Transport equity: harnessing the 'mobility revolution'

The relationship between the availability and accessibility of transport and the prosperity and inclusivity of cities is widely recognised. Access to reliable and affordable transport is essential to addressing unemployment and social exclusion. City authorities have an opportunity to leverage new – technology enabled – forms of mobility to ensure that transport systems support inclusive economic growth and social equity. However, achieving these outcomes requires the timely and considered action of cities.

In many of the UK's major cities, traditional modes of transport are operating at close to capacity in the peak. In London, drivers spend over 101 hours a year stuck in traffic, poor air quality is responsible for over 10,000 deaths per year and 40% of jobseekers cite transport as a barrier to getting work.i Accessibility also poses a huge challenge – just 76 of 270 Underground stations have step free access and 77% of these experienced problems with lifts in 2018.ii Prevailing approaches to solving these mobility challenges are problematic – as city regions become denser, delivering investments in traditional infrastructure becomes increasingly expensive.

Such factors are often cited as 'driving a revolution in mobility' in cities across the world. This is being characterised by the convergence of emerging technologies, specifically: electric vehicles (EV); connected vehicles (CV); autonomous vehicles (AV) and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). The application of mobile connectivity, ride-hailing and multimodality (e.g. bike/scooter sharing) is rapidly changing how people in cities move today. While these technologies are still relatively nascent, city authorities have struggled to keep pace and realise the socio-economic benefits on offer. Specifically, there are several challenges requiring attention:

Accessibility for disabled travellers: In London, disabled travellers make 27% less trips than non-disabled travellers and are 33% less likely to hold a driving license.iii Uber has deployed wheelchair accessible vehicles in a handful of cities, however, availability is significantly lower than standard UberX.iv Looking forward, the UK government has identified that AVs could benefit disabled people by 'improving access to education, employment and healthcare'.v Deploying AVs is fundamental to Ubers strategy and they have invested over $1bn in this to Similarly, Elon Musk recently reiterated his ambition to transform Tesla into 'the worlds' first ride-hailing service for AVs'.vii To be inclusive, it is important that AVs deployed in ride-hailing are wheel-chair accessible and cater for other impairments such as blindness. There is also the unanswered question of how support will be provided to those requiring it if there is no driver present?

Balancing air quality with affordability: Numerous cities are implementing Ultra Low Emissions Zones (ULEZ), which penalise drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles. While enabling vital environmental and air quality benefits, those on low incomes will be hit hardest. By 2021, 3.5 million people will live inside the London ULEZ and will need to pay up to £4,500 per year to drive a non-compliant vehicle.viii In part, this is accelerating the uptake of EVs – which are expected to make up 70% of sales by 2030.ix This presents an affordability challenge, given the upfront cost of purchasing an EVx. Additionally, EV charging requirements mean that owners must have access to roadside or off-street charge points. Around one third of car-owners in the UK have no off-street parking, which poses a challenge given the current paucity of public charge points.xi Mobility providers are also likely to pass additional ULEZ charges onto consumers. For example, Uber recently announced a 'congestion surcharge' for central London.xii Improving air quality must be balanced with ensuring that those in lower income brackets are not precluded from access to transport.

Ensuring equitable value creation: The 'mobility revolution' has already created vast amounts of value. In part, by leveraging the existing infrastructure (i.e. physical and connectivity) and competing with public transport providers.xiii The five largest mobility service players (Uber; Didi Chuxing; Lyft; Grab; Go-Jerk) did not exist ten years ago and are now valued in excess of $160bnxiv. Uber is due to list on the New York Stock Exchange for $90bn, however, has sometimes clashed with the cities in which it operates. In 2017, their license was temporarily revoked in London due to 'a lack of corporate responsibility'.xv Furthermore, Uber's recent filing for IPO confirms their – previously denied – strategy of competing directly with public transport providers. The value created by the 'mobility revolution' must also benefit the cities in which it is generated – exactly how this will happen is yet to be fully understood.

Reducing the cost without increasing congestion: By reducing the cost (as compared to traditional taxis) and increasing the demand, ride hailing has increased congestion in cities across the world. Moreover, this has been exacerbated by low vehicle occupancy (i.e. number of people travelling in each car)xvii . In San Francisco, Uber and Lyft were responsible for a 50% increase in congestion from 2010 to 2016.xviii It is anticipated that AVs, which by definition have no driver fee, will reduce the cost of ride-hailing by up to 75% xix. If vehicle occupancy remains the same as today, this could result in one trillion more vehicle miles travelled in the US each yearxx. Thus the mobility operators' pursuit of increasing demand by reducing prices – needs to be balanced with strategies that reduce congestion, for example increasing vehicle occupancy via ride-sharing.

How should cities respond? The revolution in mobility presents cities with an opportunity to realise massive socio-economic benefits. However, at this crucial turning point, it is essential that cities play a leading role in orchestrating and governing the change. In doing so, they should consider:

  • Establishing principles for accessibility, such as wheel chair accessible AV ride-hailing
  • Providing funding and infrastructure to support EV uptake across all income groups
  • Developing new value capture mechanisms, such as license fees
  • Incentivising ride-sharing and penalising single occupancy trips
  • Modelling the impact of MaaS on different user groups, to inform planning

David Dew-Veal, Public Sector Mobility Strategy, Infrastructure Advisory Group, KPMG UK