Running a transportation network is a bit like knitting yarn into a blanket. Each strand has a place and a purpose. When it comes to transit, the light rail thread provides a necessary means of mobility for commuters. Streetcars invigorate neighborhoods. Bus lines are work horses of a system, moving people around a city and its surrounding areas. Bikes, ride-sharing services, motorized scooters – each has a place within the fabric. But on its own, each strand is just a twist of fibers that may, or may not, fully meet the needs of its user. That is why it is so important for transit agencies to strive for the seamless integration of multi-modal means of transit that allow passengers to move between different modes without impediments. Think of it as a providing your customers with a transportation blanket woven from all different kinds of mobility strands!
System integration increases efficiency. It allows different modes of transportation to complement one another and work together as one cohesive unit. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, travelers typically use more than one mode of transit to complete a trip, therefore connecting those modes is important in order to make travel more convenient, efficient, and hassle-free
A recent report from the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center says that in order to achieve seamless mobility three things are necessary: infrastructure, technology, and coordinated and connecting systems. Infrastructure includes fixed installations, walking trails, ramps and even signage that directs passengers to their destination. Technology helps passengers plan trips, buy tickets, and receive real-time information while en route. Finally, coordination and connection between transportation systems is a must if there is to be integrated fare collection and to ensure that different modes of transportation work in conjunction with one another.
RATP Dev’s vice president of North American Rail, Steve Bethel, says integrated fare collection is key to improving the overall travel experience for passengers, but it is only part of the equation. He notes that when introducing a new mode of transit into a community, it’s important to determine the best transfer points between the various modes of travel so the system is as efficient as possible. “You want to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck on transfer points, and you want to eliminate routes that duplicate one another.”
Moreover, DC Streetcar General Manager, Keith Jones, says in addition to efficiency and convenience there are complexities that must be taken into consideration when integrating a transit system. For example, when Washington, D.C. recently implemented its new streetcar system, it was imperative that the system follow the regulations set out in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. “RATP Dev made sure that it didn’t inadvertently degrade the bus system in order to make way for the streetcar,” he says. “The bus and the streetcar had to work together. We had to ensure that all modes of transit supported one another.”
A recent study from the National Center for Transit Research finds that: “A lack of coordination not only places a significant burden on those transit users who have to travel on multiple transit system, but also reduces the chance of attracting more riders, reducing congestion, and lowering vehicle emission and greenhouse gas levels.” Travelers want digitally connected, multi-modal hubs that allow them to move seamlessly from one form of transportation to another. It takes a lot of coordination, planning, and experience to weave together a seamless blanket of buses, streetcars, light rail, bikes, ride-sharing services, etc., but that is what creates a successful transit system that is appealing to consumers and turns them into loyal users of public transportation.