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Real-time, integrated and connected: the bright, app-based future of public transport

At MOVE 2019, Editor of Intelligent Transport, Luke Antoniou, spoke with Nir Erez, co-Founder and CEO of Moovit, to find out how the Mobility-as-a-Service provider’s new partnership with Microsoft and TomTom has been achieved and what the future holds.

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This is a huge partnership, and of real value to all three companies – Moovit, Microsoft and TomTom – not just the end user. What can you tell us about your goals here?

Indeed, I think it’s very important for the three companies, but also, I think it represents a new approach to urban mobility, not just for the partnership with Microsoft and TomTom but also to the whole concept of connecting a car with the ‘grid’ of public transit. The next phase is the ability to use ride-hailing services from home to that grid, which might eliminate the need for the parking component, but it will still require a lot of groundwork to ensure the transition between the single-occupancy vehicle and the transit system is as smooth as possible.

A lack of real-time information has prevented this so far. If you can combine real-time and traffic information with the driving part of a journey, and then connect that directly to the real-time schedule of the transit system, then we can create a much more streamlined trip. People are very sensitive to disruptions in their journeys; what prevents people from taking an Uber or Lyft as the first part of their journey only, before using public transit, is that it can be very unpredictable. We are therefore trying to reduce the number of surprises; if we can connect it correctly and provide people with a reliable plan and route, then I think we can impact the way people are commuting. The goal in every city is to reduce the number of private cars getting into the city centre.

It is a massive challenge for cities all over the world, and if you think about it, reducing it by less than five per cent even, could lead to a huge change. These kinds of solutions that rely on the devices we use today, which makes each one of us a moving beacon, will enable us to take the unpredictability out of rides and reduce congestion without needing to invest billions in new infrastructure.

A partnership like this one feels as though it’s the correct way to conduct this plan – to develop route planning and improve connectivity between services. Would you say this is almost trip-planning ‘plus’? 

I would agree with that, but I would add that it requires a connection between companies that each have pedigree or are real leaders in the space. It took us six years to become the largest repository of transit data and real-time information, but at the same time we are not a driving direction company, or a mapping company, or a traffic provider. When you take the best of what each company has to offer in the urban mobility space and put them together, then everyone can leverage each other’s expertise and combine it into one solution.

It obviously takes a lot of time and hard work to build a solution and then a partnership like this – what advice would you give to companies that are where Moovit was six years ago? 

I would give them the same advice I got from my investors: focus on one important value proposition and try to make it the best they can – if you try to become too diverse you might spread too thin. Successful companies usually won’t do too many things in parallel. We aimed to become the go-to company for public transit data. Only once we were established in the industry did we shift towards licensing this kind of information. 

How big a part is trust and reliability for users in utilising the real-time information capabilities in apps like Moovit?

This relates to the psychology of the commuters. Ten years ago, transit commuters were mainly relying on paper and static data. They had to calculate different routes in their head and use multiple scheduled systems from different operators. The first revolution happened six or seven years ago when we were able to bring the static data together and provide all the available options online. Then everyone became very spoilt because everything was online and easily accessible. Travellers knew how to reach their destination but had little-to-no insight into schedule changes or disruptions, leading to much better access to real-time information. Real-time information is becoming the norm for transport users now. Without real-time information people feel as though they aren’t receiving the best possible service, and the bar is rising as we move forward. If daily commuters have access to good data nine times out of 10, we regard that as acceptable, but dropping below this is not an option. Ten years ago, this was like rocket science, but now it’s become the standard that everyone expects. The reliability of our data has created a gap between Moovit and other transit information providers. We work very hard to produce static data, but also to immediately connect all the real-time data that is available, because that is the level of service people expect as standard. 

As standards and expectations continue to rise, and technology enables further change, what do you think constitutes the ‘next level’ for route planning?

The next level is getting service alerts while you are on the move. If you’re on the DLR, you want to know if there are any delays on the Jubilee Line. Expectations are only getting higher – once people understand that this is technically possible, they expect you to implement it. Doing it in London with an organisation like TfL is feasible but doing it in other cities where infrastructure is not as advanced as London is a huge challenge. In many large cities in South America, you have a huge number of passengers, but the infrastructure is not as supportive as it is in London. It’s a challenge, and as we push the agencies to provide us with this data, they see the value immediately. It’s a win-win system, where we are doing good for millions of people. Our goal is to reach a billion users in less than two years from now.

A partnership like this must really help to do that? 

Absolutely, everything is ‘go’: you will have seen our announcement with Uber using Moovit’s transit APIs in Denver, but our goal is to get involved and impact every urban ride around the world, either directly with our app or through our partnerships with the likes of Uber, Microsoft and TomTom. All of these partnerships are driving us towards achieving our goals.

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