Design and Management of Intermodal Mobility Hubs

What are Interchange Hubs?

In metropolitan regions, the routes of the different transport modes naturally create transport nodes. One of the key principles of sustainable mobility is intermodality, which can be promoted and enhanced through “Interchange Hubs”.

Interchange Hubs are places where passengers and cargo can be exchanged between vehicles and/or between transport modes. Interchange hubs can include train stations, bus stops, tram stops, and airports. 

Various sizes of Interchange Hubs with different functions exist in the world, all of which fill a specific role in the transport system of a metropolitan region. They can be categorised according to the number of users, the number of transport modes, and the type of services available.

Interchanges Hubs are essential for promoting sustainable transportation as they allow passengers to shift from various sustainable modes of transport to travel to different destination types. As such, passengers have an array of choices when it comes to sustainable transport modes, at the expense of private transportation. Experts have theorised concepts relating to Interchange Hubs. There are a variety of interchange types whose functions are linked to the primary transport mode they are attached to. Indeed, a bus station (car-based transportation), a railway station (rail-based transportation) and an airport (aerial-based transportation) are considered Interchange Hubs as they enable passengers to smoothly and seamlessly transfer to different transport modes. However, given the nature of its principal transport mode, the interchange function differs. In important metropolitan regions, Interchange Hubs with different functions are needed in their transport system for allowing a seamless daily flow of passengers. Interchange Hubs are considered as more than just a place for transport. Planners and policymakers agree that transport can be transformed into a valued activity in interchanges if they can also be regarded as places of life, business and socialisation (Monzon-de-Caceres and Di Ciommo 2016).

Interchange Hub typologies

Small Interchange Hubs usually offer to users two transport modes for the last-mile. They can be characterised by a low passengers demand and few services as shown on the illustration below in Zhuzhou (China).

Wythenshawe interchange is considered medium-sized because it offers to its users a mobility within the boundaries of its metropolitan region. At least three transport modes (tramways, buses, parking lot for private vehicles) are available to users in this interchange as seen on the illustration below.

Landmark interchange hubs usually involve an infrastructure based-transport such as the railway to promote interregional mobility. These interchanges are offering more than 3 transport modes. A wide array of services is available. These interchanges are characterised by a high passengers demand. The picture below shows that the Grenoble Gare offers five different transport modes to its users.

Interchange Hubs entail three essential functions to increase their sustainability: Transport, City and Services (Centre d’études et d’expertise sur les risques and Direction technique Territoires et ville 2017).

  1. The function of Transport should rely on the accessibility of the infrastructure by everyone and especially the disadvantaged groups (blind people, wheelchairs users, low wages people, women, children and the elderlies). The transport supply should also meet the demand and coordination between all transport operators are needed for a seamless travel experience.
  2. The function of City involves good planning and neighbourhood insertion of the interchange to make it sustainable and relevant. Commercial areas and businesses should be implemented as a way to alleviate waiting time from the passengers
  3. The function of Services is divided into subcategories and is foremost a function that supports the transport and city functions. As such, services for transport function include signalling nearby and within the interchange so that accessing and moving inside the station is a seamless experience for the broadest audience of passengers, including people with mobility issues and sight issues. The ticketing system that involves different transport modes as a way to increase modal shift between different mass transport modes, and subsequently having a positive impact on the sustainability of the transport system as a whole. Affordable fare, integrated travel and disruption information are some of the other transport services that help the passengers during their transit time. Information is indeed crucial so that they can plan their trip and what they are going to do within the interchange. If a disruption happens, they can adapt their travel trip or activities that they had planned. Overall, information help passengers to manage in a better way their time, which is a critical factor in transportation. As previously stated, transport is a derived demand. Planners and authorities should take into consideration the waiting time as a decisive factor when planning an interchange. Services supporting the city function such as retail provision services (cafés, restaurants, various commercial areas), business offices or banks improve the passengers’ transit time by offering them choices in activities.
Conceptual hub illustration and functions (Source: Richer, 2008)


Locating Interchange Hubs

Depending on the functions, sizes, and cities specificities, the interchanges can be located in various locations of a city. The concept diagram below illustrates how a variety of Interchange Hubs function together in a transport system and how they are interconnected through transport routes. The more important a city is, the more it needs a variety of Interchange Hubs to regulate and connect the various transport modes.

Interchange Hub system concept diagram



Important planning principles and methods for successful Interchange Hubs developments

  • Spatial location – Interchange Hubs have the best chance to be sustainable at areas where there is a strong connectivity between transport modes and where there are existing opportunities for urban development. In other words, the areas selected should allow connectivity with other territories.
  • Connectivity – Intermodal mobility implies using different transport modes during the same trip. It entails transferring from one transport mode to another.  Improving the quality of the transfer time through services offer and shortening the waiting time will positively impact the experience of the intermodal mobility by the passengers. Connectivity can also be improved by reducing the distances between the transport services in a city’s transport system. Interchanges need to be carefully planned in the context of a wider system, to ensure that connectivity is optimal between transport modes. This means that locations for Interchange Hubs are strategic to ensure connectivity.
  • Accessibility – accessibility of the interchanges’ operations entail designing it with three different layers: Station, Service, Vehicle. These layers are called the three pillars of accessibility and should pay attention to impaired groups such as users with reduced eyesight or mobility.
  • Functionality and urban integration – a more sustainable mobility implies effectively articulating transport with urban planning, for a better integration of the interchange in the urban fabric. On the contrary, an interchange without proper integration to the local urban opportunities will not succeed at being sustainable.

Setting-up an interchange hub

Cooperation with the private sector should be advocated as the implementation of an interchange comes with important financial investments. At a strategic level, the local authorities should use interchanges as a tool for urban development. The concept of Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) is widely known to initiate a sustainable interchange for its users, investors and transport operators. Articulating urban planning and transport is necessary for the promotion of sustainable mobility, as elements of a city can positively impact its transport system.


Governing the Interchange Hubs

Governance at different levels

Three layers of governance need to be considered for a successful implementation of interchanges:

  • At a strategic level, the authorities are responsible for the planning of Interchange Hubs in their metropolitan regions. They should decide which locations are best suited for implementing these infrastructures and how many Interchange Hubs are needed.
  • At a tactical level, the various stakeholders should define the duties and responsibilities of everyone, and ensure that cooperation and coordination is
  • At the operational level, the stakeholders in charge of the interchange’s operations are responsible for the coordination of the various transport modes available in the hub. They are also in charge of the financial health of (coordination of all transport modes, incentives, profit maximization)

Models of governance

Metropolitan regions have their own urban, institutional, economic specificities that entail having various governance models adapted to each situation:

  • The Regulator model is a competition model where the private companies supply the transport demand. The authorities act as a referee, by monitoring and enforcing business rules towards the private companies. However, the authorities have limited power on the operations of the transport companies. This means that integrating the operations of various transport mode from the private companies remains a difficult task in this governance model.
  • The Integrated agency model relies exclusively on public initiative. Transport services are fully financed and controlled by the public authorities, which can facilitate the integration of multiple transport modes. However, intermodality is not guaranteed as the public authorities may have a limited array of transport services in their operation.
  • The Metropolitan Transport Executive is an organisation created to fill the tactical duty of Interchange Hubs implementation. This organisation coordinates the public authorities responsible for the strategic duties and the transport operators responsible for the operational duties of an interchange.


Read more:

SUTP iNUA implementation guide #6: Accessible Urban Mobility

SUTP iNUA implementation guide #6: Accessible Urban Mobility

The sixth SUTP iNUA implementation guide focuses on how to promote accessible urban transport for all. Accessible mobility is a core issue for sustainable and economic development of our cities in the future. The paper outlines key strategies to ensure barrier-free usability of public infrastructure and provides a number of step-by-step measures towards implementing governance and design for all concepts.


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