From the launch of electric bikesharing systems to the rise of new carpooling concepts and microtransit services like Bridj and Chariot, cities today are facing the biggest disruption to the transportation sector since the automobile replaced the horse-drawn carriage.
While these new forms of shared-use mobility can offer wide-ranging benefits – such as increasing access to transportation, reducing reliance on private autos and cutting congestion and carbon emissions – they also present a challenge for local governments, which must regulate in a quickly changing environment and do their best to ensure the public good is upheld without stifling innovation.
A great deal has changed in the last year, as cities have begun to work more closely with the private sector to develop new solutions. In just the last month, for instance, Florida’s Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority rolled out a plan to subsidize first/last mile Uber trips to its transit stops, while Portland’s TriMet transit system announced that riders will soon be able to hail a Lyft ride or reserve a car2go vehicle using its new mobile ticketing app.
Despite this progress, however, many cities have still found themselves playing catch-up as new shared modes proliferate, and have struggled to balance divergent goals including:
- Maximizing access
- Preserving safety
- Ensuring support for public transit networks
- Managing traffic
- Allocating parking and other uses of curb space
- Ensuring all communities are served
- Providing clear and consistent guidelines for a quickly evolving industry
While a handful of cities like Seattle and Los Angeles have begun work to develop their own comprehensive mobility plans, the focus on catch-up in most regions has meant few cities have developed a long-term vision for a public-private mobility world. And even fewer have had a chance to reorganize or build new capacity, resulting in confusion over who is best suited to oversee these new modes of transportation.
Departments of transportation typically own the streets, for instance, while transit agencies manage transit, and planners make decisions about use of the right-of-way. Other agencies often regulate taxis and determine tax rates for carsharing. For shared-use mobility to thrive, public agencies that previously worked in silos will need to collaborate with each other and with private companies to find the right mix of government policies at the local, state and federal level.
Every city has its own transportation and land use policies, so each needs to find its own path to address these issues. Still, the key steps and players could be quite similar across cities. Following are some emerging best practices for cities:
Vision Development and Execution
- Develop a long-term mobility vision that includes shared-use mobility
- Appoint a “Mobility Czar” to help break down government silos and engage public and private actors in collaborative innovation and assessment of impacts and opportunities. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles have recently created new “innovation offices” to handle this role.
- Adopt open data and open source software policies and engage a broad community in visioning and implementation
- Set mode shift goals to prioritize actions that support shared mobility and active forms of transportation such as walking and cycling
- Use the mobility vision to decide the number and mix of modes to attract, and at what scale
- Adopt clear regulations for desired new services that protect the public while supporting innovation
- Set rules for accessible vehicles and service availability to all residents and neighborhoods. Washington, D.C.’s DDOT, for instance, has required carshare operators that use on-street parking spaces to keep a set number of vehicles in low-income neighborhoods
- Require that providers share their data so that it will be possible to assess impact and integrate new services into transportation plans
- Include specific requirements in requests for proposals to encourage utilization of common technology platforms and expand services to a diverse set of neighborhoods and populations
- Integrate new shared modes into transportation planning, making accommodations in city streets for cars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians and shared-mobility operators
- Study the effects of new transportation modes—both individually and in combination—and incorporate the findings into transportation models
- Investigate the potential for additional modes to address transportation challenges
- Support the launch of new modes, including financial support for start-up costs (for example, many transportation departments have worked with private operators to launch bikesharing ventures)
Land Use Planning
- Adjust municipal policies, including planning and zoning rules, to encourage the use of these services, which may include allocating curb space for shared vehicles, reducing parking fees for carsharing users, and reducing minimum parking requirements for new developments that incorporate shared-use transportation
- Encourage integration of public transit, bikesharing, ridesharing and carsharing around transit stops, including electric vehicle infrastructure
Transit Systems Management
- Plan like a mobility provider, experimenting with ways to integrate transit with new modes
- Provide public access to transit data, including static and real-time information, so that developers can create innovative apps
- Expand access to cellular networks, Wi-Fi and electric outlets in transit stations, and aboard transit vehicles
- Build awareness and support to attract new users
- Engage in cross-promotions, such as discounted carshare rates for transit users. Several transit agencies, such as the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and Dallas Area Regional Transit, have also established partnerships to linking their mobile apps to providers like Uber and Lyft.
Collaborative Public-Private Innovation
- Pursue public-private partnerships and pool information to support innovation
- Support the creation of universal payment and trip planning mechanisms for multiple modes. The City of Los Angeles’ new Go LA wayfinding app, for instance, aggregates every available mode of transportation for a given route and calculates the time, cost and carbon footprint for each option.
- Test new approaches to meet the mobility needs of those poorly served by the transportation system, including the young, the elderly, the disabled and those in low-income households
- Identify ways to address barriers like insurance issues
- Work with other cities to create and share policies, develop common data standards and make coordinated data requests of shared-use providers
Funding for Scaling
- Develop a funding plan for pilots and scaling that considers all possible funding sources, including developers, toll revenues, employer TDM mandates, enhanced fleet modernization programs, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds, private operators and more
- Make the case for state and federal investment
To succeed, cities need new tools and a framework for how to get “shared-use mobility ready” through land-use planning and zoning, system design, information services and processes for bringing together all interested entities. They need model policies and guidance on how to address key challenges such as lack of data and poor integration. And they need examples from other cities that have gone first.
To provide the public sector with much-needed support, the Shared-Use Mobility Center has developed a Shared Mobility Toolkit – including a shared mobility policy database, interactive mapping tool and benefits calculator – which will be available soon on sharedusemobilitycenter.org. Additionally, more information on the rise of shared mobility and actions cities can take to realize the economic, social and environmental benefits of this emerging sector is available in SUMC’s Shared-Use Mobility Reference Guide.