In the final weeks of 2018, I caught a glimpse of transportation’s future on my way to an appointment. I was walking briskly to catch a bus I knew had 20-minute headways. If I missed it, I’d be late.
I fired up a trip-planning app on my phone, which gave me a real-time countdown to when the bus would arrive. I had five minutes to go three blocks. Crap! Now walk-jogging, I toggled over to the ride-hailing option, ready to reluctantly summon a car as a fallback.
But then my thumb glanced over a new button that had recently been added to the app’s home screen. Of course! I only had to veer a few steps out of my path to grab an electric scooter (since I already had an account, scanning the QR code to unlock it takes a few seconds). I rolled off the sidewalk and zipped the final two blocks to the stop.
Yes, I made my bus.
As the shifting transportation world brings more choices to our streets, trip-planning apps are serving as the invisible catalysts for changing how people get around cities, offering routing tools, real-time transit information, and even the ability to compare different modes.
Plus, newly announced fare integration with services like Apple Pay, and the ability to pay for a wide range of services in-app, are making riding transit even easier, too.
Just in the last few months, behemoth Google Maps has added directions for scooters, while nimbler apps like Transit, Citymapper, HERE Mobility’s SoMo, and TransitScreen’s CityMotion have created a slew of new features that allow users to make seamless multimodal connections.
“The goal is to simplify trip planning and payment, whether it involves a black car, a purple bike, a green scooter, or a red bus,” says Stephen Miller, communications lead for the app Transit. “The key is open data from transport operators—it’s why we work so closely with cities and transit agencies to make sure people can access all the options for getting around.”
Thanks to extensive coordination and data sharing between cities, transit agencies, and micromobility companies, our smartphones are now able to coordinate real-time information between multiple transit operators, and even between multiple modes of transport. The Google spinoff Coord, for example, built a bike-sharing tool that helps users transfer from public transit to bike share, with real-time availability of bikes and empty docks at hubs.
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