Convergence of Sharing and Automation: Need for Proactive Public Policy and Research Understanding

By Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen

In recent years, on-demand passenger and courier services – known as Mobility on Demand (MOD) – have grown rapidly due to technology advancements; changing consumer patterns (both mobility and retail consumption); and a combination of economic, environmental, and social forces. MOD is an innovative concept based on the principle that transportation is a commodity where modes have economic values that are distinguishable in terms of cost, journey time, wait time, number of connections, convenience, and other attributes. Earlier this month, we wrote about innovations in goods delivery that are transforming transportation and consumer behavior as travelers increasingly turn to MOD. In this blog, we discuss four potential impacts of driverless vehicles and the need for proactive public policy to maximize the potential benefits and minimize potential adverse impacts.

Potential Impacts of Vehicle Automation

In the near future, automation could be the most transformative change transportation has seen since the advent of the automobile. While MOD is already impacting many cities, it has the potential to have even more notable impacts, particularly in four key areas:

Travel Behavior: It should be emphasized that the impacts of automation on travel behavior are uncertain and difficult to forecast due to a number of highly variable factors, most importantly societal acceptance and use. One potential outcome is that existing roadway capacity may increase due to more efficient operations associated with technology (e.g., closer vehicle spacing known as platooning, etc.). Additionally, operators could “right-size fleets,” providing consumers with vehicles sized based on the number of passengers and trip length. However, there is a possibility that automated vehicles (AVs) and shared AVs (SAVs) could induce demand by making motorized travel more convenient and affordable than personal driving. This could adversely impact congestion. Additionally, automation has the potential to fundamentally change historic relationships between public transportation and private vehicle use, which could support or detract from public transit ridership (we will discuss the future of public transportation in our next blog). In summary, the impacts of AVs on congestion will likely depend on whether the vehicles are predominantly shared or privately owned as well as public policy, such as pricing and restrictions on zero occupant vehicles.

Land Use and the Built Environment: AVs could result in reduced parking demand, particularly in urban centers that can create opportunities to repurpose urban parking with infill development. Infill development has the potential to increase urban densities and could in turn support higher-occupancy transportation modes. However, vehicle automation and telecommuting growth could also make longer commutes less burdensome, which could encourage suburban and exurban lifestyles.

Labor: Automation has the potential to reduce labor costs. However, automation is not likely to completely eliminate transportation jobs. With an aging population, we may likely need attendants to assist people with disabilities and older adults, security personnel, and a high-tech workforce to maintain an automated fleet.

Social Equity: While AVs have the potential to enhance access and economic opportunities for underserved communities, there are numerous challenges that could impact the equitable deployment of AVs. A few challenges could include: 1) affordability/payability (the services are simply too expensive for low-income households or require banking access); 2) availability (the services are not available equally in all neighborhoods); 3) accessibility (the services are not accessible to people with disabilities); and 4) digital poverty (the services require a smartphone or data plan to access). Additionally, AVs may employ machine learning and artificial intelligence that could create other equity concerns. While machine learning – if designed well — can help minimize human bias in decision making, it is also possible that such systems can also reinforce historic bias and discrimination in the transportation network. Just as humans learn to drive through experience, many perception algorithms use machine learning that is trained by events based on past experience. In a driverless vehicle future, machine learning may also impact where vehicles are pre-positioned, roam, charge, and other defining operational characteristics. Learning biases could create notable equity challenges in the future. There is a risk for discrimination when designing transportation algorithms for machine learning systems, including the potential for exclusionary transportation.

Need for Proactive Policy in a Driverless Vehicle Future

Public policy can have a notable influence on the success or potential challenges of driverless vehicles. Public agencies should consider proactively guiding public policy in four key areas to maximize the potential benefits of AVs:

Pricing: Public agencies should consider employing pricing based on occupancy, time of day, and congestion to encourage higher occupancy SAVs and discourage single- and zero-occupant vehicles.

Incentivizing Urban Growth and Urban Growth Boundaries: Metropolitan Planning Organizations, local governments, and other public agencies may want to consider policies that limit outward growth and encourage urban in-fill development to discourage the potential suburban and exurban growth pressure that AVs could create.

Workforce Development Programs: Local and state governments should develop workforce development programs designed to prepare for and respond to a driverless future. This should include a broad program encompassing job training/re-training and job placement resources to minimize the potential adverse labor impacts of vehicle automation.

A Comprehensive Equity Policy: Public agencies at all levels of government should consider a comprehensive equity policy to ensure SAVs are equally accessible and available to everyone. This should include policies that ensure access for people with disabilities, un- and under-banked households, low-income communities, households without access to smartphones or mobile data, and others. Additionally, this should include policies that prevent discrimination and bias from machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other systems that impact or guide the operations of AVs.

The public and private sectors, along with key stakeholders (e.g., non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, and foundations) should partner to develop proactive policies to prevent and overcome these challenges. Proactive policy and research understanding will be critical to balance public goals with commercial interests and to harness and maximize the social and environmental effects of driverless vehicles.

Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen are currently studying the impacts of connected and automated vehicles on state and local transportation agencies as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) study 20-102(11).

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


SPECIAL REPORT: Why Do Cities Waste So Much Space?

If you take a snapshot of Berlin from space on any given day, you might see 1,260,000 cars, 60,000 of which are in motion. Why are so many cars parked? Because cars are used only 36 minutes per day, while 95% of the time they stand around, fully unused. In Berlin, these 1.2 million parking spots take up the area of 64,000 playgrounds, or the area of four Central Parks.


Globally, wasted public space is not unique to Berlin. Cities everywhere are dedicating space to transportation modes that sit idle. But why is so much space wasted to begin with? How fair is the distribution of space in regards to other forms of mobility, such as bikes and trams? How can we raise awareness – or even improve the situation?


What the Street!? is a public tool for exploring urban mobility questions systematically and interactively, while having some data geek fun at the same time.




Let’s first look at how much space there is in a city for moving around, and how it is allocated for bikes, rails, and cars. Inspired by new data visualization techniques for unrolling, packing, and ordering irregular shapes, we packed and rolled all mobility spaces into rectangular bins to visualize the areas they take up.

– How do you visualize the total area taken by parking spaces? You pack them
– How do you visualize the total area taken by streets and tracks? You roll
them up tightly.




The resulting shapes give a mesmerizing, never-before-seen perspective of urban spaces. We found some gems: Rockaway Beach on Rockaway Peninsula in New York City. What a nice, green space next to the beach. Seems like a lovely place…but, whoops! It’s actually a huge parking lot.




How huge? Those tiny specks are cars. Notice the skid marks? Looks like someone had fun. This parking lot is about 750 x 600m large, or an area equivalent to 2,000 playgrounds.




The moovel Mobility Triangle

Looking at particular spaces is fun, but what can we learn? By making sure that we packed and rolled different spaces to take up a similar area per pixel, we directly compared different modes of transportation in a giant bar chart. Additionally we created the we call the moovel Mobility Triangle – a way of showing disparity between the allocation of space and how people actually move.




The Mobility Triangle shows how people move in each city, and how much by car, bike, or public transport. Each dot stands for one city:

– A dot in the top triangle means people in that city only move by car
– A dot in the bottom left corner means they only use bikes
– A dot in the bottom right corner means they only use public transportation,
such as trams
– A dot in the middle means an even 33.33% of each of these three forms of
transportation is used. This is called the “modal split”, based on data that
is regularly measured and available for most cities

For each dot, we attached a second dot that shows how much space a city has allocated for moving around with this particular transit mode. These are all the parking lots and street areas you can explore in What the Street!?, condensed into one single data point. If the first and second dots coincide, this would mean that city space is allocated in a fair way towards all forms of mobility: cars, bikes, and trams. All of them get the same fraction of space that they “deserve” from their usage.

In reality, however, the triangle shows that space is not always equally allocated: cars get much more space than buses, and bikes get mere scraps.

The Republic of Parking

Looking back at Berlin, we counted over a million cars parked in the city. Typically, the use of individually-owned cars is limited to a few moments of everyday life, and there is a huge untapped potential for optimization.

Car-sharing concepts aim to solve this inefficiency. Users can access a public fleet of vehicles and rent for a given time. And, with autonomous driving vehicles just on the horizon, this inefficiency in car ownership can be addressed even further. Self-driving vehicles don’t need to park. Hence, in an optimally shared mobility scenario, parking garages would become a thing of the past, allowing us to conserve up to 93% of all parking spaces.


If It Were Only That Easy

Of course, a delicate, multimodal balance is needed between different forms of transportation. Self-driving, shared cars will not be the ultimate solution to all of our transportation problems. Our analysis concludes that the car is by far the most inefficient use of space. Making cars shared or autonomous does not change this fact. However, our relation to cars might change, and they might become “last mile” scenarios, connecting train stations to homes.

In the future, urban planners should avoid pitfalls, such as induced travel or continued prioritization of cars over bikes and trams. Further, getting rid of all parking spaces isn’t the best solution; even with self-driving cars, we will still need hop-on/hop-off zones.

None of the challenges exposed by the moovel Lab’s “The Mobility Space Report: What the Street!?” can be easily solved. When it comes down to decisions about public space, the public needs to be asked. The goal of “What the Street” is to provide as accurate and comprehensive information as possible. We hope it helps participants make their own decisions about who should own the street.

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

Happy Dump the Pump Day

June 15th, 2017 marks the 12th annual national Dump the Pump Day, an opportunity for more riders – or potential riders – to leave their car at home and explore commuting alternatives.

For many of us, especially those who work in public transit or city planning, every day is Dump the Pump day. We walk, we cycle, we ride transit – and yes, we occasionally drive. But for many more Americans, Dump the Pump Day is a chance to see what life can be like when your world does not revolve around your car.




There are many compelling arguments you can use to convince your communities to dump the pump. The benefits of forgoing your car for public transit or other shared mobility services are profound. Let’s start with money, the environment, and our waistlines.




Financial Reasons to Dump the Pump

– According to the American Public Transit Association, a two-person household can save an average of $9,797 annually by downsizing to one car.

– From a public financing perspective, every dollar spent on public transit generates approximately $4 in economic returns.

Environmental Reasons to Dump the Pump

– Each year, public transit riders reduce our nation’s carbon footprint by 37 million metric tons. To put that into perspective, an equivalent savings would be achieved if the cities of New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Denver stopped using electricity.

– If you have a 20-mile roundtrip commute, taking public transit instead of driving will reduce your annual carbon emissions by 4,800 pounds.

– Eliminating a second car can reduce your household carbon emissions by 10-30 percent each year.





Personal Health Reasons to Dump the Pump

– A recent study by the University of Illinois found that increasing public transit use in a given community by only 1% will lower the obesity rate by 0.2%.

– Individuals who use public transportation get over three times the amount of physical activity per day than those who don’t (approximately 19 minutes, as opposed to six) by walking to stops and final destinations.

– Bus-related accidents have one-twentieth the passenger fatality rates of automobile travel.


The goal behind Dump the Pump day is not to force anyone to ride transit or to punish oil companies. The underlying idea is to promote awareness of other commuting options and give individuals the opportunity to see the positive financial, ecological and health impacts of less driving – if only for one day. By promoting Dump the Pump day in your community and encouraging potential riders to try transit, everybody benefits.

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

The Rise of Bluetooth Beacons & Public Transit

Let me guess – transportation isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Bluetooth.” Stop for a second and name all the objects around you that are Bluetooth connected. Most likely your smartphone, laptop, and speakers. Maybe your headphones? Keyboard? Mouse? What about the road you take to work? The bus that’s pulling into your stop? Bluetooth has entered the world of mobility, and low energy beacons offer an accessible solution that can help transit agencies implement the next innovations in public transit.


Cities across the world, from Bangkok and Montreal to Tempe, Arizona, are already using Bluetooth technology on roadways. However, current use cases are focused on reducing traffic congestion with Bluetooth sensors – a small departure from beacons. These sensors are built into highways to track traffic and provide analytics on congestion, traffic management, pricing, toll collection, HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes, safety, and maintenance. The Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) is developing best practices with a transportation sensor network blueprint to help advise cities that are interested in implementing sensors technology.


Taking Bluetooth adoption in transportation a step further, the technology presents an opportunity to build smart solutions for public transit. Bluetooth beacons act as transmitters that broadcast information to nearby devices like smartphones and tablets. For example, beacons on a bus could broadcast the bus route. When a mobile device with the corresponding app comes within range of the bluetooth transmission, the device detects the signal’s message, which can trigger different notification and in-app behavior dependent on the message. So, a mobile device with a transit agency’s mobile fare app could trigger “your bus is here” messaging when the bus with the correct route comes into proximity with with the mobile device. When combined, these capabilities offer various possibilities for public transit.


1. Mobile and contactless ticketing

Bluetooth infrastructure on transit vehicles, platforms or stations can track when riders with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile fare app are in and out of the mesh network. This Be-In/Be-Out (BIBO) framework captures transit usage analytics similarly to gated systems, but without the enormous capital investment. BIBO paired with a real-time fare payment engine shifts the responsibility of understanding complex tariffs from the rider to the automated system. In this model, the fare is calculated in real time while the rider is on the vehicle, and the system provides the best fare for the rider automatically. As reliability is still a challenge to overcome, the alternative Check-In/Be-Out model provides the same level of data analytics with a low friction user experience of Checking-In.


2. Fleet management

Public transit systems are already using CAD/AVL and Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) systems to capture real-time vehicle location and passenger counts. Installing beacons on vehicles can augment these systems by pairing vehicle capacity and location information with richer data about on-board customers. This would combine the value proposition offered by CAD/AVL, APC and fare collection systems into a single source of truth. Data could be used by planners to support decisions around routing, frequency and vehicle needs, or by public safety personnel for real-time analytics on vehicle occupancy and location.




3. Accessibility

Beacons open up a range of possibilities for making public transit more accessible to riders. They can help those with disabilities or impairments travel more efficiently and safely. Wayfindr is an app that uses Bluetooth beacons to locate blind or visually-impaired users within a transit station. It then directs them with verbal instructions, such as which trains are to their right or left or how many steps are in an approaching staircase. Another company, Onyx Beacon is implementing beacons to alert riders when a bus is nearing the station. A visually impaired user can mark which bus route they need in their mobile fare app, and when the correct bus arrives at a station, the app will notify the rider that their bus is there.




4. Mobile marketing

As more transit agencies adopt mobile fare apps, there’s an opportunity to see beacon technology come into play with retail engagement. Beacons are often used in the retail industry to send passersbys coupons or alerts. This opportunity allows transit agencies to partner with local businesses to send riders exclusive deals based on their geo-location and nearby retail locations. The retailer would broadcast their bluetooth signal, as a rider with the transit agency’s mobile ticketing app came into proximity with that signal, the app would trigger a coupon or alert pop-up.


5. Gamification
Gamification offers transit authorities the opportunity to put Bluetooth beacons to good fun. Installed beacons can act as rider checkpoints, turning a particular transit line, or an entire system, into a life-sized game board. In 2015, moovel used beacons to create a mobile scavenger hunt, celebrating the opening of a new TriMet transit line. Riders earned points and won sponsored prizes like Nike sneakers and round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines for visiting beacons along the line.

Now when you think “Bluetooth,” think beyond the smartphone in your pocket. In this age of transportation innovation, it’s critical that transit agencies push for smarter mobility solutions. The doors are open to implement new technologies that can improve both user and operator experiences with public


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

Q&A with Shin-pei Tsay, Executive Director at the Gehl Institute

Shin-pei Tsay, Executive Director at the Gehl Institute, has quite the extensive background in the world of public life. Prior to the Gehl Institute, she was the Deputy Executive Director of TransitCenter, a national foundation aiming to improve urban transportation. She also founded and directed the Cities and Transportation Program under the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she investigated policies to mitigate climate change, and developed a project with Senator Bill Bradley and Secretary Tom Ridge to reform and fund the federal transportation program. Other efforts throughout her career include creating Safe Streets for Seniors and Play Streets programs in New York City and co-founding Planning Corps, an organization that matches urban planners with neighborhood-based projects.

Simply put, she aims to make people’s lives better. Learn more about Shin-pei’s accomplished background and what she sees as the future of the transit industry.


Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 2.46.56 PM


Talk a bit about your work with the Gehl Institute. What projects have you worked on recently?

The Gehl Institute was founded to change policy, governance, and even systems of practice so that we value all people in public spaces and that people can thrive. We define public life as the social interactions in public space, the everyday life we live in the public realm, and our civic life. Through our research, we connect that people-priority to broad issues such as public health, climate change, and social justice.

On the communications side, we will publish A Mayor’s Guide to Public Life to show there are patterns any mayor can apply to make public life possible for all people. We’ve interviewed many mayors on their public life projects and found that there are five distinct actions they took during the life of a project: invite people to participate, measure how well they’re doing, try small things as part of the bigger picture, improve as you learn, and formalize the changes so that public life is maintained for the long-run.

We’ve also been working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation [the country’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health, supporting research and programs targeting some of the most pressing health issues in America] to figure out how we can create a value proposition for health and equity in public spaces. We’re asking questions like: What do healthy and equitable public spaces look like? Who needs to be involved and what needs to be in place for communities to achieve them? We’re pulling this understanding together right now.



What are some trends that you see in the transportation industry?

The sharing economy and technology have made a huge difference. Whether or not it’s made things more sustainable…it depends. Land-use patterns have to change first. But there are some promising signs. We’re seeing more bike share and we also saw the passage of local transit tax measures in last year’s election, which speak to the demand of people wanting to move around their cities in a different way.

There’s huge buzz around automated vehicles, though I’m a little worried about cars replacing cars in places where space is a premium, or where it should be a premium. The more sustainable patterns of development balance out the car-to-people ratio. We’ve often designed cities so the majority of public space goes towards cars. It’s currently more of a 80/20 split cars-to-people. It needs to be more 50/50 and it can go further to 20/80 if you put public transit in the mix. New technology solutions make that easier. You don’t need to own a car to have all the options at your fingertips.



You serve as the City of New York Public Design Commissioner. What do you look for in permanent structures, parks, and art?

I care about how well the design supports people and view projects with several key questions: Have the designers considered how the community would perceive the physical change in the community? Does it reflect the purpose of the space? Will the design support those kinds of activities and are there any inhibitors? A design should be supportive of people and neighborhoods, regardless of its purpose. It should make people feel proud to have change in their neighborhood.



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You also founded the City and Transportation Program under the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. What are some of that program’s accomplishments?

The program started when federal policy discussions on climate change was stalling in the U.S, though it was the biggest carbon emitter around the globe. Surface transportation is the fastest growing sector of carbon emission too. So we looked at how cities, instead of nations, could be effective actors, and implement local innovations and solutions that could make a difference.

Though the role was quite small within the organization, we were another voice that supported city collaboration, regionalism, and cooperation at the local level. Our work also influenced the guidance from the European Commission and for Chinese mayors on local sustainability, with a focus on small-scale improvements through walking, biking, and transit. The research we did helped national decision-makers prioritize less carbon-dependent transportation in cities.

Carnegie Endowment is an international organization that works at an international or national policy level. Putting cities in the middle of that context and giving them some global prominence was a really different program focus.



What would you say to cities that don’t invest in public life?

Public life is seen as a “nice to have” and not a priority. Every sector we care about – housing, public education, economic development – all depend on a just and thriving public life. Research shows that to achieve a thriving, healthy, and just society, it is important for people to have social connections and trust in their institutions just as much as public services are made available to them.

If a city is interested in any of the major challenges, invest in public life and incorporate it as a success criteria of any project.



Where’s your favorite place to bike around New York City?

Anything in the low-rise neighborhoods – Brooklyn, East Village, West Village. I like going up on the Hudson Greenway up to the George Washington Bridge. I’m not a risk-taker on my bike and NYC has done an incredible job in making it easy to bike. Outside of the U.S., Copenhagen is a fun place to bike around, you feel very dignified and valued when you’re on a bike.


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