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.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Do Parking Apps Really Alleviate Parking Problems?

Everyone’s been there. You’re circling the city block, head on a swivel, to catch any sign of white backup lights – an indication that the stars have aligned to free up a single parking spot. This slow and frustrating search for parking accounts for an estimated 30% of city traffic, and it’s not doing drivers, cities, businesses, or the environment any favors. That’s why leveraging innovative mobile technologies to improve on-street parking is the holy grail – for everyone. Mobile apps have emerged over recent years in attempts to combat the urban parking conundrum. As more and more cities adopt smarter parking solutions, we’re seeing the ways in which this technology is succeeding, falling short, and revealing future opportunities.

Many parking apps provide real-time information on parking availability, accept mobile payments, send reminders when your meter is low, and allow you to extend your allotted time. They often work by registering your license plate number, and then inputting your parking location with a unique code. Interestingly, it’s not only in the world’s densest urban areas that these apps have been implemented. Parkmobile, a domestic leader in the space, is used in over 600 locations across 37 states. Internationally, ParkMe boasts availability in 4,200 cities across all 7 continents – though that raises the question of whether Antarctic users are human or penguin. These types of apps can be found everywhere from college campuses to Main St. in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Drivers and cities must both benefit if parking apps are to succeed. For drivers, this technology can give peace of mind, create a more streamlined traveling experience, and help save money on gas and parking itself. From reserving a spot in advance to viewing available street parking in real-time around your destination, apps are delivering measurable value to drivers every day. On the other hand, cities benefit by reducing traffic congestion and harmful fuel emissions. Additionally, parking management has the opportunity to implement dynamic pricing based on demand by harnessing data analytics and utilize smart management systems that allow for easy monitoring of an entire parking network.

Perhaps the strongest draw for cities, however, is increased revenue – a result that doesn’t always excite users. Some intelligent parking technology can detect when a car leaves, clearing away any unused time to optimize income. Greater user compliance will also make cities more money, according to Parkmobile’s Chief Executive Jon Ziglar. Ziglar seems to suggest that drivers would be more likely to pay for on street parking if a few keystrokes on their phones replace the chore of digging for loose change under the seat. While these may be aspects of the profit equation, Parkifi, a Denver-based startup, transparently advertises that their app will increase revenue by up to 20% through parking violation enforcement alone. With smarter, easier enforcement, cities can crack down on violators. But the greater goal is that parking apps’ ease of use will decrease the number of violations overall.


street parking


Of course, with benefits come speed bumps – technically enabling on-street parking is no joke. There is an array of different technologies, but no one solution that fits every city. Some users are running into inaccurate information on their apps – spots showing available on the app but full in reality. Then perhaps the biggest complaint: parking enforcement issuing undeserved tickets due to confusion over whether a spot was paid for with a mobile app or using the physical parking meter. With any new technology, there’s a learning curve that needs to be considered. Transitioning from quartered meters that clearly read, “EXPIRED” when time is up, to a system that requires enforcement officers to navigate mobile software is a significant change. To keep users happy, cities need to invest properly in training, and further down the line, in updated infrastructure.

So imagine this: you check your transit app in the morning and reserve a parking spot near the train station. After parking, you take the train into the city and order a Lyft to drive you the last mile from the station into work. Everything is paid for through the same app; you never even touch your wallet. Parking apps are a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to the future of connected cities and transit, especially considering that 86 percent of the U.S. population still relies driving their own vehicle alone on their commute. Collaboration between public and private sectors will be key in coming years as cities and companies explore and navigate smarter solutions. Transit agencies are already working on integrating additional transportation options like rideshare, carshare, and bikeshare services within their mobile transit apps. The result for commuters is a more convenient and flexible travel experience. Many of these agencies would also like to allow their users to pay for parking within the same app using their transit funds account. In short, parking apps will help complete the seamless commute.

Parking app developers saw a need, or more, a frustration and have already taken notable strides in making city parking more efficient. Users are empowered with on-demand information and mobile payments, while cities are seeing greater compliance and decreased operational costs. As the bugs are worked out, the learning curve surmounted, and adoption becomes more widespread, we’ll see smart parking technology span beyond the confines of private apps and integrate into the broader vision of connected cities and transit.

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

The Great Escape II: The Internet of Things on Public Spaces

Recently, while developing a project for Smart City modeling and Citizen Living Experience for a Spanish town, the process of changing the model of public space into a passively value generating public space took an accelerating process. How can, then, IoT (Internet of Things) and EV (Electric Vehicles) mobility enhance the public spaces? How can the concept of a regenerative and value adding public space be part of an integral Smart City and Smart Mobility modeling?

On one hand, IoT is one of the key drivers for passive granularity of data. This fact is one of the main drivers for a public space and the social interactions occurring on that very public space in order to achieve spatial efficiency.

When planning and integrating innovation on the built environment, as well as the confluence integration of different approaches (bottom up design, participatory design, mobility interaction, etc. all) the vastness of data to control becomes one of the main barriers for that public space to succeed.

The capability to have the correct and advisable set of data belongs to granularity management and design of the required IoT. And IoT allows public space to get the sensors required for data collection much closer to existing and foreseeable target elements than simply having a set of environment sensors.

This granularity can help measure effectiveness of public space usage, effectiveness of transit and transit derived elements, and how data can be metabolized and incorporated into the management of the public space and public sector (City protocol, signed and progressed by several institutions, has just started to elaborate on this field). Granularity is achievable through volume and placement. Simply put, unlocalized or global sensor will not be enough.

Granularity shows, as well, certain challenges in order to be perfectly integrated and perfectly achievable by both cities, citizens and the services around them.

Connectivity: Mobility, citizens, sensorings and the Internet of Things

Granularity on data has helped us understand that mobility has to evolve into a system able to work on the general grid or layer a city is, and on the particularity levels citizens will demand to have. That can only be achieved by a perfect synchronization between data collection and data management, along with data expectations citizens already have.

Designing the framework of a city citizen experience – which is key to manage the competitiveness logbook or binnacle – shall include a data collection strategy. And on that strategy is key to understand how connected devices can help granularity achieve the best balance for a set social elements and city environment.

Connected devices and connected urban apparel will have to get communicating with smart mobility related real-time sensoring. The first, the connected urban apparel have the advantage to log static data, whereas smart mobility IoT has the capability of moving sensors, unleashing the potential of two different approaches for city management and city life:

The static elements can measure site and place evolution, whereas mobile sensors and IoT can measure transitions between sites and places.

Improving the cities and the quality of life of citizens

It is important to notice that regardless of the nature of the data to be measured and the communication IoT can develop to enhance public space, digital sensoring and the Internet of Things is a step further development of the concept of Sentinel Species.

We have been using Sentinel Species to gauge and interact with the environment surrounding us. And IoT and mobile sensoring – which is presented on Smart Mobility – will just enhance the capacities Sentinel Species have on urban environments.

Moreover, IoT can be used to enhance the use and spatial efficiency of the public space. That does not mean IoT has to be present as an active part of the public space – or the property figure of any given part. IoT can help us reach the required granularity to better understand and better project the public space usage and utility.

IoT can help us connect different parts of the same city to counteract the lack of social activity a certain area has, and can evolve into a pathology for that area. Integrated with smart mobility, it can help via passive and non-intrusive connectivity to activate areas of the city that might suffer from the CBD (Central Business District) syndrome very many cities have developed (Antony Gormley: ‘London is bought, developed and abandoned’), and prevent urban economies from having the property and ownership peaks it usually develops.

Yet the most important element of IoT within Smart Mobility systems and creating value on public space across cities is its capability of improving management and transparency.

What do you think about the increasing connectivity of public spaces? Would you imagine yourself on a better public space due to the connectivity and technological interaction it has? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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

The Role of Citizens in Smart and Connected Transportation

The involvement of citizens is increasingly becoming important in urban and transportation planning. Transportation providers should have a better understanding about what citizens want and should be able to precisely meet their individual needs. In this article, David E Pickeral, an executive, senior analyst and industry advisor in smart and connected transportation explains what citizens can expect in regard to the transformation taking place in smart and connected mobility and how they can best influence the future development to meet their individual needs.

Demand-based services like car sharing, bike sharing, ride sharing etc. rose because citizens were dissatisfied with the quality, value and convenience they were getting from conventional mobility services. This was driven by understanding and following the user demand rather than creating the demand.

Moving forward, this is going to be the paradigm in terms of how transportation services will be provided to the general public – bottom up approach (user requirements and needs) rather than a top down approach (strategic objectives) and that will drive a very precise change.

Smart and connected transport to make traveling seamless and efficient

Urbanization is probably the single biggest challenge city and transportation planners are facing. As urbanization is growing rapidly, cities are facing the challenge of meeting rising demands of the users to provide efficient mobility with limited infrastructure capacity. Transportation planners should develop the plan based on the identification of the user needs rather than based on city strategic perspectives. The bottom up approach offers a system which can encourage citizen participation.

It is the idea of breaking down the silos between various transportation modes and other assets. Cities should provide a better connectivity between modes, so that people have multiple different ways of getting from point A to B sensitive to their time and be able to do that very seamlessly using mobile devices and ICT (Information and Communications Technology). Transportation is going to be like a retail and entertainment.

Because of predictive analytics, big data and Internet of Things, the system is providing a constant flow of data allowing changes in real-time from weather patterns to accommodating transportation around events such as football match etc.

The more data that is collected helps for real-time situations and a greater data archive systems will effectively start to learn and be able to better predict even 5 or 10 years from now based on the way city is growing and the transportation needs are changing, thus enabling to do much more precise planning and responding to the changing demographics in terms of age, religion and gender etc.

Another biggest challenge is car ownership. In the past few years, car ownership has dropped, particularly in Europe and the United States and this trend is mainly visible in younger generation. They no longer aspire to rely to purchase, register, insure and maintain their own personal cars, rather than access public transport, shared cars and bikes, depending on real-time information, booking and payment for these other modal choices on their mobile devices.

So far, there hasn’t been a lot of information or data sharing between various modes of transport. Once planners provide a seamless environment where cars, transit and even pedestrians start sharing information about where they go and what they do will make traveling between various modes seamless.

In the near future, there will be one mobile transportation account which will basically allow users to pay for all mobility services from parking, public transit to tolls using this account rather than having to pay separately to multiple municipal or private vendors. Probably, at the end of every month, users may get a monthly statement.

So, convenience, seamless connectivity, accessibility and cost-effectiveness set the higher degree of efficiency trim-down to the level of individual consumers.

Role of transportation in the future of sustainable urban development

From a sustainability perspective, what has to really change with regards to urban transportation is the notion that the user needs can be met by building additional infrastructure, for example adding more trams, metros, physical assets like vehicles etc. This is not really sustainable because the ability to maintain from a cost perspective is very limited.

However, there have been exceptions like Beijing where they demolished certain parts of the city to make room for new high-rises due to Olympics or Abu Dhabi where there are essentially building a new city next to the old one rather than modernize. Obviously, in the United States, Canada, Europe and the rest of the world, it is not practical to tear down cities that are thousands of years old and replace them with the new infrastructure.

The need is going to be understanding the usage and optimizing the existing infrastructure accordingly. The idea is to have a user-centered rather than an asset-centered transportation.

How can the general public best influence the future mobility development

Because of big data, analytics and social media, citizens have much more of a stake in deciding what developments or services they want to have and they have a lot more influence than they ever had in the past in influencing how transportation networks are deployed. In the near future, the general public will automatically generate vast amounts of data which will be used by everyone from bus drivers to city planners which will further help for the future transport planning.

Younger generation are voluntarily providing information to the extent that people consent to participate to their level of comfort in social networking, providing feedbacks and participating in surveys etc. So, providing such structured and unstructured data is key.

Planners will receive a lot of anonymous demographic data just from the way people use their mobility services. This will happen automatically, whether the general public is aware of it or not, but the ability of the general public to actually provide input through surveys or unstructured data will be increased.

It is going to provide ROI (Return on Investment) to people who provide feedback whether they are asked or given a forum to discuss via social media for decision-makers to listen to their customers in terms of what they want. People will be increasingly presented with individual choices in setting up their transit accounts, their rider or user profiles, locations, costs etc. and they will be able to micro-tailor and customize across all modes of transport.

Smart and connected mobility will eventually improve the efficiency of the transportation system and with the help of data and analytics, transportation planners will be able to redistribute demand across various modes, routes and time.

How do you think city and transportation planners can involve citizens in the future transportation planning? Are there any measures or programs that are already existing in your city? Share your opinions in the comment section.

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