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Mobility leader interview: Ben Boutcher-West

A.Z. : Good Morning Ben, thanks for your time today, could you introduce yourself?

B.B.W. : Hello, thank you for having me. I have a back ground in design, automated driving technology and mobility, I currently work at AppyParking where we digitise kerbside and pavements to enable a better parking experience for consumers, enable government with digital control and unlock revenue from mobility services and operators. Different users all access the kerbside in different ways, we cater for this while moving the parking sector away from a binary enforcement approach. It’s a big mission but very relevant and our platform approach is gaining traction every day.

A.Z. :What are the possible strategies to work out the issues related to urban mobility?

B.B.W. : Big question and many are still figuring that out. We have found most traction from spending a lot of time with cities and parking controllers to understand two elements. Firstly, the levers they have to manage the kerbside today, but also the levers they would like. It is also good in those forums to map timing for technology, some councils are heading car free and automated much faster than others. This is particularly relevant when considering different government bodies who look after different elements of the eco system and also many different users. Consider Enfield for example, a London borough, a major arterial route for London, some car less households, a major economic cross section of people and even some 4 car households where families stay together to mitigate the growing housing challenges. Parking in Enfield therefore and a future kerbside strategy is made extremely complex by the mix of use cases Enfield has to look after.

While listening we are also gathering private sector partners to support cities achieve its end game. An example is our relationship with Visa, who have helped us leap the short term commercial issues often blocking innovation and build out a bigger market play much, faster with key strategic cities. Understanding public and private sector goals and performance indicators is a skill and a line we carefully tread. It’s vital to remember how complex a city can be to run and the challenges government have, this is why we have focused on fully inclusive systems, illustrating early examples of benefits and mapping a joint time line for innovation vs traditional procurement.

A.Z. : Who should manage these activities to make this happen?

B.B.W. : We have a lot of support from the key central bodies and even local authorities who understand the pain of parking and have an appetite to bring innovation. Innovation that can also drive jobs, growth and promote better access choices both for government and consumers of cities. Longer term there is much to be gained by providing more centralized data standards which is why we are firm supporters of the Alliance for Parking Data Standards(APDS) funded by the DfT to bring about a national and international stard for kerbside access and the way control is implemented and managed.

Key to success is to appreciate the kerb edge is not only government real estate but also a source of revenue with which to fill pot holes and keep on street lights – it’s vital therefore that any private sector ambitions are focused on empowering government and maintaining public service.

A.Z. : How will technologies facilitate truly Intelligent Mobility?

B.B.W. : It’s important that government technology remains solution agnostic and inclusive. The best city solutions are those that deliver on the social, inclusive and government elements of any strategy. As a result, future technologies that promote openness, transparency and inclusivity will succeed. To quote Ben Green (Harvard University) cities and suppliers must avoid “tech goggles” remaining solution agnostic but keep those core themes as a focus. The focus their is not on AV driving as an example but more efficient and safer mobility and access. At times I believe government go too far into the technical solution and lose sight of the higher purpose a city should be aiming to achieve. This is not wrong as now with technology moving so fast, cities need to be skilled to make informed choices. There is however always a balance to strike.

Create profit from on demand services is proving difficult if we follow the news on mobility providers, however the mission is correct – matching asset to trip purpose, at time of day in accordance with a cities ambition. Truly Intelligent Mobility for me should reduce traffic, see streets become healthy places (from the soil up) and an end to mobility gone wrong, or parking as we call it! This means open data, shared revenue models, optimum consumer experience and fully empowered GovTech entities. A different coloured bike, or a variant of perspex AV is not representative to intelligent mobility – it does however begin to change consumer habits, prove out use cases and return cities focus back to bigger questions on urban design.

The last mile problem

By Horacio de la Fuente

The last mile problem is simple: ?public transport doesn’t take us exactly where we need to go. As mentioned in a recent article by McKinsey, public transport makes a very good job at getting you from point A to point B. The problem is once you get to point B and there’s not a public transport to get to your destination.

Walking long distances is hardly a solution and not everyone has a car. And even if you have one, parking is not always available. 

Transit systems in cities are typically looking at these kinds of one-kilometer, last-mile solutions. For commuters, the goal is to cross town more efficiently and safely and for cities to improve the quality of the air and reduce traffic congestion, which costs more than 1 percent of GDP globally.

TECH HELPS

 Some seriously smart people are working on changing the future of transportation. And certainly these innovations will change your commute. Meanwhile, for the time being, these are some of the technologies that are helping your commute:

  1. Widespread use of the smartphone
  2. Shared mobility: Ride-hailing services have grown rapidly over the past few years and now compete with public transit and private vehicle ownership.
  3. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is emerging as a way to simplify the complexity of transportation systems

WHY IS SO COMPLICATED?

 A big part of the problem is that cities are always changing and expanding. Any new development generates a new last mile problem. In fact, it’s a never-ending problem. The other issue is the need for a unique payment system that makes easier and simple for commuters to use the different travel options that a city offers (buses, light rail, bike rentals). At the end of the day, city commuters must be able to navigate between these different transport modalities quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

ADVANCES SO FAR

World Resources Institute affirms that there are already more than 70 cities partnering with new private mobility services to address the challenges public transit systems are facing. 60% of these partnerships are in North America and Europe, and they are present in only 4 cities in the Global South. The most common partnerships between public transit agencies and new mobility service providers are customer experience services for planning multimodal journeys, on-demand mobility services which offer a more flexible mode of transportation than buses and subways, and shared-mobility services to help passengers make first- and last-mile trips to and from transit hubs. For example, St. Petersburg, Florida, subsidizes Uber rides to and from transit stations; and in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Grab is allowing users to view public transit routes, along with ride-hailing suggestions for the first and last mile of each journey, as well as alerts on delay and schedule changes for some transport options. Some advances are been seen is the self-driving technology area as well.  Andrew Zaleski in Curbed states that in the last two years a movement toward driverless, electric shuttle services in America’s cities has quietly bubbled up. In Detroit, Las Vegas, Columbus, even Lincoln, Nebraska, autonomous mini-buses have completed successful shuttle trials or are currently ferrying passengers. In Finland, Switzerland, and France, where autonomous shuttles are entering their third and even fourth years of operation.  The importance of technology in this case, is that labor is the biggest cost when comes regular transportation. So, a driverless shuttle would allow a radical increase in frequency, the single most important driver of transit ridership.

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