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"The new HITRANS app for Mobility as a Service" by Ranald Robertson, Director of HITRANS: Thursday 7 October 2021

Ranald Robertson, Director of HITRANSd

Ranald Robertson, Director of HITRANS.

© John G. Fender 2021

Travel ought to be a pleasure in a region with the scenic splendours of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, and unique possibilities such as landing on the beach at Barra, taking the steam-hauled Jacobite across the Harry Potter viaduct or catching a ferry to a small island like Raasay ensure that the joy of the journey becomes an experience in itself.

Traditional products such as the Freedom of Scotland Travelpass have long facilitated the bringing together of journeys by different modes. More recently strong advocacy from the Mobility as a Service Scotland group persuaded the Scottish Government to set up a development fund so that Scotland might showcase achievement in this developing field, and HITRANS was successful in its bid to the first round which has given rise to the GoHi app - a reinvention of this joy in modern form.

HITRANS requirements for a Maas platform started with integrated journey-planning, but then stretched much further. Using smartphones or desktop devices, there should be an ability to book and pay for multiple modes - bikeshare, bus, DRT, ferry, train, car rental, taxi and air. By enabling this to be done in a single online transaction, integrated ticketing should take the hassle out of joining up the separate legs, and a hybrid model should work also for business travellers, matching the straightforwardness of just jumping into their company car and offering a really sustainable alternative to company car use.

For its first phase the project focus of Go-Hi has brought together several starting-points, including developing the MaaS platform, integrating together Moray's Dial M DRT booking and payment, Inverness's Public eBike dock system, Car Clubs, bus, rail and air. Dial M for Moray has been developed from a book-in-advance facility into a just-in-time booking interface that does not abstract from fixed links but instead feeds into them, including to rail at Keith Station. Ebike was launched on 1 October with Bewegen Technology (a Canadian provider already active in the Forth Valley and Sestran area) awarded to deliver this facility in Inverness.

Launched on 21 June this year, the project has already achieved over 900 unique downloads. The user is faced with a choice of ways to find their best travel options including using nearby modes, the offer of a full range of multimodal options or being put in touch directly with individual operators. Bus coverage started with Stagecoach, but now independent operators are being onboarded with new options such as DRT and a renewed need to learn local requirements. Geography is a challenge, but the app must remove barriers by offering decent choices on a single platform which includes harnessing "last mile" modes for the convenience of business travellers. The imminent inclusion of Northlink will include the new dimensions of booking a cabin or access to the Magnus Lounge. To support tourism in the Highlands the app can also be used to find hotels, restaurants and other useful facilities including ATMs.

Now funding has been awarded for a second phase that will embrace a rural and island focus for DRT booking and payment, public ebike and folding bike dock systems, electric and extended car clubs, with rewards to incentivise regular users, ehubs, ITSO integration and marketing and promotional activities. Public ebike and folding bike provision will see the number of bike docks expand from three to nine in the next twelve months, with Bromptons making their debut at Inverness's Eastgate Centre, Elgin Station and Oban Interchange and ebikes to include provision of accessible ones for people with mobility difficulties. Electric vehicles will be rolled out to car clubs, and ITSO alignment will allow travel perks and options such as parents topping up ebike provision. The University of the Highlands and Islands campus at Inverness has a bridge across the Highland Main Line that may be accessed only by people using sustainable travel modes and HITRANS will trial Connected and Autonomous (Driverless) bus operations across this link in 2022.

HITRANS has assembled a strong team that includes specialists including FOD Mobility Group whose Mobilleo solution powers GO-HI, Proxismart, Arcadis, IBI Group and Skedgo, with the University of Leeds providing monitoring and evaluation leadership. This ensures that it is not just the application of technology which is being delivered. The pandemic brought challenges of timetable instability, while CalMac has faced well-publicised difficulties with its fleet and ScotRail has been beset by Sunday strikes. The GoHi team has had to take these in its stride as it seeks a level of resilience planning that persuades businesses to move all their travel planning onto the app (which one large business is about to do). Fares available in the platform are drawn from a range of sources offering real convenience rather than majoring on the lowest cost available. Much like a supermarket with all services available there might be lower cost suppliers elsewhere. All of these aspects will require continuous improvement if GoHi is to outlast its two-year trial period and secure a permanent legacy measured in a modal shift to sustainable travel options.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

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