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Governing new mobility services: an evolving landscape

This video and accompanying article stress the important role public authorities should play in governing and supporting innovation.

An important part of developing strategies to transition to a zero-carbon sustainable city includes engaging with a range of mobility providers. This video and accompanying article stress the important role public authorities should play in governing and supporting innovation. The video features Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General of POLIS.

An accelerating shift from public to private provision of transport services in cities globally (sometimes associated with austerity policies) has increased the complexity of the organisational landscape, with more providers – resulting in the roles and responsibilities of the public and private stakeholders becoming fragmented. Driven by increased dependence on communication technologies and internet-based services, there are also significant shifts in expectations of what urban transport provision should offer.

A good analogy to illustrate the role that public authorities can play in governing mobility is to think of them as being the orchestra’s conductor.

orchestra playing

The role of the conductor is to coordinate the contribution of the various players and to create harmony. The conductor guides the players, decides when each of them should start or stop, and ensures that there is a harmonious and synchronised flow between all players. Similarly, city authorities have an important role to play in orchestrating mobility services in their cities, in deciding which players should contribute, how and when, and in creating a collective outcome that is more the sum of the parts.

The ultimate goal is to create a harmonious and efficient city mobility system that can benefit all users, and align with environmental targets.

The case of the Citymapper bus in London

In 2017, Citymapper, a transport application and mapping service, brought together open transport data from Transport for London (TfL), OpenStreetMaps, Foursquare, Google and other sources in order to design its own set of bus routes in London. A free trial route around the river Thames was introduced in May that year, but TfL refused its application for a full licence, over concerns that the proposed route would add to congestion while arguing that there were already enough transport services in the area.

A few months later, Citymapper launched a night bus route in east London with TfL’s approval. The route was serviced by smaller, 30-seater vehicles dubbed “Sprinters” (buses in London usually have a capacity of 80). Citymapper subsequently paused the initiative due to regulatory roadblocks involved in getting permission to operate routes that changed flexibly/responsively in real-time according to demand. The model envisioned by Citymapper, based on the use of smaller capacity vehicles and non-fixed routes, blurs the line between mass transit and small-scale paratransit, presenting a regulatory challenge to TfL to develop a new form of regulation for more flexible city bus services.

Further reading

Docherty, I. (2018). New Governance Challenges in the Era of ‘Smart’ Mobility. In G. Marsden & L. Reardon (Eds.), Governance of the Smart Mobility Transition (pp. 19–32). Emerald.

Pangbourne, K., Stead, D., Mladenovic, M. ^, & Milakis, D. (2018). The Case of Mobility as a Service: A Critical Reflection on Challenges for Urban Transport and Mobility Governance. In G. Marsden & L. Reardon (Eds.), Governance of the Smart Mobility Transition (pp. 51–64). Emerald Publishing.

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