In the past, regulators used questionnaires and surveys to map user needs. Now leaders can connect the dots about people, places, and products using a vast array of data from the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and other digital technologies. Using this information, they can gain a more accurate picture in a much shorter time frame at a lower cost to more proactively make informed decisions.

Yet leaders need to gather the right data, ask the right questions, and focus on where cities should go tomorrow when designing and implementing a long-term vision for future mobility. In dozens of conversations with transportation leaders all over the world, we have seen how easy it is to ignore, misinterpret, or skew this data to fit a preexisting narrative.

Transportation plays an essential enabling role in a city’s sustained economic prosperity. Our goal was to create a new and better way for city officials to gauge the health of their mobility network and their readiness to embrace the future.

The result is the Deloitte City Mobility Index (DCMI), a collection of conscious choices based on what we think smart urban mobility should look like that is refreshed annually.

Measuring Urban Mobility Performance

To assess the situation around the globe, we went beyond what transportation looks like today to explore what mobility could be in a truly smart, livable, economically vibrant city. Three key themes emerged from this research:

  1. Performance and resilience. Urban mobility should be efficient. It’s a given that the trains should literally run on time. But cities that scored highest in this category also offer multiple, integrated modes of transportation; ensure the system is relatively safe; and maintain roads and other infrastructure to minimize congestion and travel times.
  2. Vision and leadership. The second theme analyzes how deliberate and forward-thinking a city’s leaders are regarding its mobility needs. Creating a high-performing, resilient, and inclusive mobility system does not happen by accident. Urban mobility requires innovation, investment, coordination among stakeholders, and direction. The choices made should also minimize negative environmental impacts.
  3. Service and inclusion. Urban mobility should be accessible to all residents. Exemplary cities in this category offer widespread public transit coverage, affordable options, and user-friendly ways to access a variety of transportation modes.

Insights from the Survey

The past is not prologue. The cities we looked at are centuries old; they reflect countless choices made by political leaders, businesses, and residents over time. Naturally, those circumstances, both geographical and political, shape today’s mobility landscape and affected their rankings in our index.

That said, many of the cities we profiled have shown a remarkable ability to overcome their circumstances through new approaches. The mobility profile of Columbus, Ohio, for example, is typical of many midsized American cities—car-dominated, with limited public transit but also limited congestion due to its modest size. Faced with rapid growth and critical shortcomings, especially when it came to key health outcomes, city leaders crafted an ambitious strategy to remake Columbus’s transportation system into a model for smart mobility. Even weather need not be a hindrance. Walking and cycling are most prevalent in Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam—all northern European cities. Helsinki, where it frequently snows, is a top performer too!

Don’t overlook the basics. It is easy to become enamored with the array of emerging mobility technologies entering the market. Relatively new modes like bike sharing and electric scooters, along with new ways to understand and connect existing assets through sensors and analytics, offer tremendous promise for cities. But leaders should be careful not to blindly chase the latest high-tech wizardry at the expense of getting the fundamentals right.

Even as nearly every aspect of our lives becomes increasingly digital and mediated by electronic devices, mobility at its core remains grounded in the physical world. For transportation officials, that means there is no substitute for ensuring that physical infrastructure and assets work—that roads and bridges are maintained and safe, that buses and trains are clean and reliable, that traffic lights function. For many, this is challenge enough. Globally, needed spending on infrastructure is already failing to meet basic upkeep demands, and the cumulative shortfall in funding for road infrastructure could balloon to more than US$7.5 trillion by 2040, according to the G20-sponsored Global Investment Hub.

Authorities also need to create an environment where rules are respected and enforced and where citizens feel safe. In Nairobi, pedestrians represent 65 percent of traffic fatalities. In the United States, that number is just 16 percent. Rail service in Johannesburg is frequently canceled due to theft of overhead electrical cables. Other countries are not immune. Rome, for example, has a well-developed transit network and is working to reduce vehicle emissions, yet its aging public buses caught fire as many as 20 times in 2017 alone.

No surprise, then, that more than one-third of the consumers Deloitte surveyed in Rome rated their public transit system “poor” or “very poor” on the question of safety. Without safe transportation options and a level playing field for all users—whether private-sector providers or end consumers—city leaders will likely struggle to meet the mobility needs of their constituents.

Integration is Key

Cities with high population densities such as London, Singapore, and Berlin, scored highest on transportation performance. With more people funding systems that cover less ground, these cities get more bang for their bucks. Cities with large geographic areas, such as New York and Chicago, tend to do better within city limits but do not perform as well in their larger exo-urban areas.

One reason for this may be the lack of integration, coordination, and effective governance among transportation regulators and providers between the city and the suburbs and between public and private bodies. The city itself usually has one transit authority, surrounding areas have their own, and the level of cooperation between the various entities can vary widely. In many cities, private operators appear to act in competition—rather than concert—with public ones.

And it’s not just integration across administrative or regulatory bodies; even within a single authority, simply having coordinated timetables where, for example, bus drop-offs at transport hubs are timed to align with train departures, can mean less time spent waiting and more convenience for riders overall. While this is improving in many of the cities surveyed, it still has a way to go. Our findings suggest that having multiple regulatory providers inhibits a smoothly functioning and integrated transportation system, but interagency coordination can be successful.

Our research found that mobility plays a central role in a city’s economic prosperity. This is why the rewards for getting it right are potentially great.

Looking for out-of-the-box solutions to solve their problems, leading future-of-mobility cities demonstrate that finding money is rarely a long-term solution. Their success tends to stem from intelligent integration and innovation rather than sheer investment.

For cities that have scored relatively poorly across specific indicators, all is not lost. Given the speed of change and technological trends, any city has the opportunity to radically remake its mobility landscape over the next five to 10 years. Cities that rank poorly today could leapfrog to become leaders in the future of mobility by deploying advanced solutions that solve some of transportation’s perennial problems.

Leaders need to identify what the “right” kind of spending is. In our experience, spending on integrating systems and introducing technological improvements typically produces better returns over time. While adding more service or building more roads can be helpful, developing better-integrated strategies with greater involvement from the private sector often yields better results. In these scenarios, the government often takes on different roles, such as enabling data sharing, monitoring cybersecurity, incentivizing private sector innovation and participation, and establishing the standards and rules by which mobility providers must abide.

Explore the mobility landscape and future of mobility readiness for major cities around the world.