High speed trains, airports and motorway toll roads may make the headlines, but the real news in transport is usually found at a local level. It’s not all potholes and parking in local government. New options are being offered. Single city trials can spread into worldwide trends. There are many interesting innovations in local transport to tickle the minds of not only transport anoraks, but also techie geeks, environmental hippies and social campaigners. Here are just a few:
In the last five years, cities and towns around the world have been investing in new local public transport services that include more than just buses and trams. Bicycles and cars are also now public, as well as private transport options.
Bicycles are not new, nor is renting a bicycle at a shop when on vacation. But short term, point-to-point bicycle hire is a recent and burgeoning phenomena. Other than a few outliers (including the Netherlands’ national scheme), urban bicycle hire first gained traction as fully-scaled networks in Paris and Barcelona in 2007. Within five years, there were dozens of schemes, not only throughout Europe, but also in Asia and North America.
Cycle hire takes some of the best aspects of both public and private transport. It allows you to hire a bicycle at a station near you and drop it off at a station near wherever you are going. You don’t have to worry about the storage or maintenance of the vehicle, but neither do you have to share that vehicle with anyone else during the trip. Nor are the bicycles like ones you keep in your garage. Locks and lights are fully integrated and they’re designed to be available, outdoors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A similar, even more recent concept is the point-to-point car club. Again, it’s a private vehicle for public transport. You only pay for when you are driving. There is no rental office where the car must be returned, nor any extra charges for not bringing it back to the same place you started. It is designed to be an urban transport service for city driving, not long-term rental. Pioneered in Ulm, Germany, this flexible, on-demand system of car-sharing has spread to over 25 cities in Europe and North America.
New Ways to Pay
As ‘Wave and Pay’ is available at more stores and to more credit and debit cardholders, customers are becoming accustomed to holding their bank card over a machine to make small transactions, without the need for swiping, signatures or PINs. It is fast, convenient and secure. Just as public transport should be. So the introduction of ‘Wave and Pay’ on London Buses in December 2012 was welcome news and the technology is spreading within the transport sector.
Wave and Pay is only one method of a suite of contactless payment technologies. Yet compared to the smartcards introduced in many cities, it does not require a locally or transport specific card to add to the bundle in your wallet. Everyone with a bank account will soon have one to hand.
Another solution to address the issue of having to carry and search through too many cards was invented by University students in Boston, Massachusetts and is now accepted on the Boston underground: make it an accessory. The students started a company to make rings incorporating the appropriate contactless technology and the customer’s design of choice. It may sound silly, but it could catch on.
The point of these local transport innovations and many more is not just to manage urban roads better or to promote alternatives to the space-guzzling private car, although these are key objectives. Innovative local transport also has a societal goal. It aims to increase mobility and choice, which in turn increases freedom.