“Coming Together Is A Beginning; Keeping Together Is Progress; Working Together Is Success.”
I wonder if, in the midst of a turning century, Henry Ford had any idea how influential his vision would be on this world another hundred years later.
Overlooking the flow of traffic from my office at ACE HQ, I find myself reflecting often on Ford’s words… “Working together is success.” Simple, elegant, inarguable—it’s an axiom easily applied to most things in life and a lot of things in mobility.
I speak regularly about the importance of public-private collaboration for the success of mobility. But as we progress toward a new defining era—the era of Smart Cities—it’s not just sectors that need to work together, it’s systems. And while technology and regulation will undoubtedly underline system collaboration, I believe that nowhere will such “working together” be more visible than in mobility hubs.
WHAT ARE MOBILITY HUBS?
Mobility hubs are centers connecting various modes of transportation services and amenities.
They serve as the conflux of mobility options and are an integral part of an area’s mobility ecosystem, integrating various services and technologies for the overarching goal of reducing our use of and reliance on private vehicles.
Mobility hubs are important because as city populations continue to increase, they work to counter the challenges of urbanization, namely congestion and carbon emissions from increased driving miles.
And ever more, they’re seen by city governments and planning agencies as a means to make urban transportation more clean, convenient, and affordable.
Functionally, they act as access points for first/last mile mobility, as well as stations for various public transit, parking for cars, and drop-off/pick-up curbs for ride hailing and taxi services. What’s more, when designed to their fullest potential, mobility hubs allow private, shared, and public transportation to seamlessly serve employment, housing, retail and retail zones.
Essentially, they’re the Grand Central Station for all mobility options.
WHAT DO MOBILITY HUBS LOOK LIKE?
Mobility hubs, of course, are nothing new. Like Grand Central Station itself, they’ve been around longer than you or I. But the emergence of new technology and disruptive options is forcing mobility hubs—like the mobility industry at large—to evolve in order to efficiently and effectively serve growing demand of a growing population.
Most of the time, this means adapting existing infrastructure to be more “future friendly.” For instance, outfitting bus and rail stations with last-mile mobility services, or modernizing parking garages to better accommodate EV and AV technology and elevate customer experiences.
The National Parking Association emphasizes the opportunity to transform today’s parking garages into Tomorrowland’s mobility hubs, with aesthetic modifications, concept integration, and “a concurrent commitment to technology and innovative concepts for customer engagement.”
“By physically modifying existing parking garages,” explains the NPA, “mobility centers combine shared ownership and autonomy.”
In other cases, the construction of entirely new facilities may prove to be the most streamlined and future-proof approach.
On a broader scale—that is, on a Tomorrowland scale—mobility hubs will be centralized locations for parking, loading and unloading, valeting, cleaning, charging, and even servicing. And that’s just for cars. There’s also ports for dockless scooters and bikes that allow for easy transitions to first and last mile mobility; landing pads for delivery drones for the stocking of parcel kiosks; and curb extensions for safe pedestrian activity.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
Connection will be the main ingredient of mobility hubs from today forward. As a centralizing facility in mobility ecosystems, perhaps it goes without saying one of their primary goals is to better streamline public transit. This includes bus and rail transfers, which in many cities are unreliable to those depending on them to get to work, i.e. the people who rely on them the most.
But, beyond making it easy and nearly effortless to transition from one mode to the other, connection comes into play for mobility hubs in digital form as well.
From a customer service standpoint, this may look as simple as USB ports, WiFi, real-time route displays and charge monitoring of electric vehicles and scooters. But it could (and most likely will) also include motion sensors that communicate with passing autonomous vehicles, wireless charging capabilities, and smart parking solutions.
MOBILITY HUBS AND INCOME BALANCE
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the term “mobility hub” falls shy in explaining what they really are, which are “livability hubs.”
The municipalities with front-running mobility goals identify these facilities not just as a centralization of transit options, but as a way to ease the strains of high costs of living. Beyond making mobility easier for the disabled and the elderly, the potential for mobility hubs to serve and support low-income families is one of the lesser-discussed benefits; and yet it’s one of the most promising aspects of the design concept.
Transportation, and the access or lack thereof to it, has been extensively documented as a chasm between rich and poor, with commute times being either the threshold or barrier to a better life. Do mobility hubs have the opportunity to turn that ball-and-chain into a bridge? Economists and urban planners alike seem to think so: a common thread in mobility hub planning emphasizes proximity to affordable multi-family housing.
Here in San Diego, a regional plan even outlines the benefits, challenges, and best-practices in its Regional Mobility Hub Implementation Strategy. In case you didn’t get the memo: Equity Considerations Memo.
Of course, what works here may not work identically for other regions. But the reality is, improving the way people move around society may improve their ability to move up in it. Today, we call them mobility hubs. But really, they’re so much more.
It’s undeniable that mobility hubs will play an imperative role in the function and flow of transportation in Tomorrowland. But that doesn’t mean we should be waiting until tomorrow to implement them.
Cities exploring mobility hubs can, today, employ private organizations to consult on best practices, including infrastructure modification or development, and the management of various assets, such as looking to parking facilitators for valet services, facility design, sensor deployment, and payment processing.
The sooner we begin prioritizing mobility and taking advantage of the mobility genius available to us today, the sooner we’ll be able to make the jump from cities to smart cities.
“Ace Mobility Solutions isn’t just a business. It’s the Mobility Revolution in action.”