Home Apps Mobility as a Service lifts off: Are drones the new taxis?

Mobility as a Service lifts off: Are drones the new taxis?

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Going by plane is probably the best way to travel long distances in a relatively short amount of time. But what if air travel was also an option for shorter distances? Let’s say to commute to work every day. Or to visit a friend that lives at the other end of the town. Wouldn’t it be great to circumvent the gridlocked streets during rush hour and just lift off? It’s time for more unconventional mass transit systems to take off and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is about to hit the next level by conquering the cities’ airspace with passenger drones.

The ridesharing company Uber is currently developing several air taxi concepts. At the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon, they even announced a partnership with NASA. Together, they work on purely electric and autonomous air taxis that can carry four passengers. Meanwhile in Europe, the German start-up Lilium also works on a fully electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) jet, while Volocopter, a company backed by Daimler, designs drones for individual journeys by air.

But to create and operate a VTOL-based transport network, the engineering work to design prototypes for air shuttles within and across different cities is just one aspect. While the demand for efficient mobility solutions has increased, operators still have to make sure; their business runs profitably. For example, they must carefully choose the locations of the take-off and landing sites, the so-called vertiports. This includes keeping an eye on the fixed costs for building or renting vertiports and the flexible costs per trip. Not to forget, the underlying urban topology and the expected demand for rides also influence the success of VTOL-based ridesharing networks.

This is where our demand modelling software, PTV Vissim, comes into play. It simulates traffic patterns on a microscopic level and displays all mobility users and their interactions in one model. The tool evaluates and plans transport infrastructures with any level of complexity. For a VTOL-based MaaS scheme, it suggests, for example, the optimal number of locations, at which the take-off and landing sites should be placed in urban areas. Prime candidates include existing car parks with large enough upper decks or roofs, helicopter pads, pontoons in rivers and lakes, old seaside piers, or docks, as well as highway intersections.

Getting to the airport in New York City by drone
Together with Dr. Melanie Reuter-Oppermann from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Dr. Nitin Ahuja, Chief Software Engineer at PTV Group, focused on the city of New York as an example to tackle the problem of optimally locating vertiports. The researchers created a model to identify the ideal number and locations for take-off and landing sites including the landing pads, the charging infrastructure and the waiting areas. To verify their model, they tested it with historic taxi data. For this, they used the trip record data for green and yellow cabs of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission.

Out of a total number of 71 potential vertiport-locations that they determined, the researchers calculated the 11 most profitable locations that cover 86% of the trips and allow for 43 routes. These routes connect the airports JFK, La Guardia and Newark with locations in Manhattan, as a majority of the trips take place to and from these two main airports and the one in Newark.

The researchers filtered the data set to only consider trips longer than 10 miles and 60 minutes, for which taking a VTOL will result in a significant time reduction. The majority of these trips took place from the two main airports JFK and La Guardia to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan with peak times in the morning and evening as well as at noon.

As affordable as a taxi, but as fast as a plane
To meet the growing demand for new mobility solutions and to make a significant cut in emissions, people need to opt for mass transit solutions more often. While cities are setting out to take actions on the ground, VTOL-based ridesharing could be next on their list. But to make drones for passenger transport as popular as cars, buses and trains, these new business models need to be feasible from a technical and financial perspective. For a service to target a large customer base, it should, for example, not cost much more than a taxi ride.

What it should and can offer its customers is, however, a significant decrease in travel time because potential customers would travel to a take-off site nearby and also fly to a site that is within proximity of their destination to avoid getting stuck in traffic on the first or last mile. This is why it is important to install the so-called vertiports strategically within any urban area. VTOL operators only want to open profitable locations with a certain utilisation level.

Introducing VTOL services in cities
Transporting passengers within or between cities by VTOL is not far-fetched at all because installing only a few vertiports in New York City covers already a high number of flights. The benefits are reduced travel times, less congestion on the ground, and better air quality. New forms of MaaS are the cure for gridlocked cities suffering from air pollution. Now it is only a matter of time to lift MaaS off the ground.

How do you think this new mode of transport can be integrated into existing transportation networks? Join the conversion and get in touch with our mobility expert, Dr. Nitin Ahuja, via nitin.ahuja@ptvgroup.com.

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