• By 2030, more than 750 million people will live in megacities;
  • Growing urban populations put pressure on already ageing and inadequate transportation systems;
  • New research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) suggests how urban mobility systems can change to meet the needs of future populations.

Around the world, people are increasingly migrating from rural to urban areas. By 2030, the United Nations estimates, megacities (those with at least 10 million residents) will be home to more than 750 million people, a 35% increase from today.

Rural and urban population changes
Rural and urban population changes
Image: Our World in Data

These growing populations, along with ageing and inefficient transport systems and rising car ownership, are spawning congestion and hobbling productivity. Inadequate transport systems also jeopardize health via emissions and road accidents and exacerbate social inequality by restricting access to education, jobs, and healthcare.

The solution to urban transport problems was supposed to be on-demand, shared mobility solutions; instead, urban mobility has deteriorated owing to an overabundance of modes. Megacities urgently need an orchestrator to bring order to the transport chaos. Municipal authorities must take responsibility for this. Private players can play an important part too.

Creating an effective, integrated urban mobility system starts with understanding consumers’ expectations. BCG surveyed residents of four cities about their mobility priorities.

The rise of megacities
The rise of megacities
Image: BCG

Our findings and their implications for mobility

Consumers want mobility that enables them to be productive and to multitask during their journeys; independence from rigid schedules, so they can travel when they want; and solutions that are environmentally sustainable. Perhaps surprisingly, most respondents said cost of travel, ease of use and comfort are less important.

Although a shift away from car ownership is often predicted, our research discovered a growing desire in favour of it, but only because of practical concerns, such as speed and flexibility, and necessity born from a lack of better alternatives. Less than a quarter of respondents cited personal preferences such as emotional attachment. This suggests that consumers are willing to give up their automobiles if they are replaced with transportation systems that are better able to meet users’ mobility priorities.

Our survey was conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak and so does not reflect potential pandemic-driven shifts in consumer sentiment. Over the next year or so, we expect consumers to be more inclined toward car ownership because private cars offer greater protection against the virus than shared forms of mobility. In the longer term, however, consumers will favour transport solutions that support their core values.

Our research has implications for mobility players across the board. Knowing that multitasking is more important to consumers than a comfortable seat can be useful for designers of vehicles, be they subway cars or self-driving taxis. Likewise, by prioritizing high-speed internet connectivity or sound-insulating seats offering increased privacy, they could gain a competitive edge over rivals.

The demand for greater productivity could also provide a boost for mass-transit operators in cities, since the inconvenience of rigid travel schedules becomes less important to riders if they can get work done or use media while travelling.

Mobility systems are changing and cities must step up

A fundamental shift in transport is underway, changing the roles of automotive OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), private companies and city authorities, which operate mass-transit and traffic management systems.

We expect new business models and technology innovations, including shared autonomous vehicles, to further disrupt urban mobility in the years ahead, eroding the viability of traditional models and fragmenting mobility systems. As part of this transformation, urban mobility solutions will be delivered and consumed as a service via digital devices, expediting the shift away from personal-vehicle ownership. Despite these trends, mobility infrastructure in megacities will come under increasing strain from the weight of surging populations, rising car numbers and chronic underinvestment – unless cities intervene to stop the rot.

All these factors will pressure municipal authorities to step up and create more integrated and coordinated urban transport solutions. The lack of systemic direction is a crucial reason why the influx of new mobility modes into cities has increased the complexity but not the overall performance of today’s urban transport.

What an integrated mobility management system looks like
What an integrated mobility management system looks like
Image: BCG

The answer to the urban mobility challenge is to imagine a city’s transport network as a system that has an orchestrator at its centre. The orchestrator will impose order on the system by deciding who can play, what role each player should have and what the rules are. It will identify the optimal mix of different mobility modes, create an overarching vision and set target KPIs (including travel times, emissions, and safety levels).

Crucially, the orchestrator will own or direct two important elements of the urban transport system:

  • An integrated mobility management system that consolidates the data from all public and private travel modes as well as from the city’s transport infrastructure (via smart traffic management, parking, and tolling systems);
  • A digital customer interface, also called a mobility platform, that combines all transport options in the city.

Control over these two elements will enable the orchestrator to optimize the city’s transport system and help meet consumers’ mobility requirements. Users will be able to book a customized trip involving multiple modes through a single interface, with the most efficient journey possible designed on the basis of data from the integrated mobility management system. To achieve enduring success, cities should prioritize solutions that deliver greater productivity, independence and sustainability for consumers.