Is Multi-Modal the next big thing?
Quite a few years ago (pre-Internet) I was commissioned to carry out a feasibility study for a large telecommunications organisation. The idea was to test the concept of an electronic transport marketplace (ETM) covering the whole of mainland United Kingdom. The ETM would have access to the timetables of every form of public transport. It would enable users to plan a multi-modal journey using, say, bus, London Underground, the rail network and coach. The telecoms company would install ETM kiosks in key positions around the country such as railway and bus stations. Users would be able to plan their journeys with certainty of information. Anyone who has used the Citymapper app for travel around London will immediately appreciate how valuable the ETM might have been to domestic travellers.
The project never happened but fast forward to the present time. I was interested to read the headline “Multi-modal platform GoEuro raises $150m to back innovation and expansion.” This is a useful amount of money. GoEuro stated that it is planning to use the investment to “advance its vision of unifying transport globally by accelerating product innovation and expanding into new markets, facilitating more convenient travel booking across the world.” Just like the ETM.
In travel, we are quite used to the concept of dynamic packaging, allowing travellers to bundle together, for example, flights and accommodation. Aggregating information from disparate forms of transport is a much tougher proposition. I tried a quick test of GoEuro’s website – a journey from the London Borough of Barnet to San Marino in Italy. The results were not great as the site does not yet integrate local bus information, so it gave me start and end points of Victoria and Riccione.
Multi-modal transport site Rome2rio does a much better job, taking me on the tube from High Barnet, then Paddington Express to Heathrow, flight to Ancona followed by a train and bus. This has been achieved with relatively little investment. The company raised $2.8 million in funding, a tiny amount of money compared to the funds going into GoEuro. It has taken time, though. Rome2rio was founded 7 years ago, a huge amount of time in the fast-moving era of the Internet.
So to my question, is multi-modal the next big thing? It is interesting to note that neither of the big two – Priceline and Expedia –are doing anything with multi-modal on their mainstream websites. At a recent seminar I attended, Denise Jones, Expedia’s Technical Product Manager, said that one of the challenges for the future was to meet the demand for a website that provides door to door travel. She stated that Expedia won’t be doing this, “We are an OTA.” That’s a good focus, a recognition that there may be little in the way of incremental additional sales of flights and accommodation in aggregating this with public transport information.
If an OTA is not going to offer multi-modal information aggregation, who might? I think it would need to be a global player with a large number of subscribers who would appreciate being able to conduct multi-modal transport searches. Do a search on Google for ‘travel from high barnet to san marino.’ The results are really disappointing, aren’t they?