Need Of The Hour: Multi-modal Travel – What Is It All About?


When it comes to the future of mobility, the buzzwords “multimodal” and “intermodal” travel are occasionally used. Actually, these are already everyday phenomena, but they also include visions and concepts that are intended to make our travel behavior more efficient and climate-friendly in the near future and also to revolutionize it to a certain extent. Among other things, future providers want to make it easier to do without a car. In this post, we will take a brief glimpse into the world of multi-modal travel.

Multi-modal Travel: All You Need To Know

What does multi-modal travel mean?

At its core, the term multi-modal travel describes nothing more than the use of several different forms of mobility instead of just one. A good example is a commuter who uses several means of transport within a week for the same commute. When the weather is nice, he gets on his bike Monday and Tuesday, while the tram is popular on the following rainy days. On Friday, after work, there is still the weekly bulk shopping, which is why this time he will use his own car. 

What is intermodal travel?

The same also applies to a special form: intermodal travel, which has even been able to revolutionize our mobility behavior to a certain extent in the recent past. Intermodal describes the use of several modes of transport on one trip. A classic example is a train journey, for which the traveler rides his bike from home to the train station before starting the journey and either park the bike there or takes it on the train to the destination. It is not uncommon for three or four different modes of transport to be used on such an intermodal journey. Combinations of folding bikes, trains, rental cars, taxis or buses are possible, for some they are commonplace.

How has multi-modal travel evolved over the recent years?

Just a few years ago, such a tour scared off many in view of its complexity, but the ongoing expansion of the infrastructure in many places (e.g. bicycle stations at train stations) and increasing networking have made it easier to link several modes of transport in several ways. 

Especially since mobility offers have become and are becoming more diverse in many places.

Would you like some examples? Anyone traveling by train to a major city today can, of course, spontaneously rent a car or bicycle for the last few kilometers from the train station to the destination in many places. 

In some large cities there are several car sharing services whose vehicles are available for short-term rental near the train station. Since both cars and bikes as well as the customers are networked, you often only need the app of the respective provider to rent a vehicle in order to secure a vehicle with just a few touches of the screen.

What are free-floating service providers?

In many cities, there are sometimes even larger numbers of so-called free-floating providers whose car-sharing vehicles are distributed across the city. It has become difficult to keep track of things. To make intermodality easier and clearer, some companies are already working on bundling different offers that can then be displayed and booked with just one app. For example, Free2move is the name of an app developed by the automotive group PSA that integrates a large number of free-floating providers for a number of major European cities.

In addition to several car-sharing companies, there are also bike and scooter rentals. A subsidiary of the Daimler group called Moovel also integrates various mobility providers. The app of the same name allows users to search for and book offers from numerous car-sharing providers. For the time being, however, this app is limited to the major cities of Stuttgart and Hamburg. 

An app called Qixxit Integrates long-distance buses, trains, planes, public transport, car-sharing, rental cars, rental bikes and taxis. However: At the moment, all overarching offers are still patchworked solutions that primarily focus on the services of the corporate parent companies behind them. 

Can multi-modal travel reduce the number of cars on the roads?

One of the declared goals of multi-modal travel is to reduce the number of cars in large cities. The streets are overcrowded in many places, and the level of motorization in most countries is higher than ever before. The idea: Those who want to be highly mobile no longer have to own a car and should still be able to integrate a car into their (multi-modal) travel plans easily and cheaply at any time. At the moment, many newly founded companies, often launched with venture capital from internet giants or car manufacturers, are working on new mobility offers that should make it easier for them to do without cars.

One example is the start-up Moia from VW, which wants to relieve German cities of one million cars with the help of “pooling”. They are to be replaced by fleets of comfortable minibusses that users can request via an app. Participants enter a route, algorithms calculate and optimize the tour for all passengers so that empty trips are avoided as far as possible. Immediately afterward, the app reports when you will be picked up and how much it will cost. The actual drive is (still) carried out by a person behind the wheel; in the longer term, the vehicle will be able to move autonomously. The costs should be somewhere between those for a public transport ticket and a taxi ride. 

The Google subsidiary Waymo also wants to make it easier to do without a car. Increasing networking and the more needs-based usage options for means of transport offer great potential, especially with regard to the electrification and automation of the automobile. 

Waymo’s vision: In a few years’ time it could be normal for a rental car to be ordered right to the front door, which drives up driverless and takes the passenger to the desired destination without them having to worry about driving, let alone owning the vehicle. So far, Waymo has only been tested and developed. It will be many years before a corresponding range of driverless e-taxis makes it easier for us to travel multi-modally and do without our own car.

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