Parking and Shared Mobility: a Human Centred Perspective
At fresk.digital, mobility is a topic that lies close to our hearts, due to the experience we have in the field, our project-portfolio and the curiosity that strikes in us due to the interesting innovations that we see happening in this field.
In the last months we have been busy with different projects in the shared mobility field: from our research on the uses of bike sharing and mopeds sharing systems, our collaboration with BlueBike in Belgium, to the project with NS and TIER where we have helped set up a research pilot to test their integration. We have completely immersed ourselves in scenarios of use for shared mobility and in the pains and gains for the riders, which led us to draw some interesting conclusions on how to make the experience more human centred.
Our research is ongoing. After publishing the second report of the shared mobility series, we took a moment to zoom out and analyse the visible patterns out of all our engagement with shared mobility.
We found two very crucial moments in the travellers journey, namely:
Focusing on these important moments, we took a closer look at the possible parking options, what the pro’s and con’s of them are, and how they are currently used.
Parking in Shared Mobility
We have identified three types of parking in shared mobility (focus the Netherlands and Belgium): free floating (zonal), station based and mobility hubs. Let’s have a closer look.
Free Floating (zonal)
If you take a walk around the city, you can spot different mobility transportation vehicles parked in almost every free spot left on the streets and sidewalks. Bikes, e-bikes, scooters or mopeds of any colour and shape can be found waiting for someone to step on them and quickly drive to their destination.
This fleet organisation system is called free floating, dockless (or in our example: hub-centric), where shared mobility vehicles can be parked without fixed stations. The idea is simple: making transportation options publicly available all over the city, with a broad central base.
These free floating systems come with specific parking zones where travellers can pick up or leave a vehicle. Original free floating where you can park anywhere you want does not exist in the Dutch cities, here vehicles are mostly accumulated in a specific zone in a city. These zones can differ by shared mobility providers, and are there so travellers would not leave the vehicles in inconvenient places around the cities and for the providers and city authorities to have better control over bike fleets. In the Netherlands, shared mobility providers like Donkey Republic, TIER, Lime, GOsharing and Baqme, for bikes and Felyx, Check and GOsharing for mopeds offer a zonal free floating or hub-centric service to their customers.
Free floating has been shaking up urban transportation and the way we get around our cities, because it makes it extremely simple for travellers to find a vehicle by just walking around the city. It has also raised quite some criticism related to the amount of vehicles that are crowding the streets and sidewalks.
There are also shared mobility providers that offer specific spots around the city where you can pick up or leave your vehicle. These are called station based or in some cases docking systems. People can rent and return vehicles to these specific locations once they’ve completed their journeys and connect the vehicles to a docking station to park and/or charge the vehicle, once needed. An example of that is the bike sharing service provided by NS, the OV-bikes. These are bikes that you can pick up from almost every train station in The Netherlands, you can use to get to your destination and bring back to the same train station where you‘ve picked it up, these bikes have a lock and can be used as if you own it, until you return it. Or the highly used Velo bike sharing system in Antwerp. These stations are spread around the city, and well signalled for travellers to easily find them. In the Velo example, the bikes don’t have a key, so they are designed for dock by dock use. The biggest challenge there is to find a docking station that has space for your bike to park within the area of your end destination.
You might have also noticed places where there’s a higher concentration of shared vehicles together. The (e)bikes or mopeds are neatly parked next to each other, and form what you can only assume are stations. These places are called mobility hubs, and they are a way of bringing together all of these transport services in a highly integrated and connected way.
Mobility hubs are physical places that connect a variety of transport modes, places where people can switch from one form of transportation to another, where travellers can be sure to find a vehicle to travel with, or where they can be sure to find a spot where to leave the vehicle they have used for their journey. An example are the new hubs that are being built in Rotterdam for shared mobility providers, like the example in Katendrecht shown in the picture below as a response to the mobility planning for the city.
Mobility Hubs come in different sizes and flavours, namely:
- Park & Ride Hubs, which are normally located outside of the cities, are systems in which people drive to a place where they can leave their car and get on a bus or train that will take them the rest of the way to where they are going. An example are the P+R parking hubs from Q-Park available in 53 train stations in The Netherlands.
- Smart Mobility Hubs, which are also located in cities or towns, are hubs that are made to offer a wider choice of travel options, what is also called multimodality: you can find cars, public transport together with e-bikes, e-scooters and other shared micro mobility stations. An example is the project for the Smart Mobility Hub that will be created in the sportpark Strandvliet in Amsterdam and lastly,
- Future Mobility Hubs, which are all of the above, with extra services for the travellers, like shops, community areas or public spaces for anyone to use and motivate the use of these places around the cities. There are still no examples available of Future Mobility Hubs, but quite some research has been done on the topic by Arup, where they have been looking at all the possible uses of such Hubs for the cities.
A Human Centred Perspective: Researching the Traveller’s Journey
At fresk.digital our approach is always human centred. We used our experience and the results from our shared mobility research to identify patterns and zoomed in by conducting a deep-dive research to validate our hypotheses.
In this deep-dive we asked people about their travel patterns, and their experiences with shared mobility services. We conducted a total of 18 semi-structured interviews with people between 24 and 72 years old, living both in big cities and smaller towns, to make sure we would have as much variation as possible in the types of answers we would get.
The analysis of the interviews led to three interesting perspective you might recognise from our shared mobility researches:
Getting used to the uncertainty: some of the riders still need to get used to the fact that the moment you need a vehicle there might be none around for you.
It is extremely nice to know that there are plenty of vehicles outside my door that I could use when I need to, but I had several times that when I needed to get a bike for example, the only options were quite far away from me. So I ended up using other transportation modes, or having to replan my route.
Free floating solutions for example give a sense of freedom and flexibility, but they don’t give a sense of reliability that travellers like to have when planning a trip:
If I just have to go to the city centre, I know I could rely on a scooter or e-bike somewhere on the route. But if I want to plan a trip at a specific time, I prefer to have the certainty that I’m going to find a vehicle I could use for my needs, and I would not find it weird to pay for this certainty.
In fact, almost all of the participants find free floating handy, but unreliable.
It is handy that you can leave your vehicle almost anywhere in the city, so it makes the parking moment quite easy, but on the other hand it makes the moment of finding a vehicle unreliable and sometimes quite stressful. I find myself checking the Felyx app every minute in the 30 minutes before having to use it to be sure that I will get one.
Following the rules, am I doing it right?: some of the participants also shared that free floating feels less complex than it is in use, since it looks like you can just leave your bike anywhere and continue with your journey, but instead there are actually rules that need to be followed so that the next person would be able to find the vehicle in the right place, in the good state and also to prevent fines.
One of the things that most stresses me out while using shared mobility vehicles is knowing if I parked the vehicle in the right way and I won’t get a fine for it. I always plan some extra minutes while planning my journey to be sure to take the right amount of time for checking the zones and parking properly.
Anything, as long as it is fast: 83% of the participants don’t really care about the brand of the vehicle, as long as they can make use of it. What is really important though, is being able to be as fast as possible and making an informed decision based on the options available.
If I can have the certainty that I will find a bike or a moped close to the train station for example on my way to the office, I would choose those instead of the bus without thinking twice about it.
Also, 11 out of 18 participants do not mind having to switch transportation mode while travelling – what is referred to as multimodal solutions – as long as this would make their trips faster. And when asked what would be the maximum amount of switches they would be willing to do, the answers ranged from 1 till maximum 3 changes during their trips.
I currently walk to the train station, get on the train and then take a bus and a metro to get to my office. This takes me around 1 hour per trip every day. If I could be sure to get a bike from the train station to the office and skip the bus and metro, it would improve my commute immensely.
We asked the participants what the steps were in their shared mobility journey that had the most impact on their experience. Without looking at the specific brands of the providers, the common answer was related to two interesting moments in their journey: the first one being the ‘parking the vehicle’ moment, and the second one being the ‘picking up the vehicle’ moment.
Parking as a Link Between Different People’s Journeys: What Is the Future of Shared Mobility Parking?
Picking up and/or parking the vehicle has a great impact on the travellers experience of the shared mobility services. This offers great potential in optimising the travellers journey in both their digital experience and in the physical parking place experience.
It is interesting to realise that one vehicle is not an individual experience, but a chain of experiences that are linked together. Parking the vehicle may be the end of your journey, because you have reached your destination, but at that moment it becomes the beginning of the next traveller’s journey, because this is where they pick up the vehicle.
This makes parking a very crucial moment in the overall experience of the traveller, and it challenges the shared mobility provider, because how will you be able to ensure quality for all your clients when you are not physically there to oversee every interaction?
The solution may be hidden in the mobility hubs, as they might be the future of shared mobility.
Taco van der Steen, Business Developer for the Dutch, Belgian and German market at Donkey Republic shares that mobility hubs provide a solution to neatly park the vehicles without overcrowding the cities, and are recognisable spots for riders where to find vehicles for their trips. He explains that bigger hubs can form a network of structures that brings together a full suite of complementary transport modes. They can be distributed throughout urban, suburban and rural areas enabling access to, and interchange between, a choice of different mobility options to suit individual user needs.
This means mobility hubs make switching vehicles and flexible journeys around the city easy to plan, providing a wider mobility choice to travellers. You are not dependent on just one type of transportation, hoping it is available for you. Concentrating mobility services into hubs in strategic places in the cities unlocks the opportunity for more flexibility and reliability. Solving the exact need our research has shown.
There is an opportunity here, because parking hubs can easily be integrated into the existing infrastructure of the cities without having to build new locations for them, like existing train stations, strategic parking spots close to schools, gyms, universities and event locations.
Let’s be honest, we are not there yet, but the future is not far away. Mobility hubs have potential to help solve a great deal of issues we have encountered in our human centred research, but mostly, it will make the travellers journey just a bit more comfortable.
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