By Jessica Treat, Executive Director
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This fall, I traveled to Chicago to present at the 2016 National Shared Mobility Summit. The summit brought people together from across the country to explore the latest innovations, trends, and policy questions around bike sharing, car sharing, ride sharing, and other shared transportation options. As a recent summit recap noted, much of the programming considered some of “the biggest challenges facing cities today . . . and ways that shared mobility and public transit can be used to help address them.” With this in mind, climate change, accessibility, land use, poverty, and economic development were recurring topics throughout the event.
For me, some of the most interesting conversations related to ensuring equitable access to shared transportation options. A lot of cities are piloting new approaches to bring bike sharing and car sharing to low-wealth communities. The Minneapolis-Saint Paul region needs to address this gap in our offerings.
The topic of driverless cars is everywhere these days and the summit was no exception. One presenter’s recommendation for FAVES—“fleets of autonomous vehicles that are electric and shared”—definitely stood out. This best-case scenario for a future that includes driverless cars must shape policy development going forward.
It was clear throughout the summit that the local governments that are leading the way on shared mobility have made significant investments in staff capacity. Keeping pace with private sector investments in shared mobility and autonomous technology will be an ongoing challenge for the public sector.
I wasn’t the only Minnesotan at the summit. Local TLC allies Katie Hatt and Bill Dooley were also in attendance. What were their top takeways?
• How shared mobility will affect paratransit systems. These systems are often the [afterthought] of larger struggling transit systems. The ability for a physically challenged person in need to summon a ride at will is a vast improvement over the 24 to 48-hour advance reservation system with poor on-time performance results.
• How shared mobility will be able to serve low-income and minority communities when transit systems cut or eliminate services to their areas for budget balance purposes. This is similar to what is apparently being proposed with Washington DC Metro cuts to Southeast District of Columbia. Also, shared mobility could assist in cases where a major employer, such as the Amazon Distribution Center in Shakopee, Minnesota, locates a significant number of jobs away from urban low-income areas forcing workers into a car payment or carpooling arrangement.
• How much work shared mobility advocates have in front of them. Just recently a Wall Street Journal op-ed against a light-rail funding referendum argued that one reason light -rail trains will run near-empty in the future is because Millennials will eventually grow up and buy cars. What is more likely to happen, depending on where they live, is that Millennials will carshare and rideshare through Uber or other services or summon an autonomous vehicle. But this throwaway line from an op-ed writer who quotes major think-tank research with no discussion of shared mobility shows how much work remains to be done.
• Public transit, including bus and rail, is and will continue to be the backbone of regional shared mobility ecosystems. Emerging and innovative mobility—bike share, ride sharing, automated vehicles, etc.—will enhance public transit, not replace it. New mobility options offer critical first- and last-mile connectivity possibilities that can increase access to major transit lines and systems.
• There are tremendous opportunities for collaboration between the public and private sectors in planning and implementing new shared mobility systems and technologies. A few of the examples cited: developing service-area plans and pricing that are equitable and sustainable, implementing new land use and zoning regulations to best facilitate safe and efficient operation of pick-ups and drop-offs, and ensuring access to the full range of shared mobility options for people who do not have bank accounts and/or smart phones.
• From a policy standpoint, while the federal government is and will provide guidance, much of the work to establish policies and protocols relating to shared mobility technology and operations is in the hands of state legislatures and local governments. Policies do and will cross committees—transportation, commerce, and local government operations to name a few—ahead of enacting laws and ordinances.
• The speed of change in the shared mobility realm is moving quickly. Several speakers noted that there will be more innovation and change in the next four years than has taken place in the previous forty years.
Thanks to Bill and Katie for sharing their insights! For more on the National Shared Mobility Summit, check out sharedusemobilitycenter.org.