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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Virtual Elevators’ Contribution to Sustainable Transport Policies: The Importance of a Smart Regulator and “Not-Too-Smart” Cards


The most significant contributions of new technologies to the implementation of sustainable urban travel policies appear to be twofold: a better understanding of users’ behavior, and the improvement of interfaces between operators.

Smart cards, i.e. chip cards which communicate with the database of a billing company, have the potential to combine the qualities of both of these contri- butions. But they also raise new problems. In Japan, a financial transactions company is developing a new payment system which coordinates superstore chains and public transport supply. Just as elevators will enable people to move freely within buildings, this system will enable customers to reach the superstores for free from the outside world.

Analysis confirms that this new concept has the potential to stimulate public transport demand. However, three issues need further consideration. First, private businesses may access transportation, financial, and even property data of travelers, which may threaten their privacy. This paper proposes a concept that would prevent such a system failure. Second, small businesses could be discriminated against on the grounds that the turnover they produce does not suffice to bear the cost of running virtual elevators. The study highlights the conditions in which local authorities may require leading businesses to cooperate with smaller ones. Eventually, since virtual elevators may rely upon state transport subsidies while following private commercial profit objectives, the paper also stresses in what matters states and local authorities should require commitments from private partners. The conclusion underscores the importance of public authorities’ involvement from the earliest steps of devel- opment of the system until and during operation. More specifically, it contrasts two distinct policy requirements: subtlety as the regulator’s main quality and “not-too-smart-ness” as a major characteristic of electronic cards.

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