Meet the Multimodal Travelers: Tarzan & Jane

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Meet a couple of new urban mobility consumers; his name is “Tarzan” and her name is “Jane.” Rather than owning automobiles, they “swing” from one mobility mode to the next to travel around their city. They require a robust urban “mobility network” to enjoy their freedom of movement. While many people have experienced multimodal travel, there is a new, more convenient form of it becoming available, and it’s a very different experience from owning and driving the same automobile every day.

Smart mobility is getting traction. In recent weeks the hyper-growth rideshare company Uber announced it expects to have 1-million drivers serving its network this year! While the company continues to suffer growing pains from the large number of cities blocking its expansion, we should remember the company is only 5 years old, and has a valuation almost two-thirds of Ford’s! 

But Ford is not standing still.  The company recently announced its Smart Mobility program to focus on this new area.  The company is launching 25 mobility experiments around the globe to ultimately help the company reinvent how people and goods will move about urbanized areas of the planet in the future. 

Quality multimodal mobility networks require a rich and diverse array of mobility modes for a consumer to choose from to be of value.  It’s not like owning a car, nor is it like trading-up to a new car. One alternative mobility mode will not do the job. Rather, the consumer will benefit from having a considerable number of options available on-demand, and placed where they need them. A meaningful “network” of services is needed.

Smart mobility systems will vary by the population density of the city.  In New York City, Tokyo, or the many other highly dense world cities, there is already a larger percentage of people moving about without a car. I call these cities with tall buildings, “thick” cities.

In Phoenix, Atlanta, or the many other “thin” cities, there are a larger number of consumers that own automobiles than in thick cities. Some cities are working to change this, such as Los Angeles. The city is addressing the “first-last mile” challenge of helping a potential transit user to easily access a light rail or express bus station with bikes, electric bikes, or other simple local transportation mode.  Multimodal mobility will likely reach thin cities when the self-driving cars, or “robo-taxis” become available, further down the road.

Many of us have been to one of these dense cities without having our car nearby. If we are in downtown Washington, DC, for example, we can walk to many quality destinations.  There is an excellent subway underground, local buses, a rich network of standard taxis, Uber, Lyft, a meaningful network of Zipcar and Car2Go carshare vehicles, and now bikeshare to use if we choose.  As we move across town riding one mode, then selecting another, we are like Tarzan or Jane, swinging from one “vine” to the next. Our smartphones enable easy bookings on the fly. But we should remember that neither Tarzan nor Jane would be able to travel in this manner if they were in a wimpy jungle with only a few vines.  If there were only a few vines and they were far apart, this style of mobility would not work. Network “richness” is key!

Many lower-income urban residents know daily multimodal travel from riding public transit. These services are improving each year, but currently lack the convenience of either owning a car, or being able to afford higher quality new mobility services (i.e., Uber). A recent Brookings Institute study reported that only 25% of Americans can get to work using public transit in 90 minutes or less. That is not encouraging!

For most Americans, the only time we experience traveling like Tarzan or Jane is when we are flying to another city.  We travel multimodal when we fly, navigate airports, deal with car rental, grab taxis or shuttle services. Traveling in a multimodal manner requires planning ahead, booking tickets early, etc. 

Fortunately for the upcoming urban multimodal traveler, there are many new services being introduced to help Tarzan and Jane move easily across Chicago, London, or Seoul.  Daimler’s Moovel is an early offering that aims to create a seamless experience, along with RideScout (which Daimler acquired recently). These are just a few of the new multimodal navigation and service acquisition apps coming to market, which could be called “Vine-Traveler” apps! 


Dan Sturges is mobility design consultant for TeamRed and has been supporting “transformative” transportation projects for nearly 30 years.  He trained as a car designer, worked as an entrepreneur to bring to market a new intermediate vehicle category. He supports a wide range of vehicle design and mobility planning efforts for both government and corporate entities.