Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

My commute, slash, transportation as an end-to-end experience

First a bit about my commute... Every day this summer, I've had a choice on how to commute. I could walk/cycle, drive, or take the bus from New Center (where I live) to Capitol Park (where I spend my working hours). Here's the decision framework and I'll follow with some (hopefully) interesting observations about how we can think about transportation differently. The punchline - we're thinking about it immaturely.

Walking / Cycling: Walking is free, but it takes a long time. I have a decent amount to carry and sometimes the weather is bad. Cycling is good, but I don't have a nice bike and I don't really know how to take care of it. The bike shop is not open everyday and there's only one nearby. As a result, my bike has been sitting at Department of Alternatives for the past week, with a leaky rear tube. If it wasn't for my friend Mike Evans (check out his company,, here), I would know nothing about bicycle care and would be really sunk.

Driving: Despite the fact my car isn't a desirable one, it's pretty easy to use it. Parking is $4, and I can go and come as I please. Traffic in Detroit isn't terrible, either. The 3.5 miles isn't a huge amount to spend on gasoline, either, and having a car comes in handy if I need to make any stops on the way home from work (e.g., if I need to buy groceries). It's annoying to need cash, though. Cars, in general, are expensive, however, and bad things happen when lots of people commute by car by themselves, like I do.

The Bus: It costs $3 and takes a lot more time, especially if you account for waiting times. That is made a little bit easier by using TextMyBus (which incidentally is also one of Mike's projects*). It's also crowded, but I think that's kind of exciting. Like when I drive, I need cash. And, I also need exact change ($1.50 per trip).

*Addition after publishing - Matt Hampel is another member of the TextMyBus Crew!


What this means for how we think about transportation and the "mobility industry"...

Taking all this into account, I usually drive. Here's the point, though. People are thinking about all of these transportation options solely as destination products/services (see this blog post for more about this concept), I think, but they shouldn't be anymore. We should be thinking about mobility as an end-to-end customer experience for unique customer segments.

The whole dialogue about transportation really doesn't think about connecting infrastructure and destination products/services into a cohesive product or service. And we wonder why people (who in Detroit have a lot of leeway in picking their transit...all three of my options are relatively easy to pursue) don't adopt transit solutions? We ought to treat them like customers who need options for a unique experience and the curation of a unique experience that fits them.

If we (meaning, institutions, governments, companies, and consumers) thought more about transportation as a customer experience, we'd probably talk more about raising the price of parking, or having an easier time buying a bus pass with a credit card. The only "customer experience" for transportation I think I've ever had in Detroit is Uber (a personal black car from the cloud you can call upon with a mobile's great).

For a long time people thought about transportation as a destination product or service. People wanted cars, because they couldn't even conceive of transporting themselves any other way. People who weren't wealthy in New York probably treated the subway as a destination product/service because they had no other option. The point was to buy a vehicle or take public transit, making a customer experience was your own responsibility.

Now, vehicles themselves are more like a piece of infrastructure, because they're really replicable and the basic platform for building a car, subway, or train is well known (and falling in price). Automobiles and bicycles are commodities, which is why we're starting to see really niche vehicles (e.g., high performance cars, luxury cars) or differentiating products or services being put into cars (e.g., in-car electronics or personal assistant services).

What's next for transportation, briefly, is thinking about consumers (with unique personas) as wanting to have useful, end-to-end transportation experiences rather than thinking of them as automobile owners or bus riders looking simply to consume a destination product or service. Any person or organization that can start to play a "curator of a customer experience" role in the mobility space - whether it's a startup, an existing mobility/transportation company (like an automaker), or a public servant - will provide a lot of value (and probably make a lot of money, too).