Andrew Wolpert, Deputy Program Manager for Smart Columbus at the City of Columbus, in partnership with Diane Newton and Sonja Summer from HNTB, provides Intelligent Transport with in-depth insight into the Smart Columbus Program, which highlighted the possibilities for MaaS when digital and physical infrastructure collide, ultimately supporting the outcomes of both mobility and opportunity.
In December 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) launched the Smart City Challenge (SCC), asking mid-sized cities across America to develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that uses technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply and efficiently. Columbus won the SCC in 2016, after competing against 77 cities, which included a $40 million award from USDOT.
The Smart Columbus Program aimed to improve quality of life; drive growth in the economy; provide better access to jobs and ladders of opportunity; become a world-class logistics leader; and foster sustainability. The city demonstrated how advanced technologies can be integrated into other operational areas within the city, using advancements in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), connected vehicles (CVs), automated vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs), while integrating data from various sectors and sources to power these technologies and leveraging the new information that they provide.
The Smart Columbus Program deployed a holistic portfolio of eight projects and six outcomes. Three of these projects highlighted the possibilities for Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) when digital and physical infrastructure collide, supporting the outcomes of mobility and opportunity. This article highlights how the city evaluated MaaS from both a multimodal and automotive/driver perspective; the innovations that were achieved by creating holistic relationships among these projects to maximise community impact and achievement of MaaS; and the challenges and opportunities that remain for other deployers.
Existing transportation system
The Columbus area is characterised by high Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) usage, low transit usage and low-density urbanisation. Key consequences of these characteristics include car dependency, a pre-existing lack of trust or familiarity with multimodal travel options and a perception of excessive trip time and service uncertainty with respect to existing transit services.
Some of these challenges and perceptions were centralised in specific areas of the city. For example, residents of the Linden neighbourhood face numerous socio-economic challenges, including low household income, lack of major employers and high infant mortality rates. These problems are compounded by the lack of access to transportation options, as there are numerous job centres throughout the Columbus region, including some that are a short drive from this neighbourhood. In addition, although community resources are located near the neighbourhood, they are somewhat disconnected from the neighbourhoods themselves and the transit centres that serve them: close, but not close enough. This results in a transit gap for visitors and patrons of St. Stephen’s Community House, which provides a wide range of community services, including a food pantry, as there is no direct transit access to the site from existing bus routes.
Finally, there is also an inherent distrust in emerging technologies. To simultaneously overcome this distrust while also solving these very real challenges (especially related to a lack of first-/last-mile (FMLM) transit options), Columbus sought to demonstrate automated vehicle technology in a manner that would fit within the transit ecosystem, specifically addressing access to community services from existing transit routes.
The solution: Mobility-as-a-Service
The International Transport Forum (ITF) recently published ‘The Innovative Mobility Landscape: The Case of Mobility as a Service’ to evaluate the delivery models of transportation in urban and non-urban environments1. In its report, ITF states: “Mobility is essential to improve human welfare, especially in urban and peri-urban areas where the majority of the world’s population is concentrated… A one-size-fits-all approach to addressing the benefits and challenges of urban mobility cannot work. Mobility needs vary by geography and population; global regions display significant differences in terms of urban transport mode shares and travel behaviour.”
MaaS can serve as a solution that provides significant benefits by developing a holistic transportation ecosystem that includes public and private mobility providers and reliable and equitable access to transportation”
MaaS can serve as a solution that provides significant benefits by developing a holistic transportation ecosystem that includes public and private mobility providers and reliable and equitable access to transportation. ITF defines MaaS as “a distribution model for mobility, not as a mobile app or a travel mode. MaaS is a model for supplying passenger transport services through a digital customer interface that allows users to source services from a variety of operators, either privately or publicly operated. At its core, MaaS seeks to provide a smooth and reliable customer experience. MaaS involves identifying clients and operators, gathering information about the availability of services and capacity, and managing payment and revenue allocation within a common digital framework. It requires the production of mobility services by public and private sectors, joining these into an integrated offer and a means to communicate this offer to potential travellers.”
With this background in mind, Columbus defined MaaS as a shift away from personally-owned vehicles to a solution that combines both public and private transportation services and delivers them both physically and digitally. The city became a facilitator for MaaS by holistically integrating three of the portfolio projects, providing trip planning, access and new mode choices to users across Columbus, but especially in the opportunity neighbourhood of Linden. These projects included:
- The digital solution: the Multimodal Trip Planning Application (MMTPA), which provided a mobile app, branded as Pivot, which integrates end-to-end trip planning, booking and seamless payment across all modes of transportation, whether public or private
- The intersection of physical and digital: Smart Mobility Hubs (SMH) meet human needs through the application of technology that focuses on prevention as well as remediation of problems and maintains a commitment to improving the overall quality of life of users
- The physical solution: Connected Electric Autonomous Vehicles (CEAV) were piloted to increase access to public transportation, jobs and services. Although an emerging technology project, the shuttles operated in a mixed-traffic environment, interacting with other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. There were two demonstrations conducted during the project, one downtown and one in the Linden community, with two of its stops overlapping with SMH locations. The CEAV service was also one of the modes featured in Pivot.
Together, these projects worked in harmony to provide safe, reliable and equitable transportation to all residents. This paper summarises how each project is solving a mobility problem using both physical and digital infrastructure; the challenges and lessons learned during deployment; and how the projects were intertwined to create a MaaS environment.
The Smart Columbus MaaS concept
The desired outcome was to improve mobility in Columbus communities and to improve opportunity by increasing access to jobs and job centres in the region for communities in need of travel options”
It was the city’s goal that the holistic suite of mobility-focused projects would allow residents to access the transportation systems available in Columbus today and in the future more easily, so that they can maximise services to improve their lifestyle. Together, the MMTPA, SMH and CEAV projects provided an innovative solution to improve mobility and access to opportunity. Columbus identified the following objectives to evaluate the measurable impact of these projects:
- Facilitate improved access to multimodal trip planning information
- Increase usage of the available transportation services Improve ease of multimodal trip planning
- Provide travellers with more convenient access to transportation service options
- Increase access to jobs and services
- Increase customer satisfaction.
The desired outcome was to improve mobility in Columbus communities and to improve opportunity by increasing access to jobs and job centres in the region for communities in need of travel options.
Digital solutions: MMTPA
The MMTPA project was designed to allow travellers throughout Columbus and outlying communities to create multimodal trips and pay for services using a single, account-based system linked to different payment media and modes of transportation. The vision for Pivot was to provide a platform that integrates end-to-end trip planning, booking, electronic ticketing and payment services across all modes of transportation, whether public or private.
The vision for Pivot was to provide a platform that integrates end-to-end trip planning, booking, electronic ticketing and payment services across all modes of transportation, whether public or private”
The multimodal trip options included in the app are walking; public transit (operated by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA)); the Ohio State University Campus Area Bus Service (CABS); ride-sharing (Gohio Commute); bike-sharing (CoGo); scooters (Bird, Lime, Link); ride-hailing (Yellow Cab, Uber, Lyft); as well as personal bikes and vehicles.
Pivot offers real-time mobility options for users in the Columbus region. Users are able to see nearby ride options for buses, scooters and bikes, and receive live transit alerts through the app. Pivot’s many features include a sophisticated navigation system with turn-by-turn instructions, and is available on multiple platforms including Android, iOS, Smart Mobility Hub kiosks and online. Pivot was built on the following design principles:
- A foundation of open-source and proven technologies, with no dependencies on subscription services, proprietary code or commercially licensed data
- Flexible hosting options due to the containerised open approach to development
- A distributed ledger (‘blockchain’) which offers redundancy, transparency, shared governance and long-term viability
- Users book trips with the assurance that their travel history and other personal information is not available to anyone, including the project team, unless they volunteer to release certain information for platform improvement or trip booking
- Machine learning for optimised trip planning results.
Through data from mobility providers, Pivot can connect travellers to a physical mode using a digital travel solution.
The intersection of digital and physical solutions
The desired outcome was to improve mobility in Columbus communities and to improve access to jobs and job centres in the region for communities in need of travel options. The Pivot app, website and SMH kiosk app all run the same codebase, while properly tailored for the look and feel of each device type. SMH includes a free-standing kiosk that provides a user interface with Pivot. Travellers can plan and execute trips by sending trip plans from the kiosk to their smartphones to open in Pivot. Additionally, the CEAV route was incorporated into Pivot as a mobility service option.
Physical solutions: Smart Mobility Hubs
If the MMTPA was the digital solution to creating MaaS, the SMH project was the physical embodiment of the concept. These hubs were designed to improve the availability of transportation options for people living in areas with limited connectivity, leveraging COTA’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route. Six SMHs were deployed to provide travellers with consolidated mobility options and transportation amenities, such as Interactive Kiosks (IKs) with Wi-Fi and Emergency Call Buttons (ECBs), enabling modal transfers between a variety of transportation options that exist, and providing access to comprehensive trip-planning tools – especially Pivot. Taken together, these services were intended to facilitate MaaS.
Through several workshops in the Linden Community, the project team determined that there were six preferred Smart Mobility Hub locations based on the input received and where the community saw FMLM gaps. To identify the mobility services to be provided at each site, the project team then transitioned to co-ordinating with the site stakeholders to deploy what was preferred by the property owners, and what fit within existing geometric constraints. This co-ordination concluded with not every SMH containing the same amenities – however, each hub provided a MaaS system both physically and digitally. Continual stakeholder engagement was critical in transforming the high‑level vision of SMHs into a product that would meet the real needs of the community.
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