What Is Multimodal Transport & Why We Need It In Our Cities

When designing future cities, transport plays a big role. Moving millions of people everyday is a huge challenge, and perhaps the most important thing urban planners need to get right.

The trouble is, we’ve become dependent on private cars. Cars might seem convenient in the moment, but everyone using a car increases traffic, makes parking a nightmare, and is bad for the environment.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet and no single solution can replace the private car by itself. Instead, a multimodal transport approach is needed.

What is multimodal transport?

Multimodal transport can mean one of two things, at its simplest it’s about getting from A to B using more than one mode of transport within that single trip. It can apply to people moving from place to place, as well as when moving freight or making deliveries.

  • Do you walk to the bus stop then catch a bus to work? That’s multimodal transport.

  • On your last holiday, did you get the train to the airport, then fly? Multimodal transport in action.

  • Did your last delivery come by ship, then was dropped to you in a van? You guessed it.

The other way to think about multimodal transport is to think of it as a lifestyle. Do you walk to the local cafe, but catch the bus to work and then maybe drive a car to visit your grandparents on the weekend? Then you’re living a multimodal lifestyle!

It sounds simple (and it is) but for many people the car dominates all trips in their life. Heading to the local shops – drive, commuting to work – drive, going to the gym to get fit – drive. This dominance means we become, both personally and collectively as a society, completely dependent on a single means of getting around… and you know what they say about putting all your eggs in the one basket.

Why is multimodal transport important?

For most urban planners, the best transport is mass transit, especially trains or trams with a separated corridor. These don’t compete with other vehicles and move lots of people very efficiently.

However, if everyone in a city were to only use trains to get around we’d all need to live within walking distance to a station. And while we think you’d agree that, that would be incredible, it would require a tonne of new infrastructure. So we need to find better ways of getting people to and from mass transit.

As our cities spread away from these ‘trunk’ mass transit routes, we need other forms of transport to get around, like buses, bikes, scooters, and walking.

But beyond that, when people make a mix of transport options their defacto way of getting around, it means that they become less reliant on a private car.

The problem with cars

We didn’t mention a private car in that list for a reason. Good multimodal transport networks make it possible to get between any two points without a car. The fewer cars we have in our cities the less traffic congestion and demand for parking we have, and the less environmental damage we’re responsible for.

When we do need to drive, most planners agree we should be trying to use car share like GoGet, alongside taxis and ride share, instead of owning a car ourselves. If you only need your car occasionally, it’s generally cheaper this way.

The more people that live without cars, the more resources will be put into public transport, like buses, trains, shuttles, and eventually on-demand transit like Sydney’s Keoride. It doesn’t all have to come from the government, as private businesses are responding with solutions too.

The multimodal future

A strong multimodal transit system does more than just make it easy to get around. By building the right infrastructure and supporting the right services, planners can unlock new options for the city. 

Streets can be made for people instead of cars, which means our cities are more enjoyable places to be. From pedestrian only boulevards, to reinvented retail strips, to more green space for work and play, embracing multimodal transport can revolutionise our cities.

Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.


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