by Sheryl Gross-Glaser, National Center for Mobility Management
I was pleasantly surprised at the interest in equity that attendees expressed at the National Shared Mobility Summit, held in Chicago at the end of September. Concerns were voiced repeatedly about transportation equity for people with low incomes, people with disabilities, and others whose mobility choices are restricted. Mobility managers from around the country, as well as transit professionals, planners, and representatives of all levels of government, asked about universal design and how to solve the problem of a two-tiered transportation system that effectively discriminates against those with poor transportation access.
Many people came over to me personally after my participation as a speaker in a session entitled It’s Not All about Millennials: Shared Mobility and Diverse Riders to thank me for speaking about and to further discuss the importance of addressing people who are usually not part of the shared-use discussion, particularly people with disabilities, people who are frail, people with low incomes, older adults, and, frankly, anyone who lives outside of the universe of major American cities.
I used the term mobility management, as did just a few others, and I touted our National Center for Mobility Management, but – and this is a big but – this is not a well-known term of art. A representative of a transportation association publicly requested that the term mobility management and work in this field include the transportation network as a whole, and not just transportation-challenged populations. I responded, first introducing myself as staff from the NCMM, on two fronts. First, yes, mobility management is an equal opportunity philosophy that seeks to improve mobility options in all kinds of communities and for all populations; but, second, it is important to make sure that those with special needs are actively included.
In my talk, I acknowledged that transportation-challenged populations – all of the individuals included in that term – currently live in a different mobility universe than the rest of us, a world of separate and not equal.
I also emphasized that while we should appreciate and learn from the mobility management approach taken in San Francisco and in many European communities, we should likewise appreciate and learn from rural communities that coordinate and create mobility options in ways that outpace their urban counterparts. We must also appreciate that in rural areas the challenges of distance and low-density populations, as well as, in many areas, depopulation and falling income bases, are especially acute.
Challenges: Universal Design and Affordability
There are two big glitches that mar the rosy picture of expanded mobility options. First, most of these options are not universally designed. Whether it the technology that is unavailable because it is not designed for those with particular physical or cognitive impairments, or whether it is the vehicles themselves that do not accommodate equipment that people with disabilities depend upon, many – though not all – shared-use modes provide inequitable service, without alternatives for people with disabilities. Uber and Lyft are actually exceptions, though the data is not yet in on whether equal service is actually provided.
Perhaps experimentation and ease of entry into the mobility market is a good thing and we do not want to crush innovation with over-regulation, but I hope that we find a happy medium where innovation and equity can coexist.
Second, in the world of bikesharing and carsharing, while there are some bikeshare and carshare programs that look beyond the paying consumer who can support a self-sustaining network of bikes and stations, many do not. I think this is rapidly improving. There is interest in the shared-use world about making sure that people who live in poor communities are not left out, and that they have access to jobs, schools, culture, and events. Indeed there is recognition that this access is critical to those communities.
What’s Possible in Your Neck of the Woods
Lots of new and expanding transportation choices were represented at the conference. I was impressed with a few that I believe offer opportunities beyond the ultra-urban locations in which they operate. I spoke with representatives of these organizations and start ups; all seemed interested in expanding or encouraging similar efforts in other regions.
Here are some that are particularly relevant to mobility management professionals.
Shared Rides in Cars and Small Buses
Please note that these services all provide shared rides that cost substantially less than Uber or taxi service. Also to be considered are UberPool and Lyft Line, shared-ride services. Uber pricing depends on whether the ride is shared and the Uber price can vary considerably from the estimate given when requesting the ride. Lyft Line offers a set price based on the likelihood of additional passengers popping up to share the ride.
Bandwagon – An app providing for shared taxi rides, currently operating at transportation hubs, such as airports, train stations, and bus terminals in New York City. Yes, actual taxis are used. Bandwagon operates under an agreement that its riders can jump to the head of any taxi line. Riders split the fare. Bandwagon representatives are frequently present at departure points to educate consumers about this option.
Bridj – A small bus-based commuter service operating in Boston and Washington, DC, Bridj concentrates on routes not particularly well served by transit. Rides are arranged via an app. A set price is charged. Pick up and drop off points are based upon aggregated demand rather than door-to-door service. Bridj provides the vehicles and employs drivers.
Chariot – A small bus, app-based, service that crowdsources commuter rides in San Francisco. Full-time and part-time drivers are directly employed. Routes are based on rider demand and some are self-funded. Chariot also provides wheelchair-accessible service with one-day notice. Prices vary by route.
Split – An app that arranges for a multiple-rider, shared taxi-like service with a driver. Currently operating in Washington, DC. Aggregated rides are arranged in real time, with pick ups and drop offs that can be a block or two from one’s destination, though sometimes service is door to door. Price is pre-determined and based on distance.
Via – With a flat fee per single ride and a cheaper fare ($5 per ride) for pre-purchased bundles of rides, no matter the distance, Via is a commuter-based service with a business model for primarily serving riders insufficiently served by transit. Operating currently only in Manhattan below 110th Street (forget that trip to Brooklyn, Queens, or even Harlem).
While there are many programs like the ones featured in the NCMM information brief, The Versatility of Cycling, which teach bike maintenance and allow participants to earn bikes through volunteering, these two projects foster a community of cyclists to encourage riding and to rebuild communities.
Slow Roll Chicago – A non-profit that facilitates group bicycle rides and encourages biking as a transportation mode in Chicago’s low income and minority neighborhoods.
L.A. Bike Trains – A non-profit that both trains people to ride bikes in urban traffic and manages bike pools, called bike trains, of people who commute together. There are conductors who coordinate and lead the bike trains.
Low income initiatives featured at the Summit
Indego in Philadephia – Philly’s bikeshare has two-thirds of its bike stations in low income neighborhoods and allows for payments in cash. One can pay at 7-Eleven and at Family Dollar stores. The annual membership is only $10, plus $4 per ride. A three-month membership is $15, with unlimited one-hour (or less) free rides. More information in a fast coexist article.
Los Angeles carshare – The vehicles, mostly electric, will be offered as a three-year pilot program of 100 cars, to be located in low-income neighborhoods. Charging stations will also be installed. The pilot has not started yet and is dealing with issues related to low-income populations and payment technology, credit cards, and smartphones.
NCMM Shared-Use Resources
NCMM has written products that address share-use modes and supporting app technology, as well as other resources. We are working on a new carsharing brief as well. We also have included webpages on our site with a plethora of resources about ridesharing, bikesharing and carsharing, taxis and other private providers, and technology, including apps, as well as a page with general shared-use mobility resources.
As always, feel free to contact any member of the NCMM staff with your questions, concerns, and comments about shared-use modes in general and how they can complement other transportation modes and mobility services and infrastructure.