city scene, concept of mobility as a service

Navigating a city to get from point A to point B can be an agonizing experience. Gridlock forces vehicles to grind to a halt, causing travel times to soar. Delivery trucks clog up roadways, creating safety issues. Public transportation systems can offer relief but aren’t convenient for everyone. The first and last mile of a trip is often the most problematic. Ride-sharing, biking, and even scootering around are all options but come with their own set of logistical complications.

As global population increases and people continue to move to cities in search of opportunity, finding sustainable city transportation solutions become even more critical. Although there are more ways to get around than ever before, some services are quite disjointed and difficult to integrate.

Many mobility services require their own apps, accounts, and payment mechanisms, making the use of multiple mobility services unnecessarily complicated for customers. Just like cloud computing changed the way we store our information, can technology and big data solve our transportation woes?

Navigating a Smart City

Welcome to the user-centered mobility paradigm. Mobility as a service (MaaS) platforms have the potential to change the way we get around and even if we own private vehicles. This approach seeks to make city transportation cleaner, cheaper, and faster, and allows users to plan, book, and pay for door-to-door trips from a single app.

MaaS programs take personal preferences into account — such as transportation time, environmental impact, and cost — and presents all the options. Paris, Vienna, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, Singapore, and Barcelona have piloted local versions of such platforms. 

The model is part of a broader vision to make cities more livable and less vehicle-centric. It involves having cleaner air, few accidents, higher productivity, and less land dedicated to automobiles. Many new transportation services support more livable cities, resource conservation, and peer-to-peer business models.

bicycles for rent parked in docking station
More cities are offering bicycle and scooter rental options. Image: Adobe Stock

Evolution in Mobility

Roadways in many areas are being redesigned to encourage walking and biking.

Car-sharing services allow people to rent cars for short periods of time, often from private individuals instead of a company. This helps reduce the need to own a car. In some cities, such as Montreal and London, businesses are sponsoring transportation services in exchange for marketing, helping to reduce the cost of the service. Ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, allow people to share rides to similar destinations.

Data generated by drivers, riders, and pedestrians is being used to help drivers avoid traffic congestion, boosting energy efficiency and saving time. Blending this information provides transportation planners deep insights into traffic patterns and the way people move through a city without vehicles. MaaS services represent additional flexibility within that complex mass of moving people.

As of 2016, there are more than 1,000 bike-share programs in 50 countries, and the number of such programs doubled between 2014 and 2018. Electric vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses, trains, bikes, and scooters are becoming more plentiful, and the electric vehicle charging infrastructure is expanding.

Meanwhile, more renewable electricity is being fed to the power grid than ever before. Driverless technology is even making autonomous vehicles a reality.

Roadmap to the Smart City

It is essential to look at the big picture when examining transportation options and for various players to work together to create a cohesive system.

Although numerous transportation services exist, it is crucial that they link up in a way that is convenient for riders. Gaps in public transportation need to be filled, making it possible to navigate all areas of a city. Mobility issues need to be addressed, so all riders have access to affordable transportation, regardless of age and abilities. Government policies must support the MaaS concept, and government agencies need to work with private providers to create seamless options. Also, MaaS platforms rely on users having smartphones and access to cellular networks, which might be problematic for some.

Have we reached a new frontier in sustainable city transportation? Ideally, alternative forms of transportation would be so convenient that urbanites would give up their private vehicles because it is so easy to get around without them. Most of us have not reached that point, but we are moving in the right direction. Navigating smart cities relies on partnerships, buy-in from city governments, effective use of technology, and supportive policies all working together.


By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.