How On-Demand Shuttles Can Fill the Gaps in Mass Transit

A robust mass transit system can make a city greener, more energy efficient, and limit traffic congestion. However, in many cities, existing mass transit solutions are not convenient enough for people to abandon their own vehicles. Enter on-demand shuttles. These privately-owned shuttles combine the convenience of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) with the benefits of communal travel, and could be the way forward in addressing the holes in current mass transit systems.

For those with the resources to own one, the car remains the most convenient choice for commuting, as many public transportation systems are plagued with issues like unreliable departure times, long or out-of-the-way routes, and overcrowding. In order to get car owners to choose a communal transportation option, that option will need to provide the individual with more convenience and a better experience than their own vehicle. On-demand shuttles, or “micro-transit” as they’re sometimes called, offer a communal transportation option with the convenience and reliability of an SOV. These shuttles use data from riders to design routes, and can quickly launch new routes in response to customer demand at a relatively low cost, especially when compared to the cost of building new public transportation infrastructure. On-demand shuttles also prioritize a positive experience for riders – often offering Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, fun music, and a relaxed environment for riders to unwind and socialize – which provides further incentive to ditch commuting by car.

On-demand shuttle services aim to work within existing mass transit systems, not compete with them, and their operators often work hand-in-hand with local transportation officials to determine how they can best support existing public transportation infrastructure. When used in conjunction with mass transit, on-demand shuttles can fill in service gaps, ease overcrowding on popular routes, and take on less popular routes, saving transportation departments the cost of servicing these routes with large, half-empty buses. On-demand shuttles can also offer disabled passengers a less expensive transportation option than the “paratransit” systems that exist in cities today.

On-demand shuttles have been especially successful in cities like San Francisco, where rapid population growth has made for increasingly crowded public transportation, leading people to look for alternative commuting options. Chariot, just one of a handful of on-demand shuttle options in the area, is now providing around 13,000 rides a week on its 72 buses. In Kansas City, on-demand shuttle company Bridj has taken collaboration with transportation officials a step further by entering an official partnership with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to provide on-microtransit services to the city’s residents.

While the potential for on-demand shuttles is great, in order to get more people to embrace communal travel options, cities will have to embrace smart mobility solutions. Furthermore, on-demand shuttles, in conjunction with other solutions like ride sharing, bicycle routes, and public transportation, can help fill the gaps in existing transit options and influence car owners to consider alternate commute options. The advancement of our current systems will take some doing on both the transportation and communities part, but we’re well on our way to a better, more streamlined transit system, and I’d expect on-demand shuttles, in particular, to take-off in popularity very soon.

 


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

2017 Multimodal Transportation Industry Predictions

Multimodal may not be the standard mode of transportation yet—but it’s on its way. Today the integration of innovative software solutions with transportation options have empowered users to choose how they move across cities. And with a generation of millennials using anywhere from 30 to 60 percent biking or taking public transit for modes of transportation, the industry is steadfast on fine-tuning existing multimodal solutions. Over the next year, I predict three things will happen: Millennial influence will affect the future design of transportation applications. Sophisticated real-time data with the Internet of Things will create a better experience for riders. And autonomous vehicles will fully integrate into the realm of ride-share. The result? A multimodal system that will be primed and ready for the next generation.

1. Millennials have officially surpassed Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. And with the millennial population reaching 79.2 million by 2050, the transportation industry is committed to keeping the demanding generation happy. This strategy is a smart one with 70 percent of millennials using numerous travel options a week. It’s not uncommon for a person under the age of 34 to hail a Lyft to catch the train to commute to work each day. With data-rich smartphones in their pockets, endless applications provide them with choices to effortlessly connect their modes of transportation, in real-time. Because who wants to wait for a train? With this generation, the stakes are high. They keep an eye out for the latest and greatest in applications to ensure their options are seamless and effortless. Experts will work to ensure millennials are provided with a more efficient user experience than ever before. This means airy designs with no bugs. A millennial can troubleshoot around any unwieldy app, but they would rather just move on to the next one. An intelligent, personalized design keeps younger generations engaged. If experts modify designs applications to meet the end user’s lifestyle and needs, the more likely the millennial generation will remain loyal to multimodal.
 
Millennial Girls
 
2. Of course, innovatively designed applications need the IoT. Gartner predicts that the IoT will contain 20.8 billion connected devices by 2020, increasing the information related to transportation and mobility needs. With acceleration in data, the amount of real-time predictive analytics will drive more intelligent mobility. This will only enhance users experience across modes of transportation. For instance, with this data, multimodal transportation can deploy an implementation of sensors and big data management systems. These sensors will update users and transit authorities on everything from arrival times to alternate routes to avoid congestion, gifting commuters with accurate information regarding routes and schedule changes. Transit authorities can also track fleets of vehicles with GPS systems, allowing passengers on board to be notified when they’ll arrive. It seems trivial, but it’s vital that this data be more precise than ever before. A multimodal commuter relies on accurate timing to ensure they’ll get to their destination on time, and timing is everything when commuting.

3. It also seems commuters have been anxiously waiting for autonomous cars to join ride-share programs. Well, I have good news. Over the span of 2017, you’ll be able to hail a ride with no driver. Recently, Uber announced that they’re picking up users in San Francisco, expanding their pilot program on more roads. Several companies already have the self-driving technology and want to appeal to ride-sharing services. This will not only reduce the operational cost of the driver, but it gives consumers a greater opportunity to experience autonomous technology- which currently feels out of reach for many. Users will be able to utilize self-driving vehicles with ride-share applications as they do now. Vehicles will be readily available in highly congested areas, giving commuters the opportunity to supplement using their own car to reach mass transit. Additionally, many of the fleets of vehicles will be electric. And of course, all fleets will be thoroughly tested for safety. Ideal for city driving and our future environment.

Multimodal systems are necessary—especially since this mode of transportation appeals to an influential generation. If the industry wants to see these predictions come to fruition, we’ll have to continue to create more efficiently designed applications for millennials, provide accurate arrival data with the IoT, and create experiences our multimodal commuters have never experienced before. Like hailing an autonomous taxi with no driver, perhaps. This will prime multimodal transportation for success in 2017 and beyond.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

On The Road to Less Traffic: Self-Driving Buses

There’s plenty of buzz around autonomous vehicles being the future of mobility – every commuter’s saving grace. It’s glamorous to imagine drivers relaxing behind the wheel while their cars navigate rush hour traffic without any human assistance. What’s less glamorous is the gridlock itself – a larger issue that won’t be solved by deploying fleets of self-driving single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs). Out of the limelight, autonomous buses are poised with huge potential to benefit the public. Considering their current trajectory, smarter urban transit is an achievable reality.

In the past year, we’ve seen big players throw their hats into the ring of self-driving buses. In July, Mercedes-Benz successfully tested its semiautonomous “Future Bus” on a 12-mile route in Amsterdam. In Elon Musk’s Master Plan, Part Deux, he claims that Tesla is in the early stages of developing “high passenger density urban transport” that will be unveiled in 2017. Local Motors harnessed the power of IBM’s Watson to create Olli, a self-driving electric mini-bus that can be summoned on-demand, similar to ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. Then in Finland, EasyMile’s EZ10 electric mini-bus made its public debut on the streets of Helsinki, where vehicles are not required by law to have a driver. These buses are still in a trial period, but they could be considered as a possible extension of the country’s public transport system in the future.

While those are all really neat developments, what’s in it for the public? Is a bus that drives itself really going to change anyone’s life, apart from the driver of the bus? If properly implemented, yes. The impacts of autonomous driving technology can reach so much further than the smart vehicle itself. When a network of connected, self-driving buses is working together succinctly, everyone benefits.

PUBLIC BENEFITS

  • More reliable – Gone will be the days of padding on an extra half hour of travel time to account for late buses. From what we’ve seen thus far in self-driving bus technology, you can expect public transit to become a lot more reliable. With a connected system, the buses could assess traffic conditions and ridership across the fleet and adjust in real time to maintain schedules. If rush hour is heavier than usual, or certain buses are packed from an event, extra vehicles could deploy in order to prevent a bottleneck. These buses would provide transit agencies with mountains of data that could be used to optimize bus schedules and create the most efficient system possible. As IBM explains, Olli uses “cloud-based cognitive computing capability of IBM Watson Internet of Things (IoT) to analyze and learn from high volumes of transportation data.” Learn is the key word here. Buses with self-driving technology are smart and will only get smarter as time goes on.
  • Safer – Our instincts, for now at least, say not to trust a vehicle without a driver. A lifetime of experience tells us that a human behind the wheel is normal. It’s safe. But here’s the thing: you probably won’t see a public bus without a bus driver anytime soon. Self-driving buses will still need operators in case of emergency and to monitor any circumstances that are beyond the capabilities of a computer. Of course, that means bus drivers will need to be trained in operating the new technology, or new drivers with the proper expertise will likely replace them – a disappointing reality. If we’ll still have drivers, then why not just let them drive? Autonomous buses like the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus are equipped with long- and short-range radar to detect pedestrians and vehicles, almost a dozen cameras to scan the road and its surroundings, and a satellite-based differential GPS system. Combined, these technologies paint a picture with pinpoint accuracy. Blind spots don’t exist. Not only can they see more of their surroundings and farther distances than we can, but buses like Olli have a faster reaction time than any human. Not to mention that 94 percent of vehicle crashes in the U.S. can be attributed to human error. Seems like a good reason to start adjusting our instincts and learning to trust this technology.
  • Reduced Emissions – Self-driving buses have the potential to reduce emissions both directly and indirectly. The Future Bus runs on diesel fuel, but its optimized acceleration makes it more fuel-efficient than the average bus. For instance, it can communicate with connected traffic lights from up to 200 meters away, allowing it ample time to adjust its speed and come to a smooth stop. Other autonomous bus developments use alternative sources of energy, like electric power. Either way, the output of emissions is reduced. Then indirectly, with fewer vehicles on the road we’d see decreased emissions and a positive impact our urban environment. Cleaner air affects the entire public.
  • Less Congestion – Compared to SOVs, buses transport commuters more efficiently in large quantities. If our public transit system were more efficient and reliable, it would encourage greater use, resulting in fewer vehicles on the road. Consumers like to dream about the prospect of owning a self-driving car, but the congested state of our urban landscapes is a huge reason why autonomous buses are a more worthwhile development than autonomous SOVs. No one likes to sit in traffic, whether or not your car is doing the driving for you. Even if transit agencies couldn’t invest in an entirely autonomous fleet of buses, smaller-scale shuttle solutions similar to Olli or the EZ10 can fill the gaps in our current transit systems.

 

transit reduces traffic

[Image via i-sustain.com]

AUTONOMOUS ALTERNATIVES

Looking beyond the prospect of autonomous, fixed-route public buses, there is additional opportunity for on-demand bus services like Bridj to leverage self-driving technology and increase transit efficiency even more. Bridj uses a fleet of flexible mini buses to create “pop-up urban infrastructure,” with the ability to transport more people than a carpool service like UberPOOL (though still fewer than a public bus). Then, as TNCs begin to deploy their own technology, we may also see the rise of autonomous personal rapid transit. In September, Uber launched a self-driving pilot program in Pittsburgh, and Lyft president John Zimmerman has claimed that the company will likely roll out semi-autonomous Lyft cars by 2017. Ideally, these on-demand services would supplement smart public transit, not replace it. Buses are still the most efficient way to transport large numbers of people on the road, but TNCs could help to alleviate first-mile/last-mile problems. Whether public and private will work together or not, these developments by Uber and Lyft make the need for smarter buses even more urgent.

GOVERNMENT POLICY

The legal landscape for autonomous vehicles varies significantly from state to state — a source of frustration for innovators in the space. However, the federal government recently took a step toward standardizing that legal patchwork in hopes of making U.S. roadways safer. With support from the Obama administration, the U.S. Transportation Department issued voluntary guidelines for automakers to self-certify the safety of their autonomous vehicles. Many giants in the automotive industry are glad to see the government making a conscious effort to advance the autonomous car outlook. This comes not long after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) updated their policy on autonomous vehicles, committing $4 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation.

OUTLOOK

As long as policies continue to move in the current direction, signs point to smart, connected public transit systems outfitted with fleets of self-driving buses. The technology is poised and ready, so while lawmakers work to clear the air around automated vehicles, and the public adjusts to the concept and is further educated – which is much easier said than done – we’ll be excitedly watching and waiting.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.