On paper, intermodality is the golden answer to most of our contemporary mobility challenges. Combining car sharing, carpooling, biking, walking and taking the train, the bus or the metro has quite a few perks: it makes mobility more flexible, reduces congestions and is overall more sustainable environmentally, socially and economically. Intermodality allows city-dwellers to choose their own way of moving around and gives them more freedom. Yet a few hurdles still remain in the way of intermodality at European level — hurdles that call for innovation, concertation and collaboration between public authorities, private actors and startups.
Access to information
Between 2007 and 2010, the LINK Project, led by the European Commission’s Transport Research and Innovation Monitoring and Information System (TRIMIS), looked at intermodal passenger travel. At the time, it noted: “The current status in Europe is heterogeneous; to travel across Europe on a single ticket provided with door-to-door information is a splendid vision, but in reality is often very difficult.” Since then, intermodality has widely benefited from the Open Data movement: it is now easier for users to navigate the public transportation system (and the private services that are increasingly plugged into it, such as car or bike-sharing solutions) and to determine which route is the fastest, cheapest and most environmentally-friendly. This solves a challenge identified by the KITE project, led between 2007 and 2009 by TRIMIS as well : “Journeys are often undertaken by car or airplane in cases where reasonable modal alternatives exist (…). Reasons for such modal choices are in many cases the lack of integration of transport modes or the limited abilities of individuals to combine different modes by themselves.” But there is more to intermodality than access to information.
Adapting the infrastructure
Let’s take the example of SNCF, France’s national train service, who is partnering with startups to complement its network and build a true “door-to-door” service for both domestic and international travel. Offering the service is the first step. Then, there’s allowing the user to book and pay everything seamlessly, through the same app or website — let’s note here that it is also crucial that we come up with solutions catered to those who don’t have access to a smartphone or will never be tech savvy enough to handle connected mobility. Finally, there’s adapting the infrastructure to cater to these new mobilities — which, arguably, is the main challenge for intermodality. The Grand Paris project plans for the train stations of Paris and neighbouring cities to become “public squares” where all forms of mobility will converge. They imagine car and bike-sharing docks, lanes for bikes, gyropods and scooters, carpooling pick-up and delivery points, bus stations and autonomous shuttle stops, bike parks, all in one place.
Building a European-level intermodality network will thus require significant investments in infrastructure, that will make commuting and connecting as painless as possible. It also means putting the user at the center of it all: truly effective intermodality cannot be invented from the top down. It has to match the habits and meet the needs of the people who do commute and travel everyday. It is through concertation that intermodality will no only foster new ways of moving around, but also a new relationship to a city that will be more inclusive, social and sustainable. It will also make the European community somehow more concrete, embedded in the way people live and move. Just like the Erasmus programme has allowed students from all over the continent to meet new people and fall in love with new cultures, a Europe-wide intermodality network would strengthen the European project more efficiently than any political manifesto.