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Why Public Transport Isn’t Working - The Last Mile Problem

by Fearghal Campbell September 15, 2017

Why Public Transport Isn’t Working - The Last Mile Problem

Our go-to mode of transport is the car. The reason; its unequalled convenience , or at least, the perception of convenience (not to mention the costs of using a car are hidden )

Why is it in a world where we spend up to four full days a year looking for a parking space , where bus lanes and public transport allow for quicker movement through congested streets, we still overwhelmingly default to journeys by car?

The reason is the transportation planning phenomenon know as ‘The Last Mile’. It is an issue that city planners and urban specialists have been attempting to solve for decades, with limited success.

So what exactly is the last mile problem, and how are we tackling the issue in today's world of fast paced urbanisation, on demand private transport and big data?

The last mile problem is the challenge of moving people between transportation hubs and their final destinations, like the walk from the nearest bus or train station to your place of work. When this distance creeps over a quarter mile (400m), our willingness to utilise public transport dwindles . Your commute is not just the train journey, it is the train journey plus the walking distance each side. And the last mile problem extends beyond just your commute to work. It’s going to grab some lunch, stopping by a friends house, making that quick journey to grab bread and milk. It emcompasses every aspect of how we move around in our daily lives.

Currently 80% of all journeys over 1 mile are taken by car . That is a level of reliance that is important to break if we are to tackle our growing congestion issues .

The prevailing approach right now, is to utilise the sharing economy options available to us. Ridesharing companies are already collaborating with public transport providers to create a seamless switch between public modes of transport and its peer to peer marketplace. Commuters see on demand rides as a solution to the last mile problem already , and by improving the integration, further demand should arise.

Enter the bike shares. The cycling industry is quickly scaling up to solve this same issue. The sheer pace of expansion is an indicator of the potential for dockless bike sharing schemes to resolve the Last Mile problem, albeit there has been a mixed response to their expansion into Europe and North America . Cycling as a link to transportation hubs not only can decrease the average commute time, but can also expand the ‘willingness zone’ of a quarter mile discussed earlier.

A joined-up transportation system, where we can seamlessly move between transport options is the final destination, and the potential value of such a solution is evidenced by the interest of the tech giants in this sector (see Google's SideWalk Labs work on ‘Mobility’ for an excellent example). At See.Sense, we have the ability to provide real time information about demand, informing transport planning policy decisions to allow for smoother integration.

To operate such a fluid system, the immediate challenge is to create a way of organising the rich data outputted from our vehicles and transport networks as they exist currently. There is still some way to go, but as evidenced by mobility apps such as Waze and Citymapper , and the transport data being made available by cities worldwide, with the likes of London and New York leading the charge, it appears we are moving forward in the right direction.
Fearghal Campbell
Fearghal Campbell


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