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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

The Future of Mobility

Heading for Seamless Multimodal Travel

Taking the train: For years now, there are alternatives to the private car that are more eco-friendly. But until now, there has not been any convenient tool that connects the services of various transportation operators with one another.

If we want to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, simply driving energy-efficient electric cars will not be enough. Siemens is developing technologies that will make it possible to seamlessly combine different transportation modalities, thus reducing reliance on individual vehicles while setting the stage for diminished congestion and shorter, safer commutes.

Leave your car parked at the train station, take the train to your chosen destination, and then switch to a bus or a rented bike in order to arrive at your appointment or workplace on time — theoretically, it’s easy to occasionally do without your car. However, multimodal travel via various means of transportation often fails in practice because of minor details. For example, during a trip travelers often need to use several apps, and they need to have registered for each of them separately in advance. That alone can make it impossible to switch to a rented bike on the spur of the moment. Nonetheless, an example from Switzerland shows that it is possible to manage multimodal travel successfully. For instance, with Siemens’ support, the Südostbahn (SOB) railroad company based in Sankt Gallen has established a new mobility platform called “abilio.” A special feature of the associated smartphone app is that when it chooses a route on the basis of the user’s profile, it also takes the user’s car into account as part of the travel chain. It even enables the user to pay the parking fee at a train station. The project’s partners are also trying out a new ticketing system: Instead of having to buy a ticket in advance, the distance that is traveled via local public transportation is automatically registered by the user’s smartphone via a Bluetooth connection and subsequently billed.

“abilio” chooses a route on the basis of the user’s profile, it also takes the user’s car into account as part of the travel chain.

The fact that multimodal travel does not function this smoothly everywhere is due to a lack of integration at different levels. As Steven Ahlig, Head of Innovative Technologies at Siemens Mobility Management, explains, “As a rule, the services of various transportation operators have to be connected with one another. We provide the IT platform that is needed for this integration.” Ideally, the customer doesn’t notice any of this. What he or she does notice is the high quality of the routing. “The differences in quality between various routing technologies are considerable,” Ahlig says. An example of one of the best route planning systems in the business is HaCon, a software provider based in Hanover, Germany, that was acquired by Siemens. Moreover, Ahlig adds, “We’ve greatly expanded our expertise when it comes to the design of user-friendly apps.” The extent to which this kind of expertise can motivate people to switch to multimodal travel is illustrated by an example from France. After introducing a new routing system and associated user interfaces, a leading French transport operator was able to increase its revenues from trips involving several segments by more than five percent.

In the future, software from Siemens will enable seamless travel in more and more places all over the world. For example, new mobility platforms will soon be entering service in Dubai and at the Munich airport. The one in Munich offers a function that should be extremely welcome to stressed air travelers: a digital travel assistant that accompanies them from their own front door to the airport gate — even if the user’s travel plans are changed at the last minute.

Digital Commuting

Apps and digital assistants of this kind may eventually translate into a reduction in the total number of commuters. If broadband networks become increasingly available, the “home office” that is occasionally used today could become the basic workplace for more and more workers, thus resulting in more time for work or personal pursuits. The average American spends 79 minutes per day getting to the workplace and back home. In Germany, that figure is 60 minutes. More efficient traffic management, especially in very congested major cities, is another component of increased efficiency — and it will also pay off financially. The BITCOM sector association calculates that an improved traffic flow would make it possible to save €4.4 billion in Germany alone.

Johannes Winterhagen
Picture credits: Panthermedia