Imagine a time when you will be able to use one ticket on your phone to travel from the centre of London to Amsterdam, including every bus, rail and air transport link.
Seamless international travel is still some way off, but most countries are working towards better connected transport networks, by using technology to improve their infrastructure.
The internet has already revolutionised the way passengers plan their journeys, while smart ticketing systems are helping cut the time it takes to get through a station. Now there is a greater push towards creating more efficient intermodal transport systems that would allow passengers to use a single pass, no matter how many forms of transport are involved and no matter where their journey takes them.
Juan Jesús García, head of industry affairs for Europe at Amadeus, a travel IT group, believes multimodal travel is becoming a hot topic, particularly in Europe and some Asian markets.
He says this is driven by not only by a more integrated transport system facilitated by new technologies, but also by travellers demanding more door-to-door integration and increased interest in sustainable transport.
The European Commission has been focusing on multimodal intercity travel over the past decade.
The EU executive body included the objective of establishing the framework for a European multimodal transport information, management and payment system by 2020 as one of 10 goals for achieving a competitive transport system.
A previous project backed by the Commission, called All Ways Travelling, worked on a proof of concept to show it was possible for passengers to use one ticket for air, rail and urban transport across Europe.
“There is a real opportunity for the EU to take a lead on developing a door-to-door intermodal transport system,” says Mr García. Amadeus was one of several companies to work on the All Ways Travelling project, which ended in 2016.
A number of countries have made great strides in terms of integrating their domestic transport systems. Japan is among those at the forefront of the trend, says Simon Dixon, global transportation leader at Deloitte, the consultancy.
JR East, one of Japan’s largest railway companies, introduced a rechargeable, contactless fare card in 2001. In 2004, NTT DoCoMo, a mobile phone provider, introduced the mobile wallet, which served as electronic money, member card, credit card and tickets for aeroplanes and events. In 2006, the companies jointly launched the Mobile Suica, moving payments from smart cards to smartphones.
“Over the ensuing decade, they have built an extensive ecosystem of transport operators, retailers and service providers and across most of the country’s transport systems. Japan aims to extend the interoperability of the Suica card across all train lines nationwide in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020,” says Mr Dixon.
The more complicated the pricing scheme, the more difficult it will be to integrate
Other countries have also made moves towards seamless travel, by incorporating different transport modes. SJ, Sweden’s government-owned passenger train operator, works with taxi companies to enable booking a full rail and cab journey in one go. The taxi company uses live data from the rail carrier to plan the pick-up from the station, putting an end to long queues at the taxi rank.
However, Will Phillipson, co-founder and chief operating officer of SilverRail Technologies, a transport technology company, says multimodal systems are still in their infancy. He points to Transport for London’s Oyster contactless card system, which works across the city’s bus, tram, train and underground network, but has not spread to the rest of the country’s transport system.
“The fundamentals come down to money. TfL’s Oyster system works in London because the money goes through a central clearing system. Even though it may be a private company operating the red bus, the money is collected by TfL and distributed centrally,” says Mr Phillipson.
Transport experts agree that one of the biggest obstacles to creating a seamless system is the inherent conflicts of interest. Another factor that can make integration difficult is discounting, says Mr Dixon, or when transport providers offer different prices depending on the user or time of travel.
“The more complicated the pricing scheme, the more difficult it will be to integrate. Most customers who purchase close to the time of use, or who are purchasing multiple modes in a single transaction . . . want transparency and the confidence that the service provider will offer the best price,” he says.