Developing a mobility framework through shared lessons and open solutions
Soren Bom, Chief Consultant of the Capital Region of Denmark, tells Intelligent Transport how the Nordics are leading the way in establishing a framework for mobility, but significantly one that they are keen to grow through collaboration with other regions and countries, to everyone’s benefit.
Could you tell us about the mobility projects and initiatives that you’re working on and any challenges that you are facing?
In the Capital Region of Denmark we are trying to bring people together through mobility. Cooperation and co-creation are big words for us. Our plan is a suggestion as to how we can see our region developing and not be crippled by congestion. We are currently facing up to a 150 per cent increase in congestion within the next 10 years. In Denmark, as in all the Nordic countries, we really want to be ahead of this challenge and act before it is too late.
In regard to Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), we are working with the other Nordic countries in a project that is funded by Nordic Innovation – NOMAD. It entails building up an enabler platform upon which we can develop mobility solutions for tomorrow. We may not have the biggest cities in the Nordics, but we’re trying to open doors for MaaS operators so that they can easily access Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo and so on, all in the same way.
We want to work as a framework which develops across several countries. We are really interested in having good discussions with EU countries; when it comes to data sharing and APIs for instance, we really need standards, so that we can keep these mobility services running across borders.
It seems the Nordics are so often the enablers of these kinds of developments. Does it feel like you’re always best placed to lead the way on these issues?
It’s true to say that we try to be ahead. It’s about laying a groundwork which we and others can learn from, and for shared collaboration to develop even further.
When it comes to new mobility, our focus is not on making people change how they are managing their lives. What we’re hoping to do with our NOMAD project is that, by building an enabler platform, people will be able to stay on the apps that they currently use. If you are someone who uses CityMapper, you can stay on CityMapper, if you have the Danish Rejseplanen – and that’s a big one in our country – and even use it when you come to Norway. It’s about opening up all available mobility options, in a change from the previously fragmented and very separate mobility modes which we have today.
We are really interested in having good discussions with EU countries; when it comes to data sharing and APIs for instance
There are so many possibilities and discussions that could be had. We are also thinking about airlines, making it possible for a passenger’s one ticket to cover mobility in a region once they land. We also want to go directly to car selling companies and see how we can interact with them. Perhaps a car could suggest switching to public transport during peak hours, or even show where there’s a free parking space to board the train, or walk, or cycle the rest of the journey.
It is interesting to observe that both public transport operators and and car manufacturers are becoming mobility companies. They are having to change their business model if they are to survive in the future. It seems that now really is the time to be having these discussions.
You speak of a focus on commuting. Do you think that’s where MaaS is heading?
I think it’s fair to say that the daily commuter might argue that they know their route and doesn’t need to pay a subscription just to have options on top of what they already use. That said, people’s lives are continually changing, whether that’s due to children, new jobs and so on. I think it should be easy and convenient for anyone to see what their options are within an area. Perhaps if an individual or family were to move to another town, they could receive some sort of welcome pack showing them the mobility services that are available there. Local authorities could have an important role in this.
There are many national and international days for various issues and subjects now. Why not have one focused on mobility? Perhaps public transport could be free for that day, and people would be encouraged to try out new routes and new transport modes. I feel that often a lack of information hinders people from trying something new.
Data is a divisive issue amongst many today. How could an individual’s data be used to encourage a change in travel habits?
There is certainly potential in feeding back open data to individuals about how they travel. Statistics such as the length of a commute by car compared to a year, two years ago or more could show just how much congestion has intensified and how much time a person is increasingly losing stuck in traffic. Feeding back just a little of the large amounts of data being collected by transport authorities could really encourage people to make better decisions about their mobility.
It could be your Apple device or a web shop where you by your daily produce which prompts a change in our habits
Our lives are now filled with devices which monitor your health – how many hours sleep you had or how many steps you walked that day – why shouldn’t we apply the same interest to how we travel? It may well not be the typical actors who are going to change our future commute. It might not be an advertisement from a local PT company for example, but it could be your Apple device or a web shop where you by your daily produce which prompts a change in our habits.
There are more and more possibilities from the technology within our daily lives. In the future, I hope that we will be able to ask Google or Alexa, how should I get to work tomorrow? Does my neighbour have a free seat in his car? Google are in-fact already providing journey times from A to B by different travel modes, so the possibilities for this are very real.
Do you consciously share and promote the work happening in Copenhagen to a global audience?
There is a value in letting the world know what you are doing. This sharing of expertise is invaluable in making our cities the best that they can be. Experts from Denmark are helping to reshape New York City, Melbourne and so on. Equally, when your work gains attention and local politicians see the New York Times writing about the cycle lanes being built in Copenhagen, they become more willing to invest further in cycling. So, the value from sharing information becomes twofold.
Was the decision for new cycle lanes driven by the need to reduce congestion or to promote the many benefits of cycling?
It is inevitable that building more cycle lanes will actually congest the city further as car lanes are reduced, at least in the short term. Creating more space for cycling and walking, and perhaps buses, however, is a physical means of communicating the change that is coming within our region, and how the focus is shifting away from the private car. Construction is actually a very strong communication tool.
To provide an example, some years ago we were deciding whether we should replace a cycling ramp as it was difficult to pass and even had some stairs. The initial suggestion was to spend a little bit of money to make it a little bit better. When we looked into it further, we received some very good ideas from architects who proposed a whole new bridge, and this was in-fact what we decided to do. Construction of a new, purpose-built bridge such as this tells our commuters how significant cycling is for the region and shows them that Copenhagen as a city is providing real mobility alternatives.
It’s important that we recognise that people are not just living in one municipality and staying there, they travel across them
We are trying to do the same with super cycle highways too, communicating to our commuters that we value them within the region and are trying to improve cycling both within and outside of the city. I believe they are trying to do the same thing in London too; create an entire journey from A to B safely by bike, and Denmark is being referenced as an inspiration for it.
One of the most important things in this industry is information sharing part between parties, between governments and cities, authorities and operators. Without it, nobody would make much progress. You can’t afford to be insular in your approach to developing city infrastructure or mobility services.
It can prove difficult at times, though. Within our region we have 29 principalities. Naturally, we cannot force them to work together. However, we can lay out the ideas and showcase when they’re working well.
Cycle highways, for instance, are a good showcase for all the municipalities as to how it can be done. Next, we are hoping to do more around traffic lighting and more dynamic traffic management. Every municipality is in charge of managing their own traffic signals and we see it as the next important step in fighting congestion and climate change. Traffic signalling has the potential to prioritise the bus, for instance, over the car.
We are interested in Manchester in the UK, due to its similar size of inhabitants, and the way in which the city has 11 municipalities working together. It’s important that we recognise that people are not just living in one municipality and staying there, they travel across them.
When working together with other cities, do you look for a city that has a similar setup to you and similar ambitions?
For us, this certainly makes the most sense. There is much we can learn from throughout Europe. You can see that within the UK, cooperation on a political level is very good. Reading the visions of Greater Manchester and Greater London, you can see that they are both striving to bring all partners together with common vision and strategy. This is how you get things moving, and we are sometimes not so good at that in Denmark. While we have a plan, it is a soft plan at present. At some point these plans need to be put into action and targets and deadlines need to be set.
We are hoping to do more around traffic lighting and more dynamic traffic management
This certainly applies to new technologies and especially micromobility, e-scooters and so on. We need to decide what legislation and demands we place on these e-scooters. Then we have the scenario of 30 council members sitting in every municipality trying to answer those issues, instead of deciding an overall plan for the whole system. It is the same when it comes to taxi licenses and all kinds of new mobilities.
Why don’t we decide these issues on a regional level? Then we could invite these new technologies in, but with clear rules and expectations for both sides. Our plan is to do things step by step, testing pilot schemes and then rolling them out on a bigger scale. But, it could be interesting to do it as we see in the UK, where you state the strategy, the goal and say that, for instance, you want to have 20 per cent more commuters on public transport by a certain time. It’s an idea we are developing as well. How can we manage to increase commuting by 20 per cent and simultaneously not increase our congestion levels? That could be a common vision that we would like to address to the municipalities and perhaps even the state.
In the Capital Region of Denmark, Soren sees his main task as making everyday life easier for the citizens of the region by ensuring a dialogue and strategic approach for better mobility, development of public transport – using data, technology and new business models. He is working in the field of transport planning, technology, governance models and public affairs, together with a team responsible for implementing the traffic and mobility plan for the region.
The region funds the regional bus lines and local railways. Furthermore, together with the state and 11 municipalities, the Capital Region of Denmark is funding the coming light rail along the ring road Ring 3. The region also plays an important role in facilitating a wide collaboration regionally and internationally.