We’ve focused a lot on what the future of mobility will look like, and that’s because it’s changing so quickly. As a result, we’ve wanted to highlight the opportunities and perspectives that mobility managers can utilize to influence the mobility efforts of their communities.
With autonomous vehicles looming on the horizon, dialogue is growing in many communities about where they should invest their funding and efforts around mobility. Mobility managers can look abroad to gain an understanding of the impact that their decisions will have on how people get around. For example, people in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands, choose to bike because it’s the easiest, most convenient, and most appealing choice for people in those cities. That’s because planners built the environment to make biking the best choice. The built environment has a major effect on mobility, and the decisions communities make now will affect individuals’ ability to reach amenities decades down the road.
Earlier infrastructure and transportation decisions are partially why there is now so much dependence on cars and highways to travel between cities. Since this infrastructure already exists, it at least makes sense to take advantage of changing technology to use the space more efficiently. Bellevue and Kirkland, Washington, are now developing plans to establish autonomous vanpool programs to connect moderate- and low-income workers to job centers in Seattle as those employees get pushed farther out from those areas.
It goes to show that the technology is not necessarily the evil, but the decisions leaders make about what to do with tools like cars or AVs is where problems arise. With that in mind, there’s plenty of hope that AVs can accomplish societal goals, but only through smart public policy. Otherwise, communities will find themselves in the same mobility deserts that Interstates and car-centric planning have created.
Part of making the right decisions involves knowing what you’re managing. Ridesourcing companies such as Lyft and Uber have made it difficult for cities to make planning decisions that incorporate transportation network companies (TNCs) because of their refusal to share data. Left to rely on the companies’ own claims without verifiable trip data, communities are left with a large bling spot in planning their mobility networks.
That said, Lyft and Uber have begun a battle to control more of the mobility market at large, with acquisitions of bikeshare companies and investments into other services to direct people to their platforms. The latest development in this trend is that Lyft plans to offer discounts “up to 100 percent” to customers that take bikeshare or scootershare to transit hubs. With enough data sharing, this could be a valuable trove of data for communities to understand travel behaviors.
AVs are a lens through which we can look at these policy and planning decisions. But one does not need to wait for, or even expect, them to come anytime soon. Instead mobility managers should learn from the conversations that AVs are starting and apply them anywhere they can in the mobility world, choosing transportation projects that match our priorities.