There is perhaps nothing more reviled than the morning tube commute to the office. Carriages packed like sardines, sweaty armpits and unforeseen delays are plenty. However, recent technological innovations have transformed how we connect across distances, as well as notions of where we work in general.
Commuting isn’t fit for today’s or tomorrow’s workforce. City infrastructure was typically always built for the workforce and the commercial/industrial requirements of the time. But the way in which we do business, work with our colleagues, and also where the ‘marketplace’ now exists has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Despite the ubiquity of the internet, and proliferation of mobile, ecommerce sales accounted for only around 8% of all retail sales last year. This will only dramatically increase in the years and decades to come, and so will the ways in which we travel to our place of work. It is time then for a people-centric upgrade to our travel and methods of connection.
For transport providers, commuting used to be a question of technology-driven efficiency: “How can we get people to work quickly, safely, and cheaply?” But we should be more ambitious, aiming for a more systemic, human-centred goal: “How can we design urban mobility to support and boost people’s creativity and productivity?” or do we even need to support mobility to the same extent anymore if we have tools that enable us to essentially work from anywhere?
Mobile apps have enabled smarter commuting such as Citymapper and Commuter Club. These apps have made city travel either much more efficient by helping people find the quickest route by any means from A to B (Citymapper), or have made the cost of commuting cheaper through innovative pricing (CommuterClub). In addition, apps have crossed over to transforming the actual mode of commute too. Uber and Lyft are of course already widespread across major cities, but recent years have seen the use of dockless bikes, and accompanied apps to source and unlock them such as OFO and Mobike have become more popular. San Francisco has seen millions of technology venture capital funding going into dockless scooters such as Bird recently, on the premise it will be the next big mode of travel. These innovations all have the same theme in common: they are all people-centric.
Furthermore, it could be argued that the office space itself is transforming travel in that employees are commuting less by setting up their workspace anywhere, and leading more flexible work schedules. Startups such as Hubble help businesses find flexible office space using artificial intelligence. This is more necessary now than ever, as businesses want to increase and decrease in size depending on projects and clients, and to allow for a more flexible workforce. Tech startups such as Slack and Zoom, as well as cloud tools such as the Google Suite have allowed remote communication from anywhere in the world. Workers no longer need to travel far – rather they can work in local co-working hubs or from hot desks nearer to their home or indeed from more exotic locations that suit a nomadic lifestyle too.
Over the next few years, perhaps we might see city authorities taking a more people-centric approach to urban planning and infrastructure management. They may become more open to dockless systems of transport as well as helping promote cost-cutting apps, if it means it will improve overall productivity and efficiency. In addition, businesses will recognise that work management is becoming more people-centric, and can be done from all types of remote locations. And hopefully in doing so, it will turn today’s inhumane commute into something more human-centred.