The Smart Future Of Your Commute

Data driven services are moving fast, making urban transportation even smarter

While commuters may grumble about traffic, pollution and delays, there are more options than ever for navigating cities. Instead of blindly relying on rigid timetables, passengers can make bookings on the go, receive real time updates, plot routes with live traffic data, and change their journey plans at the last minute based on what suits them best. It’s all down to the data – who’s going where, when they are going, and how they are getting there. One company with a wealth of transportation information at their fingertips is Citymapper. Set up in 2012, the travel app uses open data to find the quickest way for passengers to get to any given destination. Putting years of metrics to good use, Citymapper released their travel service called Smart Ride in London earlier this month. What problems does it hope to solve, and what does it mean for the future of urban mobility?

A ticket to smart ride

Imagine that at short notice, you need to get to a meeting on the other side of London. You have a lot of options, but each has its pitfalls – taxis can be expensive, the tube can be unpleasantly busy and sometimes it’s anyone’s guess if the bus will turn up on time. . . But what if you could bring together the benefits of shared mobility, and create a hybrid service combining the efficiency of a tube, the guaranteed booking of a taxi, and the affordability of a bus?

In May 2017, Citymapper attempted to do just that with a two day trial of bright green, 30 seater buses with USB ports, informative passenger screens and a tablet to relay journey information to the driver. In September, they partnered with Gett to offer ‘Black Buses’ – another step towards bridging the gap between taxis and buses. Five months later and they announced Smart Ride, the ‘Responsive Network’ that adapts to changes in the surrounding environment.

From a passenger’s perspective, the advantages of a hybrid between taxis, buses and metros are clear. Benefits include reduced wait times, lower costs, flexibility, guaranteed spaces and lower pollution levels. From a business perspective, these vehicles could provide a way to connect with consumers through digital screens, and track the travel habits of their target audiences. For other transportation companies, Smart Ride is a sure sign that the necessary infrastructure for smart travel – think self driving cars, electric vehicles, collaborative ride hailing – is well on its way.

Destination: disruption

Smart Ride undoubtedly signals the next direction for urban transport. This isn’t to say that services aren’t already ‘smart’, however the differentiating factor is that Citymapper (likely followed by a string of competitors) want to establish a completely new infrastructure for responsive travel. It’s not just about making improvements to the systems already in place, but finding ways to enable innovation. Self driving vehicles, for instance, will rely on accurate travel data to function at all, let alone effectively. If the data isn’t there, the journey can’t happen. Fortunately, with so much data available through apps like Citymapper, it’s far easier to imagine a time in which drivers are no longer needed.

As is the case for all fledgling technologies, connected transportation must work alongside traditional modes of travel, enabling the important transitional period. This is reflected in the electric charging stations and car hailing companies that already function within the incumbent infrastructure.

While Smart Ride certainly sounds like a good idea, there will be teething problems. The first is regulation. The company, and others before them, have already clashed with Transport for London (TfL) over the strict rules associated with certain passenger capacities. Building a relationship with legislators will be a crucial but complicated task for transportation firms. The fact that all Smart Ride bookings require the Citymapper app, as well as credit card details, could also be problematic. Although Smart Ride could lure new users, it may alienate more digitally illiterate city dwellers and reduce the number of potential users unless the technology is as seamless as possible.

If you live in any major city, your commute could be about to get a lot smarter. Smart Ride represents the first leg of the journey towards connected urban travel, instantly responding to customers and the environment itself. While protecting sensitive information will always be a point of contention, connected transportation is likely to encourage open data and data sharing by visibly benefitting the general public. The onus appears to be on regulators (and not just in London) to remove the barriers in place to allow a framework for smart transportation. If Uber’s previous battle is anything to go by, Citymapper May have a long road ahead.

How could connected urban travel impact people without digital knowledge? Will public, data fuelled transportation encourage the open data movement? Do innovative travel options like Smart Ride present a tangible alternative to existing services? Share your thoughts and experiences.