The Future of Urban Mobility

Sept. 8, 2015
Open architecture innovation platforms could apply the power of technology to complex social-technical problems.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Smart cities’ evolution as engines of greater energy efficiency will entail rethinking transport. The Energy Times invited Davide L. Bodde, a Clemson University professor, to share his insights on the topic from his presentation to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation New Entrepreneurial Growth Conference in June. The future of energy utilities and smart cities will be explored at the Empowering Customers & Cities Conference in Chicago November 4-6.

Open architecture innovation platforms that draw upon the distinct capabilities of system integrators, independent entrepreneurs, and political authorities could, in principle, apply the power of technology to complex social-technical problems.  Such problems include urban mobility, renewal of the electric grid, and provision of urban water and sewage services. 

But the state of practice in creating such platforms—termed here innovation ecosystems—remains inadequate for widespread application.  There is a need  to create a learning-based process to advance the state of practice in innovation ecosystems through  experimentation and  the accumulation of operating experience.  Our case-in-point is urban mobility systems.

Rising urban populations, decades of deferred investment, and the changing locations of intra-urban economic activity have diminished the service capacity of the traditional mobility platforms: mass transit, independently owned vehicles, and taxi fleets.  The most evident consequences include: economic losses from traffic and parking congestion; pollution from inefficiently used vehicles; and diminished access to jobs.  These consequences reduce the capacity of the urban mobility infrastructure to sustain dynamic and opportunity-rich economic growth. 

Recent technology advances such as electric vehicles, fully automated vehicles, and large-scale data management can offer services that are cleaner, faster to deploy, and less costly.  Numerous studies illustrate their benefits: for example, fleets of autonomous vehicles operating in ride-sharing mode in the urban core could reduce significantly the number of vehicles required to provide equivalent transportation services.  Such optimized fleets could reduce carbon emissions, eliminate other combustion-related pollutants, lower urban heat deposition, reduce congestion, and open up public spaces previously reserved for parking.

But the simulation studies assume a mature, fully deployed system.  In contrast, little attention has been paid to the transition from the current infrastructures to the desired future state.  We face a transition of the vehicle from a system for which operator skill largely determined performance to the emerging world of fully automated vehicle systems.  Indeed such prototype automated vehicles have been demonstrated under limited street conditions by several vehicle makers.

But the transition from automated vehicles with individually optimized performance to the visionary world of optimized urban mobility services cannot be accomplished by the current innovation models alone.  In addition, bringing to reality the visionary world so well documented in silico will require) new models of innovation and  the acquiescence of the urban jurisdictions.

Much evidence suggests that the pace of entrepreneurial innovation accelerates when an open architecture business model combines the inventiveness of entrepreneurs with the financial and organizational strength of the system integrators to build the complete innovation ecosystem. 

In urban mobility, however, any innovation ecosystem will require the participation of local jurisdictions to a greater extent than in past infrastructure transitions, for example telecommunications.  This is because local jurisdictions set the rules that determine the feasibility and desirability of alternative mobility systems – access to HOV lanes for preferred vehicles, for example.

Local authorities either operate or franchise the incumbent systems like mass transit or taxi service.

Incumbent and alternative mobility systems cannot function independent of each other because the road network is a fixed resource.  Instead special rules must guide the interaction between old and new: road sharing among pedestrians, drivers of individually-owned vehicles, taxis, and  autonomous vehicles, for example.

A systematic learning process could advance the state of practice in innovation ecosystems by creating a pool of sharable knowledge regarding best practice in the urban mobility marketplace.  This knowledge base could be acquired in through documentation of the operating experience of the pioneers in establishing urban mobility systems—with or without an innovation ecosystem.

It also can be gained  through specially designed experiments with cooperating partners guided by mutually-agreed operating principles.  Wide dissemination of the knowledge so gathered could establish a general view of best practice, leading to new opportunities for entrepreneurs and releasing a fresh cycle of economic growth.

David L. Bodde is a professor and Spiro Institute Fellow at the Clemson University Internatational Center for Automative Research.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!