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What does smart urban mobility look like, city-by-city? How are global cities faring so far? Learn the steps that cities can take to realize the future of mobility in the coming decades.
(Originally published January 9, 2018. Updated with new city profiles.)
A smart city is a data-driven city, one in which municipal leaders have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of conditions in the areas they oversee, including the urban transportation system. In the past, regulators used questionnaires and surveys to map user needs. Today, platform operators can rely on databases to provide a more accurate picture in a much shorter time frame at a lower cost. Now, leaders can leverage a vast array of data from the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and other digital technologies to develop and inform intelligent decisions about people, places, and products.
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This article is featured in Deloitte Review, issue 23
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Unfortunately, when it comes to designing and implementing a long-term vision for future mobility, it is all too easy to ignore, misinterpret, or skew this data to fit a preexisting narrative.1 We have seen this play out in dozens of conversations with transportation leaders all over the world. To build that vision, leaders need to gather the right data, ask the right questions, and focus on where cities should go tomorrow.
Given the essential enabling role transportation plays in a city’s sustained economic prosperity,2 we set out to create a new and better way for city officials to gauge the health of their mobility network and their readiness to embrace the future. The result is the Deloitte City Mobility Index (DCMI), a collection of conscious choices based on our vision of what smart urban mobility should look like. The DCMI is an in-depth exploration into the rapid changes occurring in the way people and goods move about, with intermodal journeys, active transportation options, such as sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and public transit playing prominent roles. The DCMI places economic prosperity at its core, takes a holistic view of the city’s entire mobility landscape, and it is informed by our clear image of how the future of mobility could unfold in urban areas.
Here you will find an overview of how we constructed the DCMI and a discussion of some of our key findings. We invite you also to explore the accompanying map for in-depth city profiles and interactive comparison feature, which we will be expanding over time.
To develop a picture of mobility across the globe, we went beyond what transportation looks like today to explore what mobility could be in a truly smart, liveable, economically vibrant city. Three key themes emerged from this research:
With these three themes as our lodestar, we dug into the component pieces of each.
Some of the cities we looked at are centuries old; they reflect countless choices made by political leaders, businesses, and residents over time. Naturally, those circumstances, both physical and political, shape today’s mobility landscape, and affected their rankings in our index. Cities in which decision-making authority rests with multiple actors, like Paris and Washington, DC, often struggle with articulating and acting upon a cohesive vision for the future.
That said, many of the cities we profiled have shown a remarkable ability to overcome their circumstances through new approaches. The mobility profile of Columbus, Ohio, for example, is typical of many mid-sized American cities: car-dominated, with limited public transit but also limited congestion due to its modest size. Faced with rapid growth and critical shortcomings, especially when it came to key health outcomes, city leaders crafted an ambitious strategy to remake Columbus’s transportation system into a model for smart mobility.4 Even weather need not be a hindrance. Walking and cycling are most prevalent in Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam—all northern European cities. Helsinki is a top performer, too, where it frequently snows!
Cities with high population densities such as London, Singapore, and Berlin scored highest on transportation performance. With more people funding systems that cover less ground, these cities get more bang for their bucks. Cities with large geographic areas, such as New York and Chicago, tend to do better within city limits but do not perform as well in their larger exo-urban areas.
One reason for this may be the lack of integration, coordination, and effective governance among transportation regulators and providers between the city and the suburbs, and between public and private entities. The city proper usually has one transit authority, surrounding areas have their own, and the level of cooperation between the various entities can vary widely. While this is improving in many of the cities surveyed, it still has a ways to go.
Our findings suggest that having multiple regulatory providers inhibits a smoothly functioning and integrated transportation system, but interagency coordination can be successful. In Toronto, for example, the Toronto Transit Commission handles public transportation within the city, while a multitude of smaller authorities (GO Transit, YRT/Viva, MiWay, and others) cover the surrounding municipalities. The various authorities operated largely independently—for years, passengers travelling between regions required multiple tickets and, apart from a few exceptions, travellers who crossed boundaries had to pay two fares. However, since city leaders created Metrolinx and the region’s “Big Move” plan in 2009, integration has proceeded in stages. When completed, this multiyear endeavor will fully integrate a number of transit systems across Ontario, allowing users to pay fares with a single card across the network.5
As cities grow and expand and housing costs rise, many young families have little choice but to move to the suburbs and commute into the city for work. Too often, it becomes clear that the only viable commuting option is driving; absent a single authority or close coordination among multiple authorities, public transportation can be too complex and time-consuming to utilize. But driving private cars adds to congestion, pollution, and parking challenges, not to mention the financial burden it places on families. In fact, some families find that the lower costs associated with a move outside of the city core are offset by car ownership costs or expensive travel passes. City governments would do well to work together with their surrounding regions to fix this issue, and to do so quickly.
There is also a direct tie between the presence of multiple regulatory authorities and service providers and having a lower ability or willingness to explore innovative solutions. In our index, the leading innovations include smart parking and ticketing, integrated payments, intelligent transit systems, and electric vehicle infrastructure. For any of these efforts to succeed, they often need to be offered across commuting corridors and inter-agency (regulatory body) coordination and cooperation are required. Data integration, governance, and security are also easier with more tightly linked governing bodies.
Finally, the data suggests that more than any other indicator, having low levels of integration is correlated with low readiness to face the future of mobility. Creating seamless urban transportation demands a unity of purpose and an ability to act in concert across different modes and jurisdictions.
Our vision for smart urban mobility emphasizes active transportation and public transit. That necessarily means any city that relies heavily on private cars—as many US cities do—will fare poorly on several metrics in the index. We think that choice is reasonable. Our analysis—and many others’—reveals a number of deleterious consequences from overreliance on private autos, including congestion, pollution, and accidents.6 If cities continue to grow—and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 20507—then public and private players need to find ways to move people and goods in ways that maximize use of space and minimize such social costs.
Private cars can work well in some circumstances and are an important piece of the mobility landscape, however. Geographically spread-out cities tend to favor car use, and North American and Australian cities are among the most geographically spread out of cities measured. Thus, they have a higher modal share of private cars and a lower share of active transportation. Their strategic plans also tend to focus more on road improvements and road-based transportation.
Still, cities that rely heavily on personal vehicles should think through ways to optimize their use. For example, by augmenting private ownership with carsharing and ridesharing, perhaps as part of a mobility-as-a-service solution, it may be possible to keep the cars-to-people ratio in check—or even drive it down. And cars are often the fallback option when the first mile/last mile problem is unsolved. Our research suggests that if getting to public transportation is a problem, people will get in their cars . . . and won’t get out until they reach their destination. Creating convenient and affordable solutions for the beginning and end of a journey—think bicycle-sharing, dynamic shuttles, and ride-hailing, ideally integrated via a full-fledged mobility-as-a-service offering—can be an important step to reducing reliance on personally owned vehicles.
Paris has made significant strides in reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles. It introduced a pioneering bicycle-sharing plan in 2007, an electric carsharing plan in 2011, and closed off the left bank of the Seine to cars in 2013. As a result, traffic has dropped by more than 30 percent in the past 15 years.8
Similar to the EU’s designation for traditional foodstuffs of specific character, a city’s mobility system will ultimately be shaped by its culture and “terroir” and have its own distinctive local flavor.
Geography plays a massive role in mobility, and this is something that leaders should consider when looking at other cities for inspiration. Spread-out cities tend not to rank highly for active transportation. This is no surprise: If you have to get from A to B, cycling across a large city is a less viable option. While it is relatively easy for cities like Amsterdam and Helsinki to do well in this regard, their recipes for success may be hard to replicate in a sprawling metropolis, such as Los Angeles.
The role of culture is also much more important to the development of a transportation system than we usually assume. Casual ridesharing is common in cities such as Washington DC (where it is known as “slugging”) and New York, but less so in other US cities. Similarly, Amsterdam is quite famous for its cycling culture, but this seems not as common in other cities, even those with similar geographic and population profiles.
Then there is the issue of social attitudes toward public transportation, such as “bus stigma” and the importance of “car culture.” Cities can spend billions to upgrade their transportation systems, but if the public perceives that taking a bus or train is a second-class option compared to driving in, passenger numbers will not increase. Such was the case for Denver (not included in our survey).9 Car ownership is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, is reinforced by decades of advertising by automakers,10 and is an increasingly important status symbol in China.11 Overcoming those cultural barriers could be particularly challenging for transportation planners. They should consider ways either to work with prevailing beliefs, or to find ways to shape them gently.12
From our research, we found that mobility plays a central role in a city’s economic prosperity. This is why the rewards for getting it right are potentially great. Looking for out-of-the-box solutions to solve their problems, leading future of mobility cities demonstrate that finding money is rarely a long-term solution. Their success tends to stem from integration and innovation rather than sheer investment.
We chose more than 60 unique data parameters based on a review of existing literature, their correlations with economic growth, and our research team’s analysis. Data was gathered from a variety of sources, including government statistical databases, third-party reports, private vendors, and nongovernmental organizations. We then brought in the qualitative judgments of a variety of experts on urban mobility or particular cities, both inside and outside Deloitte.13
We assigned each metric a score between 1 and 5 based on the data parameters within it. Depending on the metric, score assignment involved converting a qualitative assessment into a number, indexing data to create a relative score, or both. We applied some data parameters and metrics to more than one theme.
To look specifically at a city’s readiness for the future of mobility,14 we focused more closely on the parameters that dealt with “smart” or “digital” elements of transportation. In particular, the DCMI looks at integrated and shared mobility, vision and strategy, innovation, regulatory readiness for the future of mobility, and ease of use. The metric scores were then averaged. “Five” indicates being closest to full future of mobility readiness. (See figure 1.)
The data was collected for the years 2016 and 2017 (or earlier where newer data did not exist). Unless specified otherwise, this information is no more than five years old. In some instances, trend data was collected, but predominately the data was cross-sectional for the latest year.
In all, we examined more than 40 cities. (Profiles of 18 cities were published contemporaneously with this report. Additional cities will be added in the coming months.) Cities were selected to achieve geographic distribution, a variety of sizes (population and area), and various levels of economic development.
Of course, any effort to create a composite measure such as this is a product of choices and assumptions made along the way. Ours were guided by a view of how seamless urban mobility that is faster, cheaper, safer, and cleaner than today could look, and the important contribution such a system can make to prosperity and productivity. Places that had multiple modes of easily accessible transportation; that had placed an emphasis on walking, biking, and public transit relative to personally owned automobiles; and that had taken steps toward digitally enabling their mobility network received high marks. Different choices and assumptions, guided by a different vision, would necessarily yield different results. In addition, the DCMI currently presents a snapshot, not a trajectory. It does not capture how cities have trended over time, nor can it evaluate how past investments have affected mobility. As we update the data every year, a more robust picture will emerge.
For cities that have fared poorly across specific indicators, all is not lost. Given the speed of change and technological trends, any city has the opportunity to radically remake its mobility landscape over the next five to ten years. Cities that rank poorly today could leapfrog to become leaders in the future of mobility by deploying advanced solutions that solve some of transportation’s perennial problems.
Leaders need to identify what the “right” kind of spending is—typically, those that integrate systems or introduce technological improvements. These will produce better returns over time. While adding more service or building more roads can be helpful, developing better-integrated strategies with greater involvement from the private sector often yields better results. In these scenarios, the government often takes on different roles, such as enabling data sharing, monitoring cybersecurity, incentivizing private-sector innovation and participation, and establishing the standards and rules by which mobility providers must abide.