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Sustainable transport solutions: Mobility hubs – part 2

Improving access to a range of low carbon mobility options will be key to driving a shift in how we travel through and between cities. Could mobility hubs be the answer?

Richard Dilks, Chief Executive, CoMoUK
12 November 2020

In my last piece, I wrote about the concept of mobility and community hubs – places where public, shared and active modes of transport come together. They are tried and tested in northern Europe and the US and provide people with attractive options away from the private car. They can range from small to large, from urban to rural, and be situated in backstreets or major interchanges.

The concept was already generating plenty of interest, even before the COVID-19 crisis forced a mass reversion to home and remote working. The events of the year so far have only accelerated interest in new, community focused mobility solutions. With that interest has come several questions. These often centre on practicalities. As such, I thought it would be helpful to flesh those out a little in this piece.

Location is undeniably important, and there is an emerging art – perhaps a science – to getting it right. Land availability and cost is a huge part of this discipline. There is, of course, a balance to strike between the right place and the available place. A range of actors are seeking places to install rapid electric vehicle charging points, remote working hubs and community centres. There is also growing demand for pick-up and drop off points for shared fleets of cars, bikes and e-scooters, as well as 5G infrastructure. It is, then, fortuitous that public authorities and a range of private sector actors are currently reviewing their land holdings. The question of availability is wholly superable in many places.

Then comes the issue of ownership: whose mobility hub is it? In the UK pipeline alone, we are already seeing a variety of answers. Some hubs will be wholly or mostly owned by the public sector; others will be wholly private sector owned; others still will adopt a hybrid ownership model. Many will transition from one model to another over time – most commonly from public to private ownership. A related question is how revenues will be generated, and risk apportioned? Again, the answers will vary from site to site; getting as much clarity as possible on plausible scenarios is, of course, vital. Thus, having some degree of flexibility will be important. One of the major lessons to be learned from the development of mobility hubs in continental Europe is to start small. The smaller the hub, the lower the risk.

One of the major lessons to be learned from the development of mobility hubs in continental Europe is to start small. The smaller the hub, the lower the risk.

What features any given hub should include will be decided first and foremost by viability concerns. However, consideration should also be given to public policy goals. Here we can, to an extent, lean on existing best practice around the viability of various transport options and densities. All the same, we should recognise that the very point of hubs – which is to bring things together – may change the numbers. The question furthermore requires some guesswork as to the medium-term impacts of COVID-19.

All of which helps to explain why we at CoMoUK are moving on from simply advocating for the concept of mobility and community hubs to offering an accreditation service. Moving forward, we will offer assessments of mobility hub components against our criteria, which will vary by location type.

We will launch this work at our Collaborative Mobility Conference (17-20 November 2020). Topics covered will include COVID-19, the build up to COP26, shared transport procurement, rural and urban shared mobility and where we go from here on decarbonisation.

Eventually, we hope to twin our accreditation work with analyses of the business, ownership, revenue and viability models that underpin mobility hubs and shared transport more broadly.

While we want to see hubs take root quickly in the UK, it is also important to learn from formative experiences, and to iterate and reiterate as needed. We are developing a research assessment to help with this. By fully harnessing the potential of mobility hubs, we can drive the decarbonisation agenda forward. In doing so, we will help to create more liveable places for happier healthier communities.