Trust is the key, says Cubic’s Crissy Ditmore
First publishedin ITS International
Trust is the key to encouraging people to take up shared mobility and MaaS services, thinks Cubic Transportation Systems’ Crissy Ditmore. She tells Adam Hill why sharing must be the way forward
Crissy Ditmore is on the move. Director of strategy at Cubic Transportation Systems since September last year, she lives in Boise, Idaho, but doesn’t see a great deal of the city as she is “90% of the time on the road”. This is appropriate for someone whose business is working out how to get people from place to place more efficiently. “I’ve been in the shared mobility industry for 15 years,” she smiles. “My family couldn’t tell you what I do for a job.” More about that lack of understanding in a moment.
As well as being chair of the board for the North America Travel Spirit Foundation, which champions Mobility as a Service (MaaS), Ditmore has been project manager for ride-share firm vRide in Anchorage, Alaska, and mobile innovations lead for Conduent. It is a CV which suggests that Ditmore is ahead of the curve.
Her LinkedIn profile describes Ditmore as a ‘mobility evangelist’ and also carries the tagline: ‘Working to improve mobility before it was a buzzword.’ This is significant because one of the problems, as she sees it, is this: “If you have to explain it, people won’t do it.” There is still some way to go before people understand MaaS but she thinks the concept is starting to make sense to a wider public – in other words, “those who are not already drinking the shared mobility ‘Kool-Aid’”.
One definition of MaaS is a combination of public and private transit for the convenience of users, with the power to meet certain public equity goals such as reducing congestion and improving the environment for everyone. “You can transform a community by meeting specific goals – but every community has different goals and different needs,” says Ditmore. “They should be feeding into one another.”
Getting on board
In some ways it doesn’t matter that people don’t ‘get’ MaaS or shared mobility - users will not need to know that they are part of a new system in order to see the benefits. Terminology is not the important thing, Ditmore continues. People don’t need to recognise words such as ‘paratransit’. “They may not be adopted by the general public,” she goes on. “But it helps us to discuss it. I don’t know if any of these words are going to stick and I don’t know if that matters.”
However, even if you can get people on board with ideas such as MaaS, she warns: “People fundamentally don’t share space. That’s what we have to plan into this now.”
Getting people onto shared modes requires convenience – and trust © Syda Productions | Dreamstime.com
Speaking at ITS International’s MaaS Market
conference in London earlier this year, she said: “There’s a lot of trends affecting our industry right now: data is the guiding light. Ride-hailing did not invent a customer base, it invented a new way of addressing an existing customer base, so our governing guidelines around that are not exactly keeping up with how fast technology can meet that. So what we have now is services that may not be reaching our public policy goals.”
For instance, research suggests that ride-hailing increases vehicle miles travelled – perhaps as much as 2.8 vehicle miles for every mile of personal car travel it takes away. This is bad. But it provides a good user experience (UX) and therefore it is popular. Ditmore’s idea is to shift some shared use of those vehicles “so that you’re utilising the ecosystem in a better way”.
She likes coming up with new words, such as ‘marketecture’. “What does the architecture of the marketplace look like so that we are conforming our disparate services into a single user experience – not a single platform necessarily?” she asks. “A UX is going to be common – because that’s the great thing about Uber: I can go to any city in the world and, pretty much, my UX is the same.”
She insists: “I’m totally against the idea that ride-share is the enemy.” Instead, people who are currently driving a car on their own “are the opportunity – as long as we can figure out a great UX”. Get this right and people are going to be more likely to overcome their own resistance to change – and there is already research around shifting behaviour and the positive health outcomes which it can produce, Ditmore continues.
But how can we shift the behaviour of the real competitor in this environment – the vehicle operated by a single person – and perhaps have ride-hailing utilised in a different way? Hopefully this would not involve a vehicle “circling empty forever”, she told the MaaS Market audience. But getting to people who are not habitually in the public transportation network and encouraging them to travel in a different way may not be something that is ‘taught’. “It will be part of how their life changes in this new model,” Ditmore suggests.
It will be important to build trust into how you might want to share your personal space – and this trust issue is an interesting one. “Because that’s really the draw of a personal vehicle,” she says. “‘I have total faith in this little box, that only I am in, and I don’t have to depend on anyone else. And even though I’m stuck in traffic with everyone else who’s made the same choice that I’ve made, I really like the ability to be in my own little space’.”
Ditmore suggests there are ways of addressing this, citing first of all California’s van pool services which offer shared commutes into work. “The state requires the volunteer drivers who operate those systems to pass a medical exam,” she says. This means that users “do have trust that the person driving them is healthy enough to take them into work every day”.
Ditmore: 'How can we get people to start looking at their behaviour in a different way?'
So one way of creating trust is through a regulatory framework. Something as basic as ensuring that people have reliable information available is also crucial to build trust. New travel apps come out every week – and Ditmore says that people are often shocked at how low tech real-time information is for bus services across the majority of the world. “That reliability in the system is going to be foundational to our ability to address trust in how to utilise that system more efficiently,” she points out.
So making sure people feel safe, and that they have real-time information which is available and accurate, are two important points. Then there is the issue of users being able to manage their identity easily with “a single identity management tool that you can utilise across platforms” because there is not going to be a single platform that everybody decides to use. “I have an Apple iPhone,” Ditmore says. “There are people with a Samsung who would never dream of buying an Apple iPhone. In every single part of business there is competition.” Getting past a conversation on competition will help the industry and governments to reach our MaaS goals, she insists.
MaaS’s basic business model is a subscription service, but Ditmore suggests it is also vital to think about the operational model – for instance, some form of governmental interaction in that service which meets an end policy goal.
“MaaS is not likely to be adopted at individual user level,” she points out. Employers offering shared transit have seen significant benefits for individuals, such as showing that van-poolers can experience “21% less stress than single occupancy vehicle colleagues”. Stress is indicative of overall health; sharing, it would seem, can actually improve our wellbeing. In the US, although car-pooling has decreased, van-pooling has become more popular, says Ditmore.
But sharing is still a problem for many people. “So when we’re building out the marketecture of what this looks like, I would like to talk about the ‘archiculture’ of behaviour,” she suggests. “How are we ‘architecting’ within all our networks a ‘culture’ of sharing? Because that will foundationally meet the end policy goals that MaaS should address.”
Connected and autonomous vehicles (C/AVs) are certainly part of the future. “People are saying that in AVs we are going to be able to repurpose our time,” Ditmore says. But the UX will still be vital when it comes to nudging people towards uptake – and AVs present problems, particularly for female riders, she continues. “If you don’t have someone paid on that vehicle – especially for women – then the perception of safety suffers.” Without some form of verification – for example, a ticket collector or driver – then there is a perception problem. “I believe that this is one of the areas that can be part of the architecture,” Ditmore goes on. “If we just let this go the way that it’s kind of heading right now, then we’re going to lose the wonderful opportunity that MaaS can provide. So when we’re building our systems and services, when we’re having our conversations with government, are we as an industry building in concepts which are going to move people’s behaviour towards the sharing of that service?”
An institutional model might involve “utilising the fact that you have a driver’s licence or some form of ID” – just something which proves that, in a shared context, you are who you say you are – in the same way as with Uber you look at the licence plate to make sure you are getting in the correct vehicle.
Uber: 'I can go to any city in the world and, pretty much, my UX is the same,' says Ditmore. Photo Credit: Uber
Ditmore believes a company-based system might work because it is a shared mode where people have an employer in common – so fellow riders would have had an interview, probably even a background check. “I have a boss that I can go to; this is a person who works at the same place as me – and that concept of shared commuting, where you’re coming together, is likely going to be one of the biggest opportunities in a C/AV world,” she says. “Because you have some level of shared trust built in, inherent in sharing an employer.” The question which follows on from that, she says, is: “How could we take that same tenet and really stratify it?” So the area of common ground could be an employer, where you go to school – or even where you used to go to school: “There’s a lot of areas we can look at which can give some sort of a level of trust in the UX.”
Peer-to-peer sharing – “a social system, of matching to share” - is another area of interest for Ditmore. “The only way we’re really going to build out MaaS to the highest level, from a government standpoint, working our way up through the technologies that layer on top of each other to get to the end goal of a policy meeting a specific policy standard, whether that’s equity or environment - and it probably needs to be a combination of those things – the only way that we’re ever going to get there is by ensuring that we’re meeting the needs of all of the user groups.”
This means a community model is also important. “In the US there are different kinds of services and public transportation has been declining in terms of ridership,” Ditmore explains. People should be able to make their own decisions about where they live – and in some places there will always be a need for a more personal vehicle to transport people around. “It may mean that, in a rural environment, people own a car. But does the community need 60 cars in a car park? Maybe we have two people in a vehicle.”
People who want to grow old in the country “have the same rights as people who have the ability to move to a city”. Any new mobility solutions have to “consider either end of that spectrum of community”. After all, as Ditmore concludes: “Freedom of movement is fundamental to quality of life.”