and organized well, service prices will become much lower.
The rickshaw market is a traditionally difficult market to crack with purely technological solutions – this is why the Urban Mobility Architecture focuses on holistic solutions and low-tech touchpoints for greater accessibility. At later stages, other vehicles can be introduced into the service paradigm, such as vans, pods, and minibuses for differentiated service offerings.
What are the benefits to me as a commuter?
- No more searching for a ride! Rides are available literally everywhere you are – high accessibility
- Easy “hop-on, hop-off” experience
- No need for a feature phone or smartphone. Sign up with your name and you can avail services immediately.
- Standardized pricing – no more haggling with drivers
- Cashless payments, online wallet and smartcard-based payments
- Assured rides and short ETAs
- 24 x 7 x 365 availability of on-demand services. Fixed routes services available from morning to night every day.
- Comfortable, hygienic vehicles; luggage space; no overloading;
- Split fares with co-riders when you wish
How do rickshaw drivers’ lives improve with the new system?
- Drivers are no longer subject to the vagaries of the market – drivers receive compensation for time spent, not for number of rides. (The system manages each driver’s work individually.)
- Increased income potential
- Stable, assured incomes – daily, weekly, monthly pay-outs
- At least 30% lower work hours – time for family, other occupations, and hobbies
- No hassle for passenger pick-up and drop-off – navigation available, dedicated locations (Beacons) available
- Incentives for purchasing e-rickshaws
- No issues with traffic rule compliance – dedicated parking spaces and operational rules
How can users engage in augmenting and continuously improving the system?
- Mutual respect for fellow passengers and drivers goes a long way.
- It’s your city and your people - make the experience delightful for fellow passengers! Follow traffic rules; maintain pedestrian flows and queueing.
- Wherever possible, choose to – (1) share a trip with fellow riders and (2) take fixed routes over private rides.
- Use shared ride services for your regular or irregular trip purposes – work, evening outings, shopping, chores, etc. – leave vehicle at home
- Remember that our service will be available for you everywhere, so you can leave your vehicle peacefully at home. (Or perhaps, even think about not buying the next one.)
- Pay using cashless methods – easy, fast, and safe!
Why does the service use low-tech touchpoints instead of simply using commuters’ smartphones?
- We are designing for inclusiveness. A large portion of customers value the possibility of cheap commute over comfort or convenience. So, we balance accessibility and disruptiveness. (Disruptive is good, but in the shadows).
- Smartcards are very easy to use, and the technology is mature. A tactile feel is an important utility for bringing the next hundreds of millions to organized transit. Operational benefits of smartcards include flexibility in deployment and standardization of systems. [There is a strong push for a National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) in India, where such a framework is still absent. Intermodal transport with accessibility for all citizens can become a reality using such technologies.]
- Smartphone-based fare collection is not an option for customers who rely on cash. Most rickshaw customers rely on cash. Smartcards can be the bridge for bringing people into the online banking system.
- Simpler methods will be the bridge to smartphone-based transit across all population segments.