Shared Mobility

Connecting Public Transit and Shared Mobility

As a transportation scientist, my research examines the factors that influence people’s travel decisions – for instance, whether or not they own a personal vehicle or which transportation modes they are likely to use. Experts in the field of transportation know that daily travel choices often boil down to a few basic variables: cost, travel time, waiting and walking times, reliability, and other transportation system service levels. Over the past several years, mobile phones have had an enormous impact on how we move in cities – not only spawning the growth of ride-hailing services (such as Lyft and Uber) – but also fundamentally influencing the way that individuals obtain information about and pay for their mobility alternatives.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the 2016 National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago, where several hundred leaders from public transit agencies, private shared mobility providers, and automotive companies gathered to discuss the latest developments in carsharing, bikesharing, ride-hailing, and transportation-as-a-service. It is clear that a major transformation is underway; however, there is still much more change to come.

One of the key challenges that we face is harnessing this dramatic change for the public good. Thanks in large part to the disruption by private shared mobility services, the public transit sector is experiencing a renaissance. It is a critical time for us to build partnerships that can ensure future transportation innovations improve access to mobility for all citizens – ones that are affordable, safe, and energy efficient. Here, I offer a few takeaways from the National Shared Mobility Summit and ideas on how we can forge a path to connect public transit and shared mobility for the greater good.
1. Public transit is the original shared mobility service
During her opening speech on the second day of the conference, Rebekah Scheinfeld, the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation reminded us that “public transit is the core; shared mobility is built on that core.” There is significant overlap in the users of new, private shared mobility companies and public transit in large part because shared mobility can most efficiently be provided in large, metropolitan areas with high levels of population density which are already well served by public transit.

A recent study by DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development compared UberPOOL trips and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trips. They found that for neighborhood to downtown trips, while UberPOOL was on average six minutes faster than the CTA, it provided that service at five times the price – an option that the vast majority of urban travelers would not choose. While private shared mobility companies might provide more efficient service for certain routes and markets underserved by public transit, trunk line rail and bus service can and should remain the core in most urban areas.
2. Public transit and shared mobility can be complementary
Shared mobility services like Uber and Lyft aren’t likely to fade away anytime soon, and they continue to evolve rapidly. While we know relatively little about how they influence travel behavior, early research on the topic suggests that shared mobility services have the potential to be complementary to public transit.

In a report released by the Shared Use Mobility Center (SUMC) and American Public Transportation Association (APTA), a survey found that people who use shared modes of transportation are more likely to use public transit. Furthermore, they found that lifestyle changes may occur when people use private shared mobility options. According to their survey, 15% of respondents reported using public transit more after they started using carsharing, bikesharing or ride-hailing services.

There are additional benefits when urban travelers use multiple shared services. Those who routinely use several shared options (bikesharing, carsharing, and ride-hailing) – coined “supersharers” by the APTA report, own half as many cars as people who use transit alone. In another recent study, the carsharing service car2go was found to remove as many as 11 cars from city streets. While more data and research are needed on ride-hailing (versus carsharing) services, it seems clear that there is the potential for shared services to complement public transit and enable a car-free lifestyle.
3. There is a much-needed groundswell of innovation to improve public transit services
In the past year, public transit agencies have begun to experience a groundswell of innovation to meet the needs of growing cities. Last fall, LA Metro created the Office of Extraordinary Innovation, led by CIO Joshua Schank. Tasked with informing the high-level vision and long-term strategy for the agency, they are welcoming new ideas and pilot projects to improve mobility throughout the Los Angeles region. A recipient of the recently awarded Federal Transit Administration Mobility on Demand (FTA MOD) grants, LA Metro is among several transit agencies that is championing much-needed change in the public sector.

As new private sector solutions have rapidly entered the transportation scene, public transit agencies are beginning to cultivate their own experiments to dramatically improve mobility services in their cities. While many of these pilots are just getting off the ground, the level of interest in shaping public transit services has never been higher than now.
4. Developing public-private partnerships between transit agencies and the private sector is key
The recently awarded FTA Mobility on Demand grants also promotes collaboration between public transit agencies and the private sector to develop solutions that can connect transit service and shared mobility providers. A great example of a successful public-private sector partnership is that of another FTA Mobility on Demand award winner, the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District (TriMet), and moovel North America.

In September 2013, TriMet became the first public transit agency to implement a mobile payment solution for multiple transit services using the moovel transit platform. This year, moovel partnered with them to launch RideTap, a feature integrated into the TriMet Tickets application that connects public transit riders with shared mobility services, including car2go, Lyft, Zipcar, and BIKETOWN, Portland’s new bikesharing system. moovel’s public transit solutions deliver real-time information and ease of payment to transit users, while also addressing the first/last mile challenge of getting riders from the station to their front door.

A clear takeaway from the National Shared Mobility Summit is that partnerships between cities, transit agencies, and the private sector are critical to usher in the next wave of transportation innovation. Although we are in the early stages of developing integrated, multimodal transportation solutions, the future is bright. Through increased collaboration between public and private transportation providers, I believe we can deliver cheaper, faster, and more energy efficient mobility solutions for cities – and the big winner will be the daily traveler.

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


In an earlier article, we advocated applying some of the principles of packet switching, the backbone technology of internet and telecom, to mobility and transport. After all, the similarity is clear. Packets carry bits, vehicles carry people and goods. In a first of a series of three articles, we'll explore some possibilities. We'll start by analyzing the impact of sharing vehicles.

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