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.

 

Public Transit in the City of Tomorrow

By Tim Lane

 

The next 15 years promises to bring a sea change in how we commute as a society. We may very well look back on this moment in history as the transition point between static and fluid public transit. Today, under the established, static model, the public largely adheres to set schedules to commute around our cities. We travel within the constraints of the system. Tomorrow’s fluid model may look drastically different. Traditional modes like buses and light rail will be partnered with new advancements like autonomous car fleets and the Hyperloop. Stitched together, the transportation experience will be catered to the individual’s commuting needs.

 

“Broadly speaking it’s exciting that the mix is happening,” said Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of the National League of Cities’ Center for City Solutions. “These things that for so long were science fiction are now becoming fact.”

New Technologies

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments is the fast-approaching reality of autonomous car fleets. A recent report from the independent think tank ReThinkX found that by the year 2030, 95% of passenger miles in the US will be serviced by fleets of autonomous, electric vehicles. The biggest question, perhaps, is whether this advancement will progress in the public or private sector.

 

“Uber is pretty clearly reducing public transit use,” said Dave Chandler, Director of Economic Development at the Center for Neighborhood Technology. “The trend of public transport went up from 2008 until two years ago and has declined since. People look at it and think it’s probably Uber. It’s a competing model currently.”

 

This competing model could only become more formative if private companies perfect and invest in autonomous fleets that don’t value their public transport counterparts. However, there is a brighter possibility. One where cities step in with fleets of their own.

 

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“I think there could be autonomous fleets at the municipal level,” Rainwater said. “It might be hard to conceptualize right now, but London is already trying to create a co-op. It is a model where cities act much like car rental agencies. They already have a ton of experience with fleet management. It’s a skill that could be used.”

 

Another alternative to protecting and promoting public transit would be to forge tight, reciprocal relationships between cities and public transportation. This could improve the overall commuting experience and ensure ridership equity.
“I think as we move to autonomous models we are starting to see some of those private/public partnerships pop up,” Rainwater said. “I think we’ll only see that relationship deepen.”

 

With increased sharing of transit and rider information, commuters will be able to depend on accurate travel times. Meanwhile, if approached correctly, private companies could be pressured to be a complement, not a competitor, to public transportation as a whole.
“I have some optimism about things like Uber building in more equity that could change the equation,” Chandler said.

 

Hyperloop, though grander in scale and seemingly further out than autonomous cars, could also instigate a huge change in public transportation. By slashing commute times and freeing up highway space, the Hyperloop would be a boon on multiple fronts.

 

“Hyperloop could be a game changer for places like Baltimore and D.C.,” Rainwater said. “I think that if the private sector can prove the concept, then the public municipalities could follow.”

 

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Smart City Planning

Even with all of the exciting technological advancements around transportation, without a considered, encompassing vision by cities, public transit won’t advance to its full potential.

 

“I think there are two basic paths that we could go down,” Chandler said. “The bright path is based on the consideration that more and more people are living in cities. Public transit is the most efficient way to move around in a compressed, compact environment. And the really neat thing is what has happened in last 20 years. There have been examples of people — combinations of architects, developers, and local government — designing transit-oriented developments.”

 

By planning cities around basic public transit needs, people can be easily connected with jobs in the city. With more and more manufacturing and information-based jobs created each year, the demand for flexible, creative workspaces will only rise. The importance of getting people to and from these dense, urban environments quickly and efficiently will be huge.

 

“The interactive nature of urban design and transit is underappreciated,” Chandler said. “Transit needs that design in order to function well.”

 

There have also recently been encouraging advancements in cities with historically low-functioning public transit systems.

 

“It’s really cool to see Denver and LA, which were built as very different cities, now trying to stitch it together,” Rainwater said. “It’s exciting to see the cultural pressures pushing people in this direction.”

The Morning Commute in 15 Years

A typical morning commute might begin by leaving your apartment located in the new development by the river. This and other areas are now designed with efficient transportation in mind, as well as the usual amenities.

 

From there, you hop into an autonomous transit car that’s been pre-scheduled, via your phone, to arrive at your doorstep at 7:30 AM. On any given morning, different neighbors might also share the ride, depending on time, day, route, and destination. The city’s transit system will take into account traffic patterns, commute time, and overall system efficiencies to decide the next stage in your journey.

 

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The car drops you at a bus stop along a main thoroughfare, and a minute later the bus arrives. There’s no need to pay to board — your progress is tracked anonymously using the latest in blockchain tech, and your account debited automatically. The bus glides down streets in a dedicated lane, making great time thanks to less congestion. But also, thanks to the city’s convenient new on-demand services, which means bus stops can now be spread farther apart, requiring fewer stops.

 

Then maybe you realize you’re running late for a meeting you forgot — across town from the office. You tap the new coordinates into your phone and are given new options in real time: Either pay for a private service to meet you at the next stop (unfortunately, all on-demand city cars are tied up in rush hour traffic), or have the city’s transit app reroute your commute. You’re instantly given an exact time of arrival and can alert your coworkers if you’ll be late, or rest assured knowing that you’ll make it on time.

 

While there may be big technological jumps in the next 15 years, the biggest change will be to the overall experience as a whole. We’ll still rely on modes of transit like buses and light and heavy rail, but utilized in concert with newer advancements like autonomous fleets and the hyperloop. The city of tomorrow will feature a fluid transit menu of options, working together for quick, efficient travel.

 

Will we still hate our daily commutes? Maybe. It will always be more difficult to rewire human nature than technology. But with the right planning, tracking and mix of smart systems, we’ll have to work a lot harder to complain about such an easy ride.

 

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.
 
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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.

The State of Mobility in Austin, Texas

I work with BVE Partners in Austin, TX. This year we worked with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce to produce their 2016 Mobility Report. This was an especially exciting time to rethink regional mobility policy for the Chamber because of how much has changed in Austin, Texas since the publication of the Chamber’s last Mobility Report in 2013. In the three years since the Chamber last published a Mobility Report, a new 10-1 City Council system has dramatically reshaped the local political landscape, a $1.38 billion urban rail and roads bond failed at the polls by a double-digit margin, and an epic showdown over rideshare regulations made headlines around the world.

In writing the 2016 Mobility Report, we decided to take a dramatically different approach to tackling Austin’s mobility challenges. Rather than advocate for band-aid solutions and isolated infrastructure investments, we instead focus on the fundamental steps Austin can take to improve how its residents get from Point A to Point B. Within this context, building additional road capacity will do little to relieve traffic congestion. At the same time, new investments in high-capacity transit without the accompanying land-use policies to support greater density are bound to fail. This report posits that Austin’s greatest challenge is not a lack of streets or buses or sidewalks, but rather an obsolete way of organizing the built environment – a barrier that will require decisive leadership and community action to overcome. CodeNEXT, the ongoing process to rewrite Austin’s land development code, is the best opportunity to solve the root cause of the region’s mobility challenges.

 

AustinMobility
 

The shifting community needs of a rapidly evolving Austin require an assessment of alternative transportation systems and new models of success. In this report, we focus on three broad strategies to improve mobility: land-use reform, transportation demand management, and a shift to alternative transportation modes. Within each strategy, we also look at how specific mechanisms can be applied to Central Texas.

However, while we wrote this report looking through the lens of Central Texas’ regional mobility problems, we hope any city that is experiencing mobility issues that are exacerbated by growth and development patterns can learn from this report. Because other cities across the world may be experiencing challenges that this report does not address directly, we also outline priorities in the report’s introduction that guide our thinking and that may be useful for planners and policy-makers worldwide.

Austin is experiencing significant growing pains as it quickly becomes one of America’s great cities and an exemplar of successful economic development. Overall, the strategies we outline in the Chamber’s 2016 Mobility Report are intended to guide the adoption of plans to manage that growth, preserving Austin’s unique culture and its reputation as one of the best places to do business in the country.


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

Bridging the Mobility Gap

All Americans deserve the opportunity to participate in the American dream. But in order for that to happen, we must first bridge the mobility gap. Many upper-and-middle-class Americans buy gas, pay for insurance, and maintain a car without the weight of substantial financial burdens on their shoulders. Most purchase homes that are close to their office or children’s school, making it easy to be on time and create social connections to move upward on their economic ladders. But for many low-income families—it’s a different story. They don’t have a reliable car or reliable public transportation. Well-paying jobs are often far away from impoverished neighborhoods. Without the money or access to commute to work on time, people living in poverty have a harder time escaping their circumstances.

Some people living with disabilities often have to wait up to two hours for a paratransit. Or worse, they are stranded. A report by the Community Advancement Network in Austin, Texas, says access to public transportation, especially in low-income areas, affects everything from access to after-school programs to healthcare service for locals.

ZIP codes have the potential to influence the likelihood of our success — not only for us, but also for our children. Parents are struggling to make it to after-school activities or arrive on time to parent-teacher conferences, affecting their children’s overall achievements in and out of school.

The social mobility gap of today increases the risk of losing talented employees and future business leaders of tomorrow. In fact, one in seven young people between the ages of 16 and 25 are neither in school nor working, costing the government $93.7 billion in support and lost tax revenue. We cannot leave them behind.

We can either keep things as they are, or we can invest in new mobility structures that will not only help the isolated, but also society as a whole.

 

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So how do we close the gap?

For starters, improving the local mobility economy within poor to middle-class areas can help bridge the gap. By adding new stores (like Starbucks) or offering bikeshare programs across the country, we can provide locals with opportunities for employment and a means of transportation to get to and from. Additionally, Safe Passage programs, like the one in Chicago, can  help ensure students in unsafe communities make it safely home or to school.

These programs still doesn’t answer the question of accessing areas outside of the inner city though. To remove the mobility gap, America needs a holistic approach with coordinated efforts from both the private and public sector. Individually, the government can approve dedicated bus lanes, businesses can offer flexible schedules, and nonprofits can provide assistance. But these three groups need to work together to make real progress.

Many communities require that buses and a percentage of cabs accommodate wheelchairs in accordance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. But a public-private partnership intent on improving technology would afford easy transport. Instead of adapting all of our cabs and busses with costly retrofit equipment, the government can incentivize the private sector to create innovative technology to make the transportation process easier for this group. Being ADA-accessible isn’t as good as having technology platforms that send a specially outfitted vehicle — at a reasonable price — to take disabled people where they need to go in a timely manner.

For instance, The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) grants all NC counties a percentage of the Rural Operating Assistance Program (ROAP) Grant, which helps provide transportation assistance for several types of riders, including the elderly and disabled, those needing assistance for job access, and the general public.

And as for businesses that find themselves consistently terminating employees because they can’t get to work on time, they are losing both time and money by hiring and training new employees. To remedy that problem, those companies should work with the city to create mobility packages for employees and drastically reduce its turnover rates. A business will end up paying one way or another, but only one option affords long-term employees. A public-private partnership is the key to fixing this problem.

Even when governments, businesses, and nonprofits don’t directly put new transportation infrastructure into disadvantaged neighborhoods, they can still free up resources that can be spent directly in those communities. This will make more efficient use of existing infrastructure. If the government fails to work to enable the flexibility of business and nonprofit employers, then, as Robert Putnam demonstrated in “Our Kids,” the divide between those with and those without will only get worse. We must all work together to bridge the mobility gap.


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