Where should cities go tomorrow?
Transportation plays an essential enabling role in a city’s sustained economic prosperity. 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, we developed the Deloitte City Mobility Index (DCMI), a collection of conscious choices based on what we think smart urban mobility should look like. The DCMI is an in-depth exploration into the rapid changes occurring in the way people and goods move about, with intermodal journeys, active transportation options, such as sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and public transit playing a prominent role. Encompassing more than 50 global cities, the DCMI takes a holistic view of the entire mobility landscape, and it is informed by our clear image of how the future of mobility could unfold in urban areas.
What we learned: Select findings
“What’s past is prologue”—but not destiny. Some of 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. Cities in which decision-making authority rests with multiple actors, like New York City and Washington, DC, often struggle with articulating and acting upon a cohesive vision for the future. That said, many of the cities we profiled have shown a remarkable ability to overcome their circumstances through new approaches.
Don’t overlook the basics. 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. Authorities also need to create an environment where rules are respected and enforced and where citizens feel safe. For many, this is challenge enough.
While these efforts may not be as glamorous as creating a new app for citizens or deploying smart traffic lights, they are the sine qua non of a well-functioning transportation system—and may not always require massive investment in new infrastructure. Digital technologies can be important enablers, helping cities identify problem areas through crowdsourcing or better understand the strengths and weaknesses of their services through big data and analytics.
Integration is key. Over and over, 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, emerged as a stumbling block to improved mobility. 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, coordination still has a way to go.
There is also a direct tie between the presence of multiple regulatory authorities and service providers and having a lower ability or willingness to explore innovative solutions. In our index, the leading innovations include smart parking and ticketing, integrated payments, intelligent transit systems, and electric vehicle infrastructure. For any of these efforts to succeed, they often need to be offered across commuting corridors and inter-agency (regulatory body) coordination and cooperation are required. Data integration, governance, and security are also easier with more tightly-linked governing bodies.
The challenges of private cars. Our vision for smart urban mobility emphasizes active transportation and public transit. This means any city that relies heavily on private cars—as many US cities do—will fare poorly on several metrics in the index. Many analyses, including ours, highlight the deleterious consequences caused by an overreliance on private autos, which include congestion, pollution, and crashes.
As we have expanded the geographic coverage of the Deloitte City Mobility Index, the trade-offs associated with private cars have become more and more clear. Private cars can work well in some circumstances and are an important piece of the mobility landscape. Still, cities that rely heavily on personal vehicles should explore ways to optimize their use. For example, by augmenting private ownership with carsharing and ridesharing, perhaps as part of an integrated multi-modal solution, it may be possible to keep the cars-to-people ratio in check—or even reduce it.
Culture’s role in transportation. A city’s mobility system will ultimately be shaped by its culture and have its own distinctive local flavor. The role of culture is much more important to the development of a transportation system than many would assume. Casual ride-sharing is common in cities such as Washington, DC (where it is known as “slugging”) and New York, but less so in other US cities. Similarly, Amsterdam is quite famous for its cycling culture, but this is not as common in other cities, even those with similar geographic and population profiles.
Then there is the issue of social attitudes toward public transportation, such as “bus stigma” and the cultural importance placed on owning a car. Cities can spend billions to upgrade their transportation systems, but if the public perceives taking a bus or train is a second-class option compared to driving, public transport passenger numbers will not increase. Overcoming those cultural barriers could be particularly challenging for transportation planners. They should consider ways either to work with prevailing beliefs, or to find ways to shape them gently.
Remaking your mobility landscape
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.
See how cities fare on their quest toward the future of mobility.
 Sir Rod Eddington, The Eddington transport study: Transport’s role in sustaining the UK’s productivity and competitiveness, HM Treasury, The Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO), December 2006.
 William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act II, Scene 1.
 See, for example, Graham Cookson and Bob Pishue, INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, February 2017; Federico Karagulian, et al., “Contributions to cities’ ambient particulate matter (PM): A systematic review of local source contributions at global level,” Atmospheric environment 120 (2015): 475–83; World Health Organization, “WHO Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database,” 2016; OECD (2014), The Cost of Air Pollution: Health Impacts of Road Transport, OECD Publishing, Paris; Jonathan I. Levy, Jonathan J. Buonocore, and Katherine Von Stackelberg, “Evaluation of the public health impacts of traffic congestion: A health risk assessment,” Environmental Health 9, no. 1 (2010): 65; and Erik Hansson et al., “Relationship between commuting and health outcomes in a cross-sectional population survey in southern Sweden,” BMC public health 11, no. 1 (2011): 834.
 Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge (London: Penguin Books, 2009). See also Deloitte Insights’ collection on Behavioral Economics and Management..