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Rethinking Transport Facilities for Shared Mobility

  Published: 09 December 2020
  Theme: Mobility
  Written by Oh Ying Chao

New mobility business models such as ride-hailing and car-sharing are gaining popularity in cities as a result of society’s increasing connectedness to technology. A 2019 study by Allison+Partners revealed the cultural shift towards mobility driven by Generation Z (below age 24), given their close contact with technology since young. According to the study, most of Gen Z viewed cars as a means of transportation and saw no need to own a driver’s license (Allison + Partners 2019). The growth of shared mobility reflects a change in societal preferences and attitudes, with commuters recognising that they can enjoy a point-to-point commute without driving. Besides, shared mobility relieves the responsibilities of maintaining one’s vehicle and the need to search for parking, and is a more sustainable commuting option. 

Shared mobility is an integral part of Singapore’s transportation mix, serving commuters who still require point-to-point transportation services. With its growing popularity, building owners might want to rethink the role of mobility infrastructure such as pick-up and drop-off (PUDO) points and car parks located at their properties, and evaluate how these can stay relevant with the changing mobility expectations of society. 

Example of a pick-up and drop-off point leading to the lobby of a building 

Example of a pick-up and drop-off point leading to the lobby of a building.

Reimagining the Commuter Experience

PUDOs are the first touchpoint between commuters and buildings. However, these places are typically little more than dedicated areas for commuters to board and alight vehicles. The provision of a “PUDO lounge” at each building, where commuters can wait comfortably for the arrival of their ride, will surely improve their transport experience. The partnership between shared mobility operators and building owners enables the reimagination of the possibilities of these prime PUDO spaces. 

Lawrence Ler, a Mixed-Use and Retail Center Practice Leader at global architectural and design firm Gensler, envisioned future PUDOs as community destinations and connection touchpoints by functioning as a central place to engage, shop and dine. “Imagine someone returning home from work in a shared Autonomous Vehicle, and after dropping you off at the lobby, it valets itself somewhere else. The PUDO lobby will probably be at the heart of the precinct and within walking distance of where I want to go. The commuter will also have a locker at the drop-off points to pick up any deliveries or food”, Ler explained. 

In fact, the idea of putting the commuter’s experience at the core of PUDO design is starting to gain traction in the region. Grab’s Managing Director of Transport (Singapore), Andrew Chan, noted that in Thailand, mall developers have approached the company to build lounges for passengers waiting to be picked up. “The intent here is to get customers to relax in a comfortable environment before booking a ride. On Grab’s end, we will know that customers are ready to be picked up, and this improves the flow of vehicles to, and at, the mall”, Chan said. 

Lounges within buildings allow commuters to wait comfortably for their ride, benefiting both commuters and ride-hailing operators. 

Lounges within buildings allow commuters to wait comfortably for their ride, benefiting both commuters and ride-hailing operators.

Improving PUDO efficiency through technology and design

Improved efficiency of PUDOs can lead to higher satisfaction for using shared mobility. Today, some of the challenges faced at a PUDO point include getting a paired ride and the long wait time for the vehicle to arrive at the building. The reduction in commuters’ boarding time can be achieved if PUDOs are made “smarter” and better designed.

PUDOs can be equipped with technology enablers to allow for more efficient pairing of rides between available vehicles and ready commuters. Enablers such as call buttons and crowd monitoring systems can provide real-time crowd-level data to estimate the level of demand and help shared mobility operators to dispatch their vehicles accordingly. Other ways to make ride pairing more efficient are to address the challenges of geo-location and assign vehicles closest to the commuter. Sometimes, the vehicle’s global positioning system and telecommunication signals could be affected by the densely built-up environment of the city or when the vehicle is in an underground space. 

To overcome this issue, Grab has been looking into technology for solutions. Its solutions include running a virtual queue for a geo-fenced location and working with building owners to install Wi-Fi sensors to obtain a higher fidelity on vehicle locations. Through supporting technology, shared mobility operators can prioritise the assignment of commuters who are already at the PUDO lobby to the next available vehicle. This helps to reduce the queue length for both vehicles and waiting commuters. For buildings with multiple PUDO points, technology can be used to direct a passenger to the closest PUDO based on their location in the building or alternatively, the passenger can be directed to the best PUDO to minimise travel time, particularly in areas where there are many one-way streets.

Changi Airport’s taxi stand uses sensors at the taxi bays and an algorithm to dispatch taxis in a timely and accurate manner from a holding area, based on passenger demand (Image: Changi Airport Group). 

Changi Airport’s taxi stand uses sensors at the taxi bays and an algorithm to dispatch taxis in a timely and accurate manner from a holding area, based on passenger demand (Image: Changi Airport Group).

A well-designed PUDO can improve the throughput of vehicles, preventing long tailbacks from building up. Besides architecture and engineering safety requirements, commuter behaviour is an important consideration in PUDO design. Activities such as loading or unloading belongings from the vehicle or simply taking time to bid goodbye to friends or loved ones increase the time that each vehicle spends at the PUDO. With every ride having a different boarding and alighting time, an additional lane or space at the PUDO would allow faster vehicles the option to overtake slower or waiting vehicles. 

Repurposing car parks

With the continued strong preference for shared mobility, the demand for car park lots will reduce gradually. Building owners might want to consider injecting flexibility in the design of car parks to allow them to be repurposed in the future.

One way car park spaces can be repurposed is to lease some of them to shared mobility operators for their drivers to rest or wait until their next job order. These spaces can also be used as charging points for shared electric vehicles. As Grab’s Chan pointed out, “You want to welcome drivers like any other visitors to your building. Drivers want to be able to use the toilet without worrying about getting a parking summons or paying high parking fees. They want to get a bite to eat in a comfortable environment. Such amenities go a long way in convincing drivers to be at or near your building”. Shared mobility commuters, in turn, benefit from reduced waiting times. In the future, when AVs are more prevalent, they will need a “home”, just like how today a human driver is looking for amenities (toilet or restaurants), AVs will need somewhere to charge or have simple repairs  done. Space should be designed to cater for that eventuality, and building owners could actually derive a new income stream from providing such space or infrastructure for an AV fleet.

Another strategy is to retrofit excess car park lots for alternative uses. However, this requires due consideration in the design phase to accommodate eventual conversion, for instance the space layout, floor-to-floor height, ceiling grids, column grids, etc. Gensler’s Ler shared that the degree of asset enhancement varies depending on the car park typology. Above-ground parking is easier to repurpose for other uses, given its access to natural daylight and ventilation, whereas underground parking might be limited in terms of future uses, with examples such as data centres or storage spaces. 

 The 84.51° Centre in Cincinnati, United States, which allows for its parking spaces to be transformed for future uses (Image: Gensler).

The 84.51° Centre in Cincinnati, United States, which allows for its parking spaces to be transformed for future uses (Image: Gensler).

“If a client wants to build a new building, it’s going to cost more than readapting the existing structure”, said Ler. He cited the example of how Gensler helped the 84.51° Centre in the U.S. – a 300,000 ft2 mixed-use development – to cater for future parking optimisation in an Autonomous Vehicle scenario. The firm designed the above-ground car park of the building with a higher floor-to-ceiling height and easily adaptable column grid and sizes. By then, 84.51° Centre could expect a 10-30% reduction in the land requirement for parking and has the option to convert the excess spaces into uses such as gyms, retail and offices. Currently, Singapore allows surplus car parks to be converted into other uses such as residential, shops, restaurants, indoor farms, and gymnasiums, etc. (Urban Redevelopment Authority 2018). The Republic Plaza building, which has converted 550 m2 of its car park spaces into new shops and restaurants, is one such example.

Final thoughts

Shared mobility will likely be a trend that will continue to gain popularity in many cities, with companies investing to make the concept more appealing for commuters. Building owners too can capitalise on the demand by turning their PUDOs into places of experience for their tenants or visitors, forming community mobility “touchpoints” that congregate residents and visitors and draw footfall into the building. Technology advancements have also made it possible for building owners to improve traffic efficiency or open up new opportunities to curate a new set of service offerings with shared mobility operators. Not forgetting, exercising forward-thinking on how car park spaces can be reconverted into higher income-generating assets, helps building owners save on redevelopment costs if car parks become obsolete in the future. 

It is now time for building owners and professionals to start envisioning the possibilities of what the future of our PUDOs and car parks can be.

 
About the Author: Oh Ying Chao is part of the Strategic Research department at URA.

 

References

  1. Allison + Partners, The Birth of Mobility Culture_Technology's influence on how we get from here to there, Mar 2019.  
  2. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Nov 2018.
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