Urban mobility – What are the next big trends?

Article based on a discussion at Web Summit 2020 virtual conference
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As part of the virtual Web Summit 2020, city officials and private sector companies gathered in December for Siemens' round table on urban mobility. We had a lively discussion on what is next for transportation in cities.


“We have to look at this as an opportunity to reset,” says Michael Thompson, Deputy Mayor for the East of Toronto. Thompson is referring to Covid-19, and how it has caused a shift in the way people travel in cities – a shift that is driving new insights that could change the shape of mobility systems.


That shift had already started when the pandemic came along. Advances in data, analytics, and decarbonisation were driving a move toward efficient, sustainable and accessible transport systems.

The current environment has accelerated the adoption of digital solutions in the mobility space. 

“Data from sensors or travel apps helps predict how crowded certain trains, buses or stations will be. This means passengers can choose a travel route to avoid crowded sections and transport operators can manage capacity by adjusting schedules to avoid overcrowding, which is essential in Covid-sensitive times,” she says.

Digital solutions ease the way for smarter transport systems

For Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham, Ontario, data capture is the key to transforming transportation. Data from traffic and security cameras and internet of things sensors already capture millions of bits of data that can be used to forecast passenger demand, reduce congestion and create a more seamless passenger experience.

We're finally seeing the results of what data analysis can provide as a basis to move forward with some of the technologies that we've dreamed about. There’s no doubt that we are headed for a greener, cleaner, leaner, smarter, and quieter transportation system. 
Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of the City of Markham

As cities and operators learn to make the most of this data, it will inform everything from planning maintenance and scheduling routes to which new trains they invest in and how they link up different modes of transport for a more seamless system.   

Data sharing creates new mobility ecosystems

The sharing of data not only enables a seamless system but it also enhances its value. Data owners need to be able to share what they capture, and to use it across projects and teams. When multiple data sets can be merged, it makes the analytics capabilities more robust, allowing for co-creation across internal teams, and with external stakeholders. This adds value for data owners, while making it easier to create frictionless end-to-end travel experiences. 

If a city can combine in a single platform road traffic data, public transit travel times and airline departure time, flyers can confidently budget their journeys to the airport. If we had a shared data program it would allow users to make good decisions about their transportation options.
Tye Hayes, Interim CIO for the City of Atlanta

Creating this kind of data ecosystem, that benefits operators, city officials, and passengers, requires greater governance and collaboration between public and private organisations.  

Smoother connections, greener transport

Data transparency and collaboration between public and private entities would also make it easier to create multi-modal connected journeys that allow urban commuters smoother access to lower-carbon modes of transport.


Sally Eaves, Founder of Aspirational Futures, points to Denmark’s push to redesign rail stations to make them physical hubs in tandem with creating a single payment system that allows travellers to move from train to bus to cycle on one ticket. The focus, she says, was on making “interconnectivity part of the design,” and building green space around it to create a more engaging and environmentally sustainable urban experience.

Adjusting to demand responsive 

Private sector companies are now gearing up investment in linking up to interconnected, sustainable solutions that work in collaboration with public transit systems.


Adam Gromis, Uber’s Public Policy Manager for Sustainability & Environmental Impact, says that the pandemic has caused his team to rethink how Uber coexists with public transportation, and how it might provide more sustainable solutions. “We know we can’t do this alone,” says Gromis.

Much more real-time data on passenger behaviour is required now that Covid-19 has disrupted regular Monday to Friday commuter patterns. Michael Frankenberg, CEO of Hacon, says the transportation network has to adapt to this. “That means our industry has to develop digital solutions and adapt the network to demand responsive transport in a way that it never has before. And that is of course a challenge for the industry and public transport operators.” 

Cities will need to integrate much more flexible ways of traveling, especially first and last miles, sometimes even depending on the weather.  


“One of the things that we can learn from this pandemic as business leaders is that we need more cross functional collaboration,” says Luisa Wahlig, Director of Industry Solutions for Here Technologies. “We need to create a level playing field between public authorities, tech players and transport operators to optimize the system for a more sustainable transport network that will benefit everyone.”

Round-table participants

Erin Aleman, Executive Director for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Sally Eaves, Founder, Aspirational Futures

Michael Frankenberg, CEO, Hacon

Adam Gromis, Public Policy Manager for Sustainability & Environmental Impact, Uber

Tye Hayes, Interim CIO, the City of Atlanta

Evan Kirstel, Co-founder, eVIRa Health

Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham, Ontario

Michael Thompson, Deputy Mayor, East of Toronto

Devina Pasta, Head of Digital and Innovation, Siemens Mobility (Moderator)

Luisa Wahlig, Director of Industry Solutions, Here Technologies