Five Strategies to Enhance Transportation Equity in Shared Mobility

Five Strategies to Enhance Transportation Equity in Shared Mobility

Shared mobility has the potential to offer communities a wide array of benefits including: increased mobility; greater environmental awareness; reduced vehicle emissions; and enhanced first-and-last mile connections to public transportation. While increasingly becoming more mainstream, the demographics of shared mobility users often differ from the general population. In general, users tend to be younger and have higher levels of educational attainment and incomes. They also are likely to be less diverse than the general population. Older adults, low-income individuals, rural communities, and minority communities have historically been less likely to use shared mobility. Additionally, access to the Internet, smartphones, and banking services—a pre-requisite for many shared mobility modes—tends to be lower among many of these groups. Earlier this year, we wrote about three key policy questions (the “3-D’s” – Divide, Discrimination, and Displacement) impacting shared and on-demand mobility.


There are numerous equity challenges that can impact people’s ability to access transportation services, summarized in Figure 1 below.


Figure 1: Equity Challenges (Source: Shaheen et al., 2016)

In this blog, we discuss three key equity challenges of concern to mobility providers and public agencies.


1. Equitable Service– It is important that shared mobility services provide equivalent levels of service to all users. This can include comparable wait times, pricing, and service availability. For example, a multi-institutional research study of 1,500 ridesourcing/transportation network company (TNC) rides taken in Seattle and Boston found that Uber drivers in Boston were over twice as likely to cancel the rides of passengers with names perceived to be of African origin versus Caucasian names (O’Brien, 2016). The study also found that drivers took women on longer, more expensive rides. Of the 581 trips taken, African-American travelers waited on average 20 percent longer than Caucasian travelers to have their ride accepted on Lyft or uberX, and it took about 30 percent longer for African-American travelers to be picked up than Caucasian travelers using uberX (Kubota, 2016) (Ge, Knittel, MacKenzie, & Zoepf, 2016). However, this concern is not specific to ridesourcing alone. A study of taxi drivers in Seattle found that they stopped more often for Caucasian riders than for African Americans (Scott, 2016). Similar concerns have been raised with other sharing economy service providers (e.g., AirBnB) (O’Brien, 2016).


2. Accessibility for Older Adults and People with Disabilities – Another challenge that can arise with shared mobility is the provision of services for older adults and people with disabilities. Shared mobility can present challenges when: 1) passengers with limited mobility do not offer accessible services or equivalent accessible alternatives and 2) when shared modes block American with Disabilities Act (ADA) access (e.g., ramps, curbs, etc.). A number of services have responded by adding accessible services. For example, in a number of cities Uber has implemented UberWAV allowing passengers with disabilities to request wheelchair accessible vehicles, and UberASSIST offers regular vehicles with specialized driver training. Other shared mobility operators offer similar programs. However, the lack of service availability in all markets or longer wait times for accessible vehicles can present equity challenges. For other shared modes, blocking curbs and ramps can pose a notable challenge. More public awareness is needed to prevent users from leaving equipment that could pose challenges to people with disabilities.


3. Crossing the Digital and Income DivideMany shared mobility services require users to have a smartphone and a credit or debit card to use a service hindering access by low-income, minority, younger, older, and less-educated users and people with disabilities. These groups tend to have lower levels of smartphone ownership and generally rely more on cash, having more limited access to banking services. Since the majority of shared mobility services are accessed by a smartphone, the lack of familiarity with and access to smartphones with mobile data can preclude these populations from accessing Mobility on Demand (or MOD) services that could save them time or money.



Identifying the array of transportation equity issues can be challenging because several types of equity issues can affect a user’s ability to access a service. While shared mobility can raise equity concerns when services require a smartphone and credit/debit cards or do not provide accessible services to all users in all neighborhoods, it also has the potential to enhance mobility, access, and economic opportunity for travelers.


Shared mobility can be leveraged to create opportunities for enhanced access such as: improving mobility options (e.g., fares, routes); increasing travel speed and reliability; bridging first-and-last mile gaps in the transportation network; and expanding coverage to historically underserved users or communities.


Strategies to Enhance Equity

The public and private sectors can work together to enhance equity in five key ways:


1. Providing alternative methods of service access for people without smartphones or credit and debit cards (e.g., digital kiosks; cash payment; partnerships that enable the billing of mobility services on other bills, such as utilities);

2. Developing innovative mobility programs to enhance access and mobility for a variety of special populations and demographic segments, such as children, prenatal mothers, veterans (e.g., Columbus, Ohio offers prenatal trip assistance to reduce infant mortality and assists mothers in getting to and from healthcare appointments);

3. Implementing policies and mobility services that target, overcome, and mitigate equity concerns (e.g., ADA access, service accessibility issues, and services that help to cross the digital and income divide). For example, New York City has deployed LinkNYC, a network of ADA-compliant digital kiosks that offer free Wi-Fi, free calling in the U.S., maps, navigation, public transit information, and other digital information services. The kiosks reduce the need to own a smartphone or maintain a data plan;

4. Encouraging mobility services that improve access to jobs, healthcare, and education for all members of society. For example, in Columbus Ohio, as part of their Smart City Challenge implementation, the city is working with local public and private social service providers to offer mobility services (e.g., carsharing, ridesourcing, etc.) to low-income, carless, and unemployed households in the Linden neighborhood); and

5. Ensuring equivalent level of service for special populations and users with special needs (e.g., low-income communities, minority neighborhoods, people with disabilities, etc.). Equivalent level of service means that the level of service (e.g., availability, frequency, wait time, journey time) for special populations (e.g., individuals with disabilities) is equivalent to the level of service with non-special needs users (e.g., individuals without disabilities).


Shared mobility providers and public agencies should consider incorporating equity principles at all levels of policy planning and implementation including: strategic policy, tactical procedures, and operational execution.


Frameworkfor incorporating equity principles

Figure 2: Framework for Incorporating Equity Principles into Policy and Practice

Equity Policy/Planning Approaches from Seattle and Washington, D.C.

While many cities are addressing shared mobility and transportation equity in their planning, we provide a few examples of our above framework from Seattle and Washington, D.C. For instance, the City of Seattle includes equity as a core strategic value of their city’s New Mobility Playbook stating: “Mobility, whether shared, public, private, or automated, is a fundamental human need. Everyone needs a barrier-free transportation system and affordable transportation options that are understandable and accessible to all who want to use them. New mobility models should also promote clean transportation and roll back systemic racial and social injustices borne by the transportation system.” Equity should be carefully considered in a public agency’s procedures and execution.


Seattle goes beyond addressing equity at the strategic level. At the tactical level, Seattle lawmakers have adopted provisions within local ordinances to ensure geographic equity with the implementation of shared mobility services. For a number of years, Seattle has offered a fixed number of free-floating carsharing vehicle permits (typically 500) with the option of an additional 250 permits, if the carsharing operator agrees to cover the entire city. In doing so, the city has implemented tactical level incentives to encourage citywide carsharing coverage for all residents and businesses.


In contrast to the strategic and tactical levels, operational execution often involves specific implementation practices to foster equitable access. At this level, Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare has partnered with the District Government Employees Federal Credit Union and United Bank to provide bank accounts and debit cards to previously unbanked users and are awarded gift cards toward their annual bikesharing memberships to help defray costs.


In developing policies that ensure equitable access and equivalent service levels, it is important to consider equity, ranging from the policy level to operational execution. This can help to mitigate potential equity challenges and fill existing transportation equity gaps and enhance accessibility opportunities.


This article was co-authored with Adam Cohen. Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen are co-authors of the USDOT report Travel Behavior: Shared Mobility and Transportation Equity. Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


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


Mobility-as-a-Service: What We’ve Learned

Mobility-as-a-Service: What We’ve Learned

By Lauren Wellbank

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is a proposed solution to ongoing transportation issues that can positively impact urban centers in pretty significant ways.

Many travelers in metropolitan areas are currently using more than one mode of transportation during their daily commute. No surprise there. As just one example, commuters may take a bus to the train station before catching the taxi that will finally take them to work.


While this may actually be the best option available for some, it may not be the most efficient. Travelers using multiple means of transit must also use multiple platforms in order to check boarding times and pay fares. In some instances this means waiting in line at a ticketing window (or more than one) and completing multiple face-to-face transactions in a single day.


So moovel Group engaged Juniper Research to get a clearer picture of commuters’ real-world needs and the challenges in meeting them. What follows is our best look yet at the facts on the ground, and how we might manage them more efficiently


MaaS: Its Impact at Every Level

First, we identified five key layers of customer-facing services to consider before deploying a MaaS solution:

  • The mobility network layer — where customers go to select their mode of transport by choosing from public, private and shared options, or a combination of the three.
  • A real-time mobility optimization layer — where customers can view the available modes of transportation and estimate travel times or check for disruptions.
  • A mobility pricing layer — where customers can choose from available payment options.
  • A value services layer — where the MaaS provider has the option to insert additional useful information into the planned travel route, such as nearby restaurants or attractions to visit.
  • A future services layer — which can be adapted to meet additional needs that may arise, or for the future implementation of loyalty benefits for repeated use of the app.


Any technology that can’t or doesn’t alleviate pressures at every layer can’t be called a truly optimal solution. Where they do, however, the benefits compound for users.




Both Commuters and Businesses Reap the Rewards

Our research shows that the effective implementation of MaaS would improve citizens’ lives in myriad ways. Maybe the most compelling, it’s estimated that commuters traveling by MaaS would cut the baseline length of their journeys by as much as 37 percent. That figure translates to approximately 67 minutes per day for those who drive themselves, and 61 minutes per day for riders across all other modes of transportation.


As an added benefit, with a more streamlined approach to traveling, individuals who find themselves using their personal vehicles less could opt to use them to earn additional income. In just a few years, ridesharing platforms and similar technologies have made such prospects more palatable and plausible — even mainstream — than they might have been viewed in the recent past. In much the same way Airbnb helps connect homeowners with potential renters, online services like Turo help connect drivers and auto owners who are looking for short-term auto rentals. So a typical commuter could theoretically be saving money on transportation at the same time their vehicle is making them money elsewhere.


Area businesses should benefit significantly from the implementation of MaaS as well. In addition to having fewer road-weary employees, it’s estimated that approximately 33 percent of the time commuters save could be directly re-applied to business productivity. That alone has the potential to increase global productivity by an estimated $733 billion. Or three times Apple’s annual revenue in 2017 — certainly not small change.


moovel’s Mobility-as-a-Service Platform: A Way Forward

Based on these insights, moovel Group developers have engineered one end-to-end solution: a Mobility-as-a-Service platform. In short, moovel’s platform leverages open data technology to create a single platform that improves the commuter experience across all of the five primary MaaS layers.


For starters, commuters can access real-time information about travel conditions in their city. The app provides a central touchpoint for everything related to their commute, including assistance with trip planning, next time arrivals, a centralized payment source for multiple modes of transportation, and pricing options.


Plus, transit benefits, reduced fares and discounted tickets can be quickly distributed by third parties such as universities, businesses, institutions and employers, increasing ridership and creating new revenue channels for the local community. And with accessibility across multiple devices, it would enable commuters to discover downstream delays before they’ve encountered them, saving them time and money in the process.


All of this would streamline efficiency at travel terminals and provide an increased benefit to commuters who use more than one mode of transportation during a single commute. A commuter who travels by metro to the subway would be able to purchase tickets for both services at once — while on the move — eliminating the need to wait in ticketing lines at either location, and the need to provide a physical ticket when boarding.


And the more personalized travel management would give commuters more control over choosing transportation methods, ultimately increasing the use of alternative means of travel. As commuters began to rely more heavily on these other transportation modes, and less on their privately owned vehicles, the demand for designated parking areas should decline as well. This in turn has the potential to open up valuable real estate up for development, or for conversion into public green-spaces that encourage walking and biking in urban centers.


Portland Stock 10@0,25x


As Technology Progresses, So Will the Benefits

Imagine being able to personalize your day-to-day travel, weekend plans, vacations and business trips. With payment options going digital, transferring from one mode of travel to another will become relatively seamless, bringing a welcome reprieve at the end of a long day or hectic week.

The opportunity for personalization will only grow as the technology continues to develop and adoption rates increase, introducing further efficiencies that save time and money for those who rely on MaaS solutions, not to mention the cities who provide them.

While the short-term benefit may look like a less aggravating way to get from here to there, what it really comes down to is improved quality of life. Our bustling city centers aren’t going anywhere, and neither are their challenges. But our urban populations can get where they’re going more easily, bringing the benefits of those busy urban hubs a little closer to home.



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


Impacts of Microtransit: Early Understanding

Impacts of Microtransit: Early Understanding

Last year, we wrote about the impacts of shared mobility on transportation demand management. Microtransit is a privately or publicly operated, technology-enabled transport service that typically uses multi-passenger/pooledshuttles or vans to provide on-demand or fixed-schedule services with either dynamic or fixed routing. In recent years, microtransit has gained popularity with a number of services operating in Europe and North America. At present, these services operate similar to jitneys and shuttles of the past, but they are enhanced with information technology. Microtransit’s use of smartphone technology avoids traditional and costly methods of booking rides, such as call centers or booking websites. A number of microtransit operators target commuters, primarily connecting residential areas with downtown job centers.


Innovatives On-Demand Ride-Sharing-Angebot startet in Europa: Mercedes-Benz Vans gründet Joint Venture mit US-Startup Via Innovative on-demand shared ride service to launch in Europe: Mercedes-Benz Vans sets up joint venture with US start-up Via


A few popular micro transit services include :

• Chariot (now owned by Ford Smart Mobility LLC) operates similar to public transit by running 15-seater vans, typically along predefined routes. Customers can make requests for new “crowd sourced” routes to be created based on demand. Chariot operates in Austin, Columbus, London, New York City, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Seattle. Fares typically range from $3 to $6 USD on select routes.

• Via operates as a flexible route service and allows customers to request a ride using minivans, 10- to 14-seater vans, and shuttles within a pre-defined geographic area. Via operates in Arlington (Texas), Chicago, New York City, and Washington DC. The service has also recently announced partnerships with public agencies in Berlin, Los Angeles, and West Sacramento. Fares, based on the trip distance, typically range from $5 to $25 USD (excluding trips to the airport) in most markets.

• Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen (SSB) operate SSB Flex in Stuttgart Germany. More than 20,000 passengers used the service during an initial pilot phase that ran from December 2017 through May 2018. The service provides flexible, on-demand microtransit service using 10 Mercedes V-Class vans and 2 electric Mercedes B-Class vehicles. FlexPilot trips start at €2.20 and can be paid using the app with a credit card or PayPal. The technology behind the service has been developed in close partnership with SSB by moovel Group, who is offering the service and technology to transit authorities.


A former microtransit service, Bridj (now defunct in the US but operating in Australia), used millions of data points to deploy dynamic transportation routes that change based on user demand. Previously, Bridj operated in Boston and Kansas City, the latter through a partnership known as “RideKC” with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) using ten, 14-passenger Ford Transit vans. RideKC launched in March 2016 and ran for one year. The pilot project offered on-demand rides within two areas of the city (downtown, as well as surrounding the KU Medical Center) during certain hours of the day (AM and PM commutes). These service areas are illustrated in the map below.


Kansas City

Source: RideKC

The Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley conducted an evaluation of the RideKC program. In general, highly-educated, Caucasian younger females were the pilots’ largest user group. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents were between the ages of 19 and 35, and 56% were female. Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents were Caucasian, and 100% had a four-year or post-graduate degree. Additionally, most of the survey respondents lived in two-person households and half had gross household incomes exceeding $100,000 USD.The pilot evaluation found:

• Price affordability and convenience were the most common motivations for using microtransit. Fifty-six percent of the survey respondents said they used microtransit because it was cheaper, and 39% said it was more comfortable than alternatives. A third said microtransit allowed greater flexibility than alternative transportation modes.

• An overwhelming majority (89%) walked to or from the RideKC:Bridj stop. About one third of respondents took less than five minutes to get to the RideKC: Bridj stop from either their workplace or their residence.

• More than half of respondents use RideKC:Bridj in the afternoon only. This could have been in part because one of the service areas surrounding the KU Medical Center had many hospital workers with shifts that fall outside of the normal workday.

• One third of respondents would have driven alone for their most recent trip, if RideKC:Bridj were not available and one third would have taken a regular KCATA bus. Twenty-two percent would have used a ridesourcing/TNC service (e.g., Lyft or Uber).

• Additionally, 25% of respondents said they drove alone less often because of RideKC: Bridj, and 16% rode the streetcar more often because of the service.

• All respondents said they would possibly, probably, or definitely use RideKC: Bridj for a $2 USD fare; however, 23% would not use it, if the fare were $3 USD.

• Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they were interested in the service, if the service area were expanded, suggesting that the geographic service coverage may have been a key factor limiting microtransit ridership.


While the impacts and understanding of microtransit are still emerging, microtransit and other shared modes have the potential to: 1) provide first-and-last mile connections to public transportation, 2) augment or replace underperforming routes (particularly in lower-density environments), and 3) provide supplemental late-night transportation service. More pilots and research can aid the public and private sectors in understanding potential synergies and the ways public transit can learn from, build upon, and interface with innovative transportation modes, such as microtransit, from a user, business model, technology, and policy perspective.


For more information on the Bridj:KC evaluation, please visit

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


How Dockless Bikesharing is Transforming Cities: Seven Policy Recommendations to Minimize Disruption

How Dockless Bikesharing is Transforming Cities: Seven Policy Recommendations to Minimize Disruption

For over a decade, modern-day bikesharing systems have disrupted mobility across the globe. Bikesharing users access bicycles on an as-needed basis for one-way (point-to-point) or roundtrip travel using one of three bikesharing models: 1) station-based bikesharing, 2) dockless, and 3) hybrid bikesharing systems. These systems currently operate with both traditional (motorless) bicycles and electric bicycles or “e-bikes.” Bikesharing fleets are commonly deployed in a network within a metropolitan region, city, neighborhood, employment center, and/or university campus.


The majority of bikesharing systems in the world are public for a nominal fee, with a credit/debit card on file. This is not to say that there are not equity issues associated with universal access due many individuals being unbanked or underbanked. In a station-based bikesharing system, users access bicycles via unattended stations offering one-way service (i.e., bicycles can be returned to any station). In a dockless bikesharing system, users may access (unlock) a bicycle and park it at any location within a predefined geographic region. In a hybrid bikesharing system, users can check out a bicycle from a station and end their trip by either returning it to a station or a non-station location or users can pick up any dockless bicycle and either return it to a station or a non-station location within a designated geographic (or geofenced) area.


As of May 2018, there were over 1,600 information technology-based public bikesharing systems worldwide with over 18.17 million bicycles (Russell Meddin, unpublished data). Of those bikes, approximately 6.1 million are located in China across more than 640 bikesharing programs. The U.S. has 261 operators with more than 48,000 bicycles (Russell Meddin, unpublished data). Between 2010 to 2017, 123 million bikesharing trips have been completed in the U.S., with 35 million trips completed in 2017 alone (NACTO 2018).


In recent years, the number of dockless bicycles has grown considerably across North America. As of 2017, dockless bikesharing bicycles accounted for about 44% of all bikesharing bikes in the U.S. and approximately 4% of bikesharing trips (NACTO 2018).


There are several ways that dockless bikesharing impacts cities in ways that docked systems do not. First, there could be a greater potential for bikes to be ridden (and parked) in spatially non-uniform ways, whereas the potential spatial imbalance of docked systems is limited to the number of available docking points within a given vicinity. In a dockless system, users are free to ride and park bikes wherever they choose typically within a predefined geofenced area without the requirement of having to return them to an available docking point.


26196675899_46f32c9127_kSource: Eric Fisher. Online image. Chicago 2017 photo album. October 15, 2017


Additionally, without bikesharing stations co-located next to mobility hubs or public transportation nodes, additional policies may be needed to encourage multi-modality. Without the ability to physically co-locate dockless bikesharing with these other transportation services, digital and fare payment integration is critical. Digital integration can include leveraging application programming interfaces (or APIs) to integrate dockless bikesharing with public transportation apps and multimodal trip planners. Fare integration involves the development of a single fare payment method across multiple modes. As part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility on Demand Sandbox, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is currently partnering with Divvy bikes, a station-based bikesharing operator, to integrate bikesharing into their Ventra app and allow customers to pay for their bikesharing use with their Ventra card (fare payment). Ventra cards store public transit credit for use on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Pace. The goal is that Chicago public transit riders will be able to open the Ventra App, add transit value to their account, pay for a bikesharing pass, go to a bikesharing station, and start cycling.


With the growth of bikesharing fleets, cities are increasingly confronting questions about curb space management, how to prevent dockless bicycles (and scooters) from parking in inconvenient or dangerous areas that impede the rights-of-way of pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. Seattle has developed a policy for curbside management and to guide where dockless bicycles should be parked in urban areas.


Seattle’s policy defines three key zones: 1) a landscape/furniture zone, 2) a pedestrian zone, and 3) a frontage zone. Seattle requires dockless bicycles to be parked in the landscape/furniture zone and has painted labels on several curbs to highlight appropriate parking places. Please see images below of zones and painted parking labels. Additionally, Seattle prohibits bicycles from being parked on corners, driveways, or curb ramps, and being parked in a way that blocks access to buildings, parking meters, benches, bus stops, or fire hydrants.

Zones Seattle GovSource: City of Seattle
Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSource: Seattle Department of Transportation

In addition to curbside and bicycle parking management, a number of cities also employ “geofencing” or the process of designating a certain region of a city or metropolitan area as off limits to prevent bicycles from being parked in distant, less urban environments. For example, dockless operators in San Diego use geofencing to prohibit cyclists from parking and leaving their bicycles on Coronado island. Similarly JUMP, recently acquired by Uber, has geofenced Union Square in San Francisco to discourage bicycle parking in the busy pedestrian plaza.


In the event that dockless bicycles do end up in prohibited locations, a number of public agencies have developed fees and impounding policies to address these situations. For example, Seattle requires dockless bikesharing companies to move improperly parked bicycles and to correct parking violations within two hours of a problem being reported during normal business hours. In Washington D.C., the National Park Service prohibits parking dockless bicycles in the National Mall and impounds illegally parked bicycles.


Cities can support dockless bikesharing and minimize disruption by proactively developing policies to guide:

1. Identifying locations where bicycles can be parked;

2. Developing agreements with private operators that indemnifies the public agency from liability for any loss or injury that could result from a dockless cycle operating or parked on the public rights-of-way;

3. Enumerating the enforcement procedures for illegally parked bicycles, such as fines or impoundment;

4. Developing a process for requesting access to the use the public rights-of-way (i.e., curb space);

5. Identifying fees that should be charged or permits should be issued for dockless bikesharing to operate within a municipality;

6. Establishing standards for dockless parking signage and/or markings to identify proper parking areas; and

7. Developing data sharing requirements and/or impact studies as a condition to allowing dockless bicycles to be parked on public rights-of-way.


This article was co-authored with Adam Cohen. Cohen and Shaheen are co-authors of Planning for Shared Mobility, a primer to guide local governments on incorporating shared mobility into their communities. Shaheen and Cohenare members of the UC Berkeley/Booz Allen Hamilton Independent Evaluation team for the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility on Demand Sandbox program.


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


Works Cited:

Featured Image – TriMet. Online image. BIKETOWN picture album. July 19, 2016.

Prioritizing People, Public Transport, and Pooling: Transitioning to Shared Automated Vehicles

Technology is reshaping cities and societies and changing the way we travel. Real-time information coupled with on-demand mobility are redefining ‘auto mobility.’ Rather than rendering cars obsolete, the convergence of on-demand shared, electric, and automated technology will make the autos more cost effective, efficient, and convenient – especially when shared. But the convergence of sharing, electrification, and automation in itself is not a silver bullet to solve our transportation challenges. To maximize the potential opportunity and minimize the challenges associated with shared automated vehicles (SAVs), we should consider 5 key issues in managing the transition toward an automated future.


1. Equity Challenges and Opportunities – Earlier this year, we wrote about common equity challenges impacting our transportation network. Suburbanization has been one of the great underlying trends impacting transportation in the Western hemisphere during the 20th century. While early suburbs were often built around railroad and streetcar lines, post–World War II suburbanization has become primarily an auto-driven phenomenon. In many cities, our urban centers declined as development patterns focused on mass personal vehicle ownership; the marketing of suburbia as a residential location; and the building of highways that manifested in strip malls, suburban retail and employment centers, and very low-density housing. This development pattern has resulted in an overreliance on private vehicles that has come at a high cost to household budgets, public health, and the environment. It is not uncommon for low-income households to spend upwards of 30% of their income on transportation. For those without a private vehicle, limited access to jobs, education, and health care can be a barrier to upward mobility.


A shared, electric, and automated mobility future has the opportunity to enhance access and mobility for underserved communities, but it could also exacerbate existing barriers and increase inequality. SAVs may be able to address spatial inequality in areas with limited alternatives to private vehicle ownership by providing additional mobility options for an entire trip or first- and last-mile connections to public transportation. The strategic placement of SAVs in communities underserved by public transportation could reduce inequities by providing innovative mobility options that have greater coverage and service availability than existing options. However, not all users may have access to a smartphone or debit/credit cards that are commonly required for payment as part of app-based and on-demand mobility services. In the future, it will be critical that policymakers ensure equitable access of SAVs for all neighborhoods and users with special needs, including access options for digitally impoverished and underbanked communities.


2. Environmental and Travel Behavior Impacts of Automation – While SAV impacts remain uncertain, many practitioners and researchers predict higher efficiency, affordability, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, the number of personally owned automated vehicles may determine to some extent SAV demand. More importantly, SAV impacts will also depend on sharing levels (concurrent or sequential) and the future modal split among public transit, SAVs, and pooled rides. It is possible that SAV fleets could become widely used without very many pooled rides. Thus, single-occupant vehicles will continue to dominate the majority of vehicle trips (e.g., users could access a shared fleet without pooling). It is also feasible that pooled rides could become more common, if automation makes route deviation more efficient, cost effective, and convenient. While the environmental and travel behavior impacts of SAVs are unknown, proactive public policy is key to guiding how SAV adoption unfolds.




3. Urban Planning (Rights-of-Way Management and Zoning) – With the growth of on-demand and flexible transportation options (e.g., ridesourcing or transportation network companies, e-Hail, microtransit, etc.), public agencies should consider policies to guide shared mobility and SAV development through the allocation of public rights-of-ways (e.g., parking, curb space, and loading zones). The allocation of public rights-of-way for shared mobility today can support the development of intermodal mobility hubs today, which can be transitioned for SAVs in the future.


In the longer term, automation will likely result in fundamental changes to our built environment. Reduced vehicle ownership due to SAVs could impact parking needs, particularly in urban centers. The repurposing of urban parking has the potential to create some opportunities for infill development and increased densities. While SAVs may compete with public transit, infill development could create higher densities to support more public transit ridership in urban core locations.


4. Public Transportation in an Automated Future – Concerns that the introduction of SAVs could reduce demand for public transportation and may encourage increased vehicle use are real. However, just as SAVs have the potential to reduce driving costs, automated transit vehicles have the opportunity to reduce operational costs and pass these savings onto riders through lower fares. Reduced operational costs and lower fares could allow public transit agencies to increase the number of routes or service frequency, making public transit more competitive than other modes. While the impacts of automation on public transportation are uncertain, leveraging it to reduce overhead costs and improve public transportation efficiency is an important consideration.


In addition, vehicle automation could further change the nature of traditional notions of public and private transportation services. In the future, public transit agencies may opt to provide more flexible demand-responsive service in smaller vehicles, while others may opt to pursue such systems through partnerships. The emergence of SAVs could give rise to the development of hybrid quasi-public-private transportation systems that could result in a range of partnerships that vary by region.


5. Occupancy Pricing – Underpriced and overcrowded roadways create a “tragedy of the commons” where individual users acting independently and rationally, according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of maximizing road efficiency. In the future, single-occupant SAVs could continue to dominate the majority of vehicle trips, if users access SAVs without pooling. To minimize the risk associated with this scenario, policymakers should consider pricing policies that adjust prices based on vehicle occupancies. Public agencies may be able to improve roadway performance by providing discounts for pooling and varying prices by the time-of-day, roadway demand, and congestion.


smart vision EQ fortwo smart vision EQ fortwo


SAVs will not inherently solve today’s transportation challenges. To solve these challenges, AVs require prudent planning and public policies that balance societal goals with commercial interests. To harness and maximize the social and environmental benefits of highly automated vehicles, we need to prepare for the transition today. This includes focusing on social inequities (the digital and income divide), public transit declines, land use barriers, and pricing strategies.


Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen recently co-authored the article “Is It Time for a Public Transit Renaissance? Navigating Travel Behavior, Technology, and Business Model Shifts in a Brave New World” and the U.S. Department of Transportation Mobility on Demand Operational Concept.

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