Reducing Covid-19 Contagion with Public Transit: Virtual Seat and Mobility Passport
Encouraging citizens to avoid public transit and rail unless there is no possible alternative is an emerging policy recommendation in countries and cities around the globe. As an “urban and climate strategist” my heart sank when I first heard Boris Johnson. make this recommendation.
We at Iomob believe this policy tool is a blunt force instrument that should be removed from the tool belt. Yes many cities and countries are taking the opportunity brought by this crisis to rethink public space and the economic, social and environmental toll car-centric policies have had on society. Even in the UK which continues to promote the avoidance of mass transit, we are seeing progressive action to quickly embrace e-scooter sharing and the expansion of public space for pedestrian and micromobility use.
What if there was a way to accelerate a safe return to public transit and an expansion of public space for people not cars? There is where Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and “social distancing” or “physical distancing” come together to form a seamless way for users to safely access public and private mobility services to return to the “new normal”.
Let’s start with a rethink on policy towards public transit including buses, BRT, metros and suburban rail. Obviously one advancement we’d like to see more of ASAP is a more rapid transition to mobile based ticketing solutions. This can reduce the risk of contagion by avoiding the exchanging of currencies or the need to interact with physical ticketing machines. This also allows public transit services to be seamlessly added to MaaS applications.
But that is not enough. How do we ensure there is social distance on transit vehicles when there is no way to easily sell assigned seats that adhere to guidelines? Iomob was asked to consider this challenge from a major rail operator who operates numerous suburban rail lines. After doing a deep dive on the challenges and current situation, our team came up with the concept of the Virtual seat and the Mobility Passport.
With Virtual Seat, the transport operator shares with Iomob the desired maximum capacity they wish to enable (for example 200 seats on a 600 seat capacity rail/metro line). A user inputs their origin and destination into Iomob’s routing engine, the user select their preferred available timeslot and they receive a QR code with stated info about their approved journey. If the operator has installed QR readers on the vehicle or at fair gates than this can be seamlessly automated. If not, the operator can choose to offer hand held QR readers to staff with proper protective equipment, or ask the drivers to just glance at the user’s QR code to confirm their reservation or just do random spot checks of passengers.
The Mobility Passport acts the same way but leverages Iomob’s multimodal routing algorithms for combined journeys. If a user needs to combine say a suburban rail line with a bus to get to her destination, than she can use the same process to obtain a QR code that works for both modes of her journey.
We realize Virtual Seat and Mobility passport do not solve all the problems our cities are facing regarding contagion from mobility. For example what about the stations themselves? Iomob has a partial solution for that by accounting for the total number of passengers booking origin or destinations at the same time in the same stations and factoring that data in as well. However stations can become overcrowded when people don’t have reservations. Iomob is working with a few tech companies and consultancies to offer a combined solution that includes video analytics in the stations. This data could even be fed into Iomob and support user rerouting to avoid congested transfer stations.
Also, not all mobility passengers have smart phones. The clients we are speaking with intend to reserve a certain number of seats for standby/walk-in passengers.
Also, another challenge is many times to avoid a return to carmageddon we also need to support seamless multimodal options with complementary private mobility services (scooters, bikes, taxis, etc). That is where our CORE MaaS (MaaS with Social Distance filters) comes in where we guide users to multimodal services that are adhering to high levels of safety. standards or implementing cool new tech like self-sanitizing handlebars for e-scooters.
Iomob, which stands for the Internet of Mobility, headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, has built a white label Mobility as a Service solution which combines proprietary algorithms enabling multimodal combinations of public and private services and an SDK that allows end users to discover mobility services, receive multimodal combinations for their journeys, book and pay for a range of mobility services via our client’s own apps. Iomob has won numerous open innovation challenge awards from organisations like Ford Motors, Renfe and Sweden’s Sustainable Mobility Challenge. Iomob has also participated in prestigious startup accelerators such as Techstars and Wayra and in 2020 won the TravelTech Europe startup first prize (London), 2019 Best Mobility Startup of 2019 at the South Summit, The Public Choice Award from ERTICO in 2019, Top Mobility Startup in the Federation of International Automobiles (FiA) Startup Challenge and selected Top 100 Smart Cities Partners by Newsweek.
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