An aspect of every urban transport system is making interchange between modes work well. Interchanges are widely discussed across Europe, but the outcomes vary widely across the continent. There are issues of the ability of perceived competing mobility operators to effectively work together, which operator may take the lead in delivery of interchange services — if they see a viable business model, the role of local authorities as leads or coordinators, the role of cycling and other micromobility services as well as car sharing, and land availability or sourcing near the key intermodal locations.
Within this article I am defining “mobility hubs” as dedicated locations where a range of sustainable transport modes are co-located in close proximity. The hubs should bring together short and intermediate modes of transport with long distance services. The hubs should also have distinct and visible branding or street presence and be of sufficient quality to appeal to travelers who have modal choice. It is also possible that these hubs could be located along freeways/ highways and thus, integrate local public transport and micromobility with long distance car(pool) or coach travel.
The concept of mobility hubs in a European context focuses usually on heavy rail stations. In many cities, these locations were defined over 100 years ago and are surrounded by congested land uses — albeit, some land uses have transitioned over the last few decades, for example from industrial to residential, and this may have enabled more land for facilities such as mobility hubs to become available.
In rural areas where space is typically more available, mobility hubs can form a useful focus for sustainable transport including new shared modes in an environment where perhaps only trains and occasional buses typically operate.
Mobility hubs can also be useful for multimodal interchange on highways/freeways where conditions are otherwise poor for interchange between modes.
A key question is how you integrate and encourage interchange to/from longer distance public transport modes to local modes, as well as making interchange as pleasant and safe as possible for travelers, and thus, encouraging use of sustainable transport.
The needs for attractive mobility hubs have also increased as generally rail commuter travel across most European countries has significantly increased over the last decade. This growth in demand has put pressure on car traffic routes, encouraged further public transport demand growth, and improvements in trunk transport services, but also led to more congestion at local stations and the need for the development of a range of transport options to reach these stations. Simultaneously, reverse peak travel often to suburban or out of town office or educational locations has increased the need for shorter distance “last-mile” travel options from rail stations where, for example, local bus services may not practically meet the dispersed demand.
Across Europe the expansion and development of light rail schemes have also led to opportunities to develop mobility hubs where previously they were only considered for heavy rail services.
Finally, the rapid development of shared micro-mobility services such as shared bicycles, e-scooters as well as shared mopeds and cars, in addition to the growth in demand for personal cycling parking as a means of last mile travel, is pushing the need for the development of thinking about mobility hubs.
I would like to concentrate in this article on smaller and intermediate sized stations rather than large central interchanges — where challenges, opportunities and funding levels are typically much higher. What is being done at suburban, exurban, and rural stations?
Models that work
A few good examples are seen in Germany. The growth of mobility hubs can likely be related to the popularity of car sharing and the need for dedicated parking spaces for these vehicles.
Bremen, in northwest Germany, has the “mobil.punkt” scheme of mobility hubs. These support the widespread promotion of car sharing in the city with dedicated and branded locations where local operators can base their vehicles.
The scheme is primarily for car sharing with some associated space for bicycle parking and, of course, the sites are usually accessible by the extensive public transport network so close to a bus, tram, or rail stop. Note that cycling is a highly used mode of transport in Bremen — one quarter of all trips to work. Thus, the use of cars is possibly atypical to many other European cities, let alone cities in North America.
Dresden in southeast Germany has set in place plans to roll out over 70 mobility hubs in the city. The hubs focus on interchange between “environmentally friendly” modes of transport such as bicycles, car sharing, electric cars, and local public transport. It is expected that this will improve the attractiveness of sustainable transport, reduce pollution, and make more effective use of local land, particularly near transit hubs.
The mobility hubs are to be developed by a network of local partners, consisting of the city, local transport operators, bike sharing, and car sharing operators.
The Netherlands is somewhat unique in a European context regarding mobility due to the widespread use of personal cycling. The country already contains some remarkably large cycle parking hubs at main railway stations such as Rotterdam and Utrecht, which have over 5,000 and 12,000 cycle parking spaces, respectively.
More typically, suburban stations have a mix of modal transport options.
In the eastern part of the country, the region around Nijmegen and Arnhem have in early 2020 launched a pilot of 13 “eHubs” — shared and electronic mobility hubs that collect sustainable transport options in one branded location with a focus on ebikes, e-cargo bikes, and shared electric cars. During a test phase throughout the year, the use of the hubs is being monitored to enable design refinement and longer-term roll out planning.
Heading to Switzerland, Belgium
Switzerland is known for its extensive and integrated transport networks that link state and private public transport operators as well as cover urban, suburban, and remote parts of the country with comprehensive public transport service.
The state rail operator is SBB. One of its strategic objectives is the delivery of door to door transport across the country and it considers mobility hubs as part of its role. It is using its rail stations as part of this ambition and categorizes its stations across four demand-led typologies.
As well as the above-mentioned benefits in Germany, SBB sees the hubs as being able to disperse demand from its busy and congested, albeit expanding, city center hubs and eventually act of “smart meeting” hubs. SBB is specifically developing partnerships with taxi, car sharing, and shared e-scooter and bicycle, including e-bike, providers. The quality of time spent at the mobility hub is also recognized as part of the strategy.
Mobility hubs are being developed in Flanders, Belgium under the “mobipunt” banner. They are defined as neighborhood facilities where “different sustainable and shared transport modes are linked with each other.”
The mobipunt concept is specifically developed to include a range of design principles. These include some car sharing parking, quality bicycle parking, a location near a public transport stop as well as proximity to other neighborhood facilities, accessible design, safety such as good lighting, and a strongly branded presence including distinct naming.
Mobipunt facilities are in place across urban and rural Flanders and the concept design has spread into the Netherlands and now Bergen, Norway.
The last few months have been extremely challenging for the sustainable transport industry. As mobility returns to cities around the world, the importance of innovative mobility solutions remains of critical importance. There are many appropriate solutions for cities to consider, but mobility hubs offer a practical route to raise the profile of multimodality and relatively quickly provide useful service interventions to aid service integration. They are also supportive of new shared transport modes as well as micromobility. Regions across Europe are developing these types of facilities and several interesting schemes are already in operation.
Giles K. Bailey is a director at Stratageeb Ltd., a London-based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation.