Better Together: Why Blended Mobility Operations is the Future of Transportation

John Michel, Managing Partner, Switch Mobility USA


The revolution in public transportation is real. It’s personal. It’s flexible. And it’s here. The leaders and innovators who enable this future will thrive. Those who stay wedded to their old models will continue to rapidly devolve into irrelevance and, eventually, extinction. Think Pan Am. DHL. Kodak. Blockbuster. Transportation companies and agencies big and small who fail to take heed of the massive shift occurring in this marketplace are going to be left behind. Quickly.


As with virtually all large-scale system changes, the conditions contributing to the current transit ecosystem transformation has been more than a hundred years in the making. It began with the mass production of the automobile early in the 20th century (providing widespread private vehicle capacity) and expanded with the creation of the Eisenhower highway expansion, the world’s most comprehensive road and bridge network (facilitating expanded commerce and promoting greater freedom of personal mobility).

The pace of change accelerated with the introduction of affordable computing power (giving rise to accessible technology to develop new products and services more efficiently at every level of society), and catalyzed with the emergence of the smartphone in 2007 (simplifying the ability to interact with consumers directly). Shortly thereafter, these factors converged to contribute to the rise of Transportation Network Companies (TNCS), a new transportation service model dominated by Uber and Lyft. These new transportation actors, leveraging these collective technological advancements to organize private automobile owners in new and novel ways at scale, quickly transformed how consumers perceive and experience mobility.

And just like that, the transportation paradigm forever changed.

The rapid rise of the TNC’s is proving both a blessing and a bane for public transit riders and providers. For consumers, it is a blessing as it’s created a whole new reality of what transit can be: Accessible, convenient, customizable, and cost efficient. Today, with such an abundance of affordable mobility capacity available on-demand, it is easier than ever to close long-standing transportation system gaps to meet all a customer’s unique mobility needs anytime, anywhere…a simple click, call, or tap away.


On the other hand, the TNC’s have created a myriad of issues for our cities, public transit agencies and private transport companies. Despite the growth of ride sourcing and ridesharing services as a viable alternative to existing transport options or private vehicle ownership, traffic in cities continues to increase. Public transit agencies, unsure how to best integrate new transportation platforms, are struggling to identify appropriate ways use these services smartly and safely. And given TNC’s to date have not remade transit but effectively, merely recharacterized taxi service, agencies and private transit providers alike face the challenge of leveraging the very tools the TNCs employ to radically and meaningfully improve public transport.

The TNC’s, with their promise of mobility on demand as the new normal, have also given rise to many new players to the transportation market (e.g. Juno, Gett, Via, Didi Chuxing) while setting into motion the strategic repositioning of other long-standing mobility actors (e.g. automobile manufacturers). Hence, if the TNC’s didn’t make the public transport landscape complicated enough, the multiplicity of new mobility solutions (autonomous, micro-transit, bike-share, car-share, etc) that is evolving in the space between individual cars and mass transit platforms are making the entire system more challenging to organize effectively and efficiently. But from all this apparent chaos emerge two incredible opportunities to rethink what is possible and seize the opportunity to systematically blend these varied forms of mobility capacity to serve more people with greater convenience and at a lower cost than ever before.


Figure 1: Reducing the Cost of Variable Rider Demand

First, as the above figure depicts, public and private transportation service providers that leverage technology to intelligently blend varied forms of dedicated and non-dedicated transportation capacity create an immediate opportunity to reduce costs, enhance service, and increase ridership. In the rapidly evolving mobility ecosystem, the ability to intentionally organize both fixed and flexible assets in real-time to achieve a better balance of available transportation supply and real-time customer demand will increasingly become the new transportation “gold standard.”


The second opportunity today’s transport revolution ushers in is the ability to leverage personal mobility devices to combine all these new forms of transport into a single shared solution. As we are seeing emerge across Europe, and more slowly in the United States, an urban mobility system that combines mass transit with varied forms of available consumer facing capacity such as car- and bike-sharing, is quickly becoming the must-have solution for consumers eager to experience mobility to its fullest positive potential.

Commonly referred to as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), this integrative approach to organizing, displaying, and personalizing transport trip chains is encouraging both public and private transport providers to more effectively (and intentionally) link mass transit to other shared transport modes (such as bike-sharing, car-sharing, and ridesourcing). For the first time in history, real-time, data-informed technology solutions are enabling consumers to assess and access the full range of available urban mobility services anytime, anywhere.


Figure 2: Mobility as a Service: Integrating Dedicated and Non-Dedicated Capacity at Scale


Just this morning I read about a company that has successfully piloted an autonomous ride for a disabled passenger. On the subsequent page, I read about the emergence of 22 new companies in the past three years that are committed to creating urban air taxis. The revolution in transit is real and the possibilities are as exciting as they are endless. It is an exciting time to be in this industry as the age of mobility on-demand unfolds around us, forever changing the way we move about our cities smartly, conveniently, and pleasantly.

One click, call, or tap at a time.

About John Michel

John Michel is a TED speaker, best-selling author, and widely recognized expert in mobility, strategy & individual and organizational change. A retired Air Force General who most recently served as the Commanding General of NATO Air Training Command, responsible for leading 14 nations in developing the $6.7B Afghan Air Force, he is the Managing Partner of Switch Mobility USA and serves on the Board of Directors of DemandTrans Solutions as well as Skyworks-Global, the world’s leading Gyronautics firm.


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