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Rethinking public transport requires more than investing 20 billion in trains

· Public Transport,mobility,Smart Mobility

The transport industry needs to rethink the way it’s dealing with public transport, in terms of customer centricity as well as demographical and environmental issues. Public transport has gained popularity, yet with the current state of the public transport infrastructure the metropolitan regions won’t be able to deal with the continuing growth in mobility demand. But is investing 20 billion in essentially still ‘second industrial revolution’ infrastructures and resources the best option? Or would alternative solutions provide more societal benefits?

New Dutch mobility plan

The four largest city’s public transport operators and Dutch Railways recently presented a ‘new Dutch mobility plan’. According to this newspaper article these operators are aiming for smarter transportation inside and between the big cities and more flexible transportation in the provinces. Meaning greater disparity between on-demand type solutions for the sparsely peopled areas. And more (frequent) supply in densely populated areas– especially the Randstad, where the population will continue to grow.

To be fair: The published mobility plan does stress the importance of a mix of individual and collective forms of transport for the future. Next to bus, tram, metro, light rail and train, walking, biking, and driving – including their shared and autonomous varieties – are all seen as being part of a flexible door to door journey. And connecting them properly is seen as equally important to shorten travel times. Also, the transporters don’t consider themselves as necessarily providing all modes, they would fulfill the role as ‘mobility brokers’.

Intended results

The result of this vision should be the ability to travel door to door between the four big cities within an hour. Travel time should be half an hour maximum between two central stations (now generally not the case yet) and 15 minutes maximum between the economic centers inside a city and its central station (now true in only about 25% of all cases).

Disappointingly, the plan doesn’t specify what these exact centers should be or in which percentage of all cases the transporters can be held accountable to deliver on their promises. Yet the plan, verified by the TU Delft and consulting agency McKinsey, claims annual, societal benefits or lower costs amounting to 2 to 4 billion euro.

To achieve these benefits, the transporters state that on top of already planned developments and in line with investment levels over the past fifteen years, the government should invest a minimum of 20 billion euro in infrastructure between 2020-2040.

Thus, with 17.5 billion going to currently common steel and electrified solutions, it’s still mostly investing in second industrial revolution infrastructure.

The future: third industrial revolution infrastructure

In July the Roadmap Next Economy of the Metropolitan region Rotterdam The Hague (MRDH) was presented at an open Executive Seminar in Rotterdam. A representative of the Plannerstack foundation had the opportunity to attend the event and concluded that the roadmap has stressed once again the importance and impact of investments in third industrial revolution infrastructure, with digitisation of communication, energy and transport as the three pillars. These pillars will play a decisive role in our future. The fact that public transporter operators still create future transport models based on outdated priorities in mobility solutions raises a number of questions.

Of course we subscribe to the vision of integrated mobility systems consisting of a mix of individual and collective transport, in which all modes are as transparently complementary as possible. Who wouldn’t? Travellers choose the combination that offers the quickest, most reliable, convenient and sustainable door to door option possible under the circumstances and at the right value for money.

The main question

Can the operators involved be trusted to do more to deliver this customer centric proposition than is incorporated in their concessions. Can they reliably operate public transport ?

For one thing, public transporters by far haven’t shown the strongest track record over the past 15 years when it comes to filling the role of mobility brokers, realising the level of seamless, carefree integration they envision. Neither have they shown that they possess the best qualifications for innovating their information services to travellers, nor to opening up their various individual and common data sources to allow others to do this for that matter.

What answers are we interested in?

How does increasing light rail connections into the hearts of cities, without the guarantee of being emission free, contribute to responsible decision making towards sustainable mobility? How will just a part of a 1/20 share out of the intended investment of 20 billion euro sustain customer centric information services over 20 years?

For an objective analysis we need a different approach to assessing accessibility. This should, among other things, include isochrones that provide efficiency and social insights, enabling smart decision making. Something we have already done in several regions together with Movares.

Keep posted on the subject

In our next blogpost we will zoom in on these questions and on Transport Analyst, an originally OTP based solution. This technology was co-created with Movares, among others, to help build sustainable infrastructures by enabling decision making based on the objective, transparent analyses of all variables involved.

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