Stations design for new mobility

+ Park-and-ride is used to provide a quick solution to overcrowding on the roads but how relevant will it be even just ten years from now?

There’s plenty of excitement building about self-driving cars, but how will they change the way we use public transport? What does it mean for our train, bus and coach stations? I don’t think we’ve given enough thought to this yet.

I think our approach to planning stations needs a revamp to cope with the changing mobility mix. Station environs – especially their forecourts – must be designed and constructed to match what we expect the future of transport to be.

Park-and-ride facilities are probably the clearest example of spaces that need rethinking. At the moment, station car parks are very common in North America and Australia. Frequently, they are at-grade and constructed to significant scale. And, they often get located in prime positions adjacent to the stations. 

They’re popular because they’re a relatively quick way for planners to justify investment in transit. It’s expected that commuters especially will drive to the station, park their car there for the day and take a train or bus to their destination. It’s also considered a good way to make use of land around stations owned by government with relatively little upfront investment.

Now imagine how this might work in a world where autonomous vehicles (AVs) are more common than ordinary cars. AVs won’t park all day at the station – they’ll be off on their next journey. So our stations will need far fewer parking spaces but much more room for vehicles to pick up and set down passengers. Also, we need to appreciate that mobility patterns are changing beyond the emergence of AVs, with new mobility partnerships foreshadowing things like rideshares. These too, are likely to demand higher turnover kerbside space rather than long-term parking bays. 

We need proper transition plans for land that’s currently reserved for park-and-ride facilities. We cannot just leave it paved in apparent perpetuity given the opportunity it offers for tying urban development and transit stations together. This means making sure station precinct plans are adaptable, parking stations are modular and defining clear transition plans. Ideally, transition funding streams will be defined as well and these will be written into policy. 

I’m sometimes asked whether I think public transport will die out altogether following AVs and other emergent forms of mobility entering the mainstream. I don’t believe it will. Some people may swap their overall journeys to AVs, and I think we’ll see more car sharing systems like Uber’s uberHOP service that also cater to longer trips to employment centres. 

But I’m convinced that mass, fixed-line transit will remain vital for cities because of the volume of passengers that these serve. They are also efficient spatially along key corridors and provide land development with anchor-points.

I think AVs and car-sharing services will become another way of getting to the station. So efficient access to transit stations will become ever more important as populations grow and urbanise.

It’s time to re-model our stations so they’re ready for the future.