Different technological advances have created an opportunity to think creatively about transportation options to serve communities. These ideas offer a new perspective on sometimes repetitive concepts. As a result, they may seem whimsical at first, but in reality show the growing menu of opportunities that communities can work with to serve their needs.
For example, cities across the country have been exploring how gondolas would add to their transportation mix. In areas divided by rivers or surrounded by hills, advocates have suggested that gondolas represent an accessible and quick alternative to bridges or roads to move people across challenging terrain. This goes to show the potential value of viewing mobility beyond vehicles on the road, but as people movers in many forms.
As microtransit matures into widespread use, the idea is taking on a growing number of forms. Columbus, Ohio, has approved “low-speed ride services”, meaning golf carts, to operate around the city. There are already two companies, Hopper Cart and Free Ride LLP, rolling out their services. This is reminiscent of Sprynt in Arlington, Virginia, also using golf carts, which intends to fill the gap where “it’s too far to walk but too close to drive.”
Organizations beyond transportation agencies have taken up new mobility opportunities for the populations they serve. Athens County [Ohio] Public Libraries now have their own bikeshare program, titled Book-a-Bike. Addressing transportation this way shows how vital mobility is for public services, since great programs don’t matter if people can’t reach them, and it behooves organizations to take on this issue however they can.
A common argument for vehicle ownership focuses on the fact that people often have to transport things with them. This is especially a challenge for older adults and people with disabilities who struggle to carry important items like groceries with them down the block or onto the bus. The growing industry of cargo robots acknowledges these challenges, and companies hope to position themselves as a mobility solution, allowing people move their stuff around without needing a car to do so.
Looking abroad, we are able to learn important lessons from the way other countries’ informal transportation networks develop, particularly how drivers determine their routes to maximize ridership. Now transportation planners have more digital tools to dig into these tangled services. Where’s My Transport mapped Cape Town, South Africa’s minibus taxis, and similar programmers did so for Beirut, Lebanon’s bus routes.
Autonomous vehicles quickly became a hot topic in the transportation world in 2017, with a wide range of thoughts on how or when they will affect mobility on a wider scale. One thought experiment that takes a different angle than the usual utopia vs. nightmare scenario to ask: would you put your kids on an autonomous school bus? Though this particular piece of the transportation network is likely far from adopting AV technology, companies are already thinking about how they could use the technology for school systems.
Finally, in light of the holiday season, here’s a heartwarming piece that suggests traveling on Amtrak is a healing experience that bridges cultural divides. Considering the trains serve as a lifeline for many rural communities, this piece illuminates the humanity inherent in mobility efforts, which can go a long way in developing support for these vital systems.
Image Credit: South Lake Tahoe Mass Transit, Flickr, CC