Multimodality: Accessible For All Or Just For a Few?

big four consultant

Juan Girón Roger (journalist) | You might have thought why you can leave your house, take a taxi, jump into a plane, get a bus, take a train and get to your destination. That is because of multimodal travel. This vision was developed to make people’s life easier. But is this something anybody can use and benefit from?

Let’s take it one step at a time. Multimodal travel implies that passengers use several types of transport to go from A to B. They are registered on just one transport document. Multimodal travel combines two or more methods (modes) of transport by land, sea, or air (some part can be by plane, train, boat by sea or by river or lake, by car, bus or coach, etc.) and all on a single travel booking. The train and the environment will be the key beneficiaries of this shift to sustainable travel through the multimodal approach. 

Riding the gravy train.

As early as March 2020, the European Commission identified rail travel as a crucial priority for its green agenda. That’s why the EU has an interest in making different modes of transport compete against each other, as it may inspire operators to find ways to lower their environmental impact without passing costs on to the consumer. It’s a matter of making rail more attractive, instead of banning or disincentivizing aviation, as explained by European Transport Commissioner Adina Valean (source: Bloomberg). According to EUROACTIV, the European high-speed rail network will increase by 10% per year over the next decade. The French government has decreed that air travel should not be used for domestic trips that can be made in two and a half hours by rail (just the time it takes to travel Paris-London by train).This view saves travelers time and money, offers them unprecedented efficiency, and gives them the peace of mind of a “hassle-free” trip with visibility over disruptions (delays, cancellations) that may occur during the journey and influence (or ruin) the planned connections of the trip. The whole journey, using various means of transport, is included in a single travel reservation. Add to this the fact that multimodal travel reduces environmental impact, and you have a win-win proposal.

This may sound like any of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction books. But it is technologically feasible. This was demonstrated in 2013 by the All Ways Travelling consortium, led by the technology company Amadeus, which was commissioned by the European Commission to carry out a proof of concept for this scenario (“Roadmap to Single European Transport Area”). “One thing is clear: travelers want the maximum choices to get from A to B, according to their unique priorities -price, service, sustainability, and convenience. Multimodality answers this need by bringing air, rail, bus, and other modes of transport together”, explains Juan Jesús García Sánchez, chairman of eu travel tech, that represents the interests of the travel technology sector in Brussels, and head of Industry Affairs for Amadeus in Europe. “Today’s transport network doesn’t operate to its full potential and we are yet to leverage the benefits of a multimodal integrated system with a single ticket that gets you from your home to a train station, from the train to the airport, back on a bus when you land and straight to your hotel”.

The fact is that multimodal solutions do not operate mobility services as such. Rather, they enable different mobility operators to connect. Often it is the inter-connection of different modes of transport that makes it possible in the first place for travelers to get from one place to another. “Let’s not forget that 50 % of world’s population live outside big cities”, comments Christoph Althoff, VP Airline Business at Hahn Air Lines and multimodality enthusiast who frequently writes for Urban Transport Magazine. “They deserve the same opportunities and access to health care, education, entertainment, public services, job openings and travel. And that is something only a proper mobility approach can guarantee”.

Accessible but also sustainable

Within this ecosystem, being sustainable will be a game changer. “Sustainability is driving multi-modality forward”, admits Marielle Hemon, VP, Mobility Ecosystem at travel technology provider Amadeus, responsible for driving the creation and execution of the company’s strategy in the new mobility space including intermodal, multimodal and Mobility as a Service (MaaS). “Governments are seeking to meet climate goals while environmentally conscious travelers trust that integrated mobility will reduce the climate impact of travel. In France, the government has already mandated that short-haul flights should be replaced when rail can facilitate the journey in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes. This has already encouraged a closer partnership between airlines like Air France and the French rail operator SNCF to provide integrated solutions for travelers. We see similar collaboration efforts in Germany, Spain, and other markets. Many cities are also moving to reduce the number of car journeys in favor of more sustainable urban transport options. It is imperative to make these multi-modal options easy to find and book, so we can use the transport network to its full potential and offer greater choice to travelers”.

The challenge comes from the reach of these new approaches. Would all of this also benefit people living far from big cities? The doubt also hovers over the telecommunications field. Take for example 5G. Will it be accessible to this population that amounts for half of the consumers in the world? 5G is seen more as an evolution than a revolution, especially in places that are not in densely populated areas.  Some experts say 5G implementation in underpopulated rural areas might not be cost-effective for fixed broadband and may potentially bottleneck the service. So, the digital divide will remain.  Scientists are racking their brains to overcome this obstacle. This includes initiatives to boost rural access to telecom services such as wireless micro-telecom infrastructure solutions powered by much cheaper solar photovoltaic panels. “Equal access to services everywhere (universal service),” remarks Althoff, “has a long history in the telecommunications industry: from available telephone cabins to contemporary discussions about broadband access for rural communities and geographic coverage and rollout obligations as part of 5G spectrum assignments. That is the discussion in the online telecoms’ world. The universal service idea is equally relevant in the offline world of physical transport of travelers and commuters.  Connecting all people – wherever they may live – with the world means providing equal opportunities for all, which is an important question of social justice.  And that is the ultimate purpose behind multimodal efforts.”

Transparency and equal access to content need to be ensured by technological solutions. According to Juan Jesús García Sánchez, “non-discriminatory access to travel content from air, rail and other transport providers is essential to ensure consumers can compare and book multimodal trips transparently and to ensure fair competition“.

  Airlines are key here:” At Hahn Air, we let other airlines use our ticketing stock”, comments Christoph Althoff. “Thus, airlines can offer their services where they would otherwise not be able to do so. Airlines gain incremental revenue and travelers benefit from more flight options (…) We enable travel between 4,000 airports worldwide. Among them are also many 2nd and 3rd tier airports. This is what we are already delivering today as our contribution to connect everyone with the world”, adds Althoff. “Air transport and urban transport may well grow together in the mid-term”.

Fostering multimodal traffic will result in positive things for everybody: it will drive more innovation, generate further competition, and guarantee consumer choice in the European Union and beyond. Add to this that multimodal network policymakers are also identifying opportunities for improved connectivity to new regions that have been ignored so far by international visitors. This new tourism might be a jackpot for these untapped regions. The introduction of competition in the rail market across Europe is progressing and this is facilitating co-operation between airlines and rail operators with a view to increase their market-share. While we have the technology to push this new opportunity forward, we miss the joint efforts needed at global scale to make multimodality happen once and for all.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.