SOLVING THE MOBILITY CHALLENGE IN MEGACITIES

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More people are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of better quality of life, and the rate has been accelerating throughout the years. As urban areas continue to expand to accommodate the influx of people, megacities (each one containing at least 10 million residents) have begun to form. Research published in the UN 2014 World Urbanisation Prospects predict the emergence of 43 new megacities around the world by 2030, with 35 of them located in emerging markets in South America, Africa, South and South-East Asia.

It is anticipated that over 750 million people will be inhabiting a megacity by 2030, which creates a number of challenges that policymakers and city planners have to consider now, in order to prepare for this development, with mobility being one of the biggest of them all.

Anticipating this concern, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a company that is known to repeatedly partner with leaders in business and society to tackle some of the biggest challenges and procuring opportunity through solving them, has conducted careful research, questioning more than 2,000 people from some of the largest cities in the world today such as Beijing, Boston, London and Moscow in late 2019 to better identify what consumers desire from mobility solutions providers to help direct the building of infrastructure today for the megacities of tomorrow, and working to solve the mobility challenge in megacities.

Solving problems, not creating them

To create an effective and cohesive solution isn’t easy. There are multiple factors that should be taken into account such as a growing and aging population, rising car ownership as well as the general human element. For example, Beijing had to restrict its bike sharing programme as a result of many people leaving vehicles behind on the streets, clogging up traffic. It’s clear that the solutions being developed shouldn’t create new problems in the process.

What people want

A good place to start would be to identify the what peoples’ expectations are, and then develop solutions for mobility and transportation that address them. Respondents from the above four cities were asked on what their priorities are in mobility late 2019. Although the post-pandemic world has changed a lot of how the modern world operates, it would still be safe to say that these expectations would still remain relevant in the development and planning of providing solutions in the medium to long term.

The survey revealed that a significant portion of the people wanted their transport to enable them to be productive and multitask during their journey. Additionally, be independent from rigid schedules to travel when they want, and to be environmentally sustainable.

Additionally, research points towards a growing concern for the environmental impact caused by pollution, unproductive time caused by traffic congestion and the lack of flexibility in trip planning, all fell in the category of being major mobility pain points that would require being addressed when finding solutions.

New developments and shifts in priorities

The world of urban transportation and mobility has significantly changed from what it once was. The development of technology has led to some innovative solutions to many urban mobility needs. A great example of which would be ride hailing services such as Uber, which significantly reduce the need to use a personal vehicle while in the city. There are also new developments in micro-mobility such as e-scooters.

Many of these services provide a solution to some of the expectations consumers have, but sadly, come with their own drawbacks. Ride hailing certainly allows a person to have their privacy and is more conducive to help someone be productive while on the go, but doesn’t help reduce the number of vehicles on the road, thus failing to reduce traffic or the resulting pollution. As for e-scooters, the relatively short lifespan and need for vehicle collection and charging is an added complication for planners.

These are not the only developments in technology. Autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, better connected and integrated digital services all will play a factor in developing new solutions for mobility in megacities.

There is also the post-covid shifts in priority that must be considered as well. Given the circumstances, more people might be inclined to own and use a personal vehicle, which would give better protection against the virus. In the research conducted, with 37 per cent indicating that they had become more willing to own a car over the past 12 months during the time of survey. This may have increased post-covid.

Car ownership

Of course, this is also likely to change as circumstances do. But for those who are critics of the high number of cars on the road, have some good news, given the fact that many of those who did share interest in owning a car did so for practical reasons, or a necessity due to lack of an alternative, rather than any other factor such as love for driving, emotional attachment or having the car as a status symbol. This suggests that more people are likely to forgo ownership of a personal vehicle if effective, practical and convenient transportation systems exist.

Creating an integrated system

Given the fragmented and isolated nature of the current mobility services being provided in cities, it’s clear that a system-wide change will be required in preparing for the megacities of the future. This would require the creation of a more integrated and interconnected network of services, perhaps even one that can be offered in subscription based, or pay-as-you-go services.

Many private corporations will have to find ways to build collaborative business models for their services for this to be effective. This method has been known to be effective. In their report, BCG believes interfaces which can provide individualised travel plans using real-time information will be at the heart of the customer mobility experience in the future. Not only that, the ability to be redirected to lesser used modes of transportation to avoid congestion and transport bottlenecks would also be a key advantage.

Developing such systems will come at a cost and possibly a higher price. Reassuringly, research strongly suggests many individuals are willing to pay a premium for mobility services that would meet their preferences rather than traditional mobility modes, and with effective competition between businesses, more attractive pricing could be made available to the consumer.

However, government and policy making bodies will have a large role to play in preventing any unfair business practices that companies may potentially exploit, as well as in ensuring the entire system is functional and integrated.

With effective partnership, effective governance, utilising new technology and systems as well companies being effective in the specific mobility services they provide, BCG is confident that greater mobility solutions are around the corner in the megacities of the future, delivering greater productivity, independence, and sustainability for consumers.

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage