The Adventure of Traveling
In 1873, the French writer Jules Verne published Around the World in Eighty Days. The main character, Phileas Fogg, circumnavigated the world in 79 days, making use of the most popular transport modes in his time: railways and steamers (also elephants for a short ride). Such an impressive mark was the result of investment in infrastructures: the Transcontinental Railroad in the US was completed in 1869, and the Suez Canal was inaugurated in 1870. In any case, traveling around the world required frequent changes in transport mode, different service providers, uncertainty with bookings, and the spirit of adventure that made Verne’s novel so popular.
In the twenty-first century, travelers must still navigate different uncoordinated transport modes (aircrafts, railways, private cars, etc.), provided by different companies, under different conditions and passenger rights schemes, with different booking and contracting methods, thanks to the intervention of expensive intermediaries and the like. Even urban mobility is a mesh of uncoordinated transport modes. The challenge of providing seamless door-to-door transport, either for passengers or for goods, remains unmet.
All transport modes have evolved over time, albeit to different degrees, to reach more efficient results in terms of capacity, speed, reliability, safety, environmental performance, and, in particular, costs. Such evolutions have taken different forms in each transport mode, according to each mode’s own characteristics, and sometimes convoluted traditions.
Scale has been the process by which efficiency has been increased in many transport modes. This strategy has proven successful in the densest routes. For example, maritime transport between large ports has become more efficient thanks to large container ships, and railways provide efficient mass-transit solutions, both urban and long-distance. Network effects have been relevant to feed larger and larger infrastructure and service providers.
However, scale has its physical limits: for example, large ships cannot use the Panama channel, the A380 cannot land at many airports, and most roads cannot handle very large trucks. Furthermore, scale in supply has not brought efficiencies on routes with scarce demand, which is the case of first/last mile transportation.
Despite the amount of evolution since Phileas Fogg circumnavigated the world in 1873, passengers (or shippers) still have to coordinate different transport modes, supplied by different transport service providers. The alternative is to contract the coordination of the necessary services with expensive intermediaries (travel agents, forwarders). There is an unmet demand for a seamless door-to-door transport experience.