A private invasion?
Private mobility options are inundating cities and regions, spawning a day of reckoning for public transit, leaving public policy makers struggling to keep up with the pace of change. Waze is sending drivers down tiny streets and alleys, flocks of Birds are cluttering the sidewalks, and autonomous vehicles are lurking around every turn. Prophets issue their proclamations: “Ride-hail will kill transit!” “Microtransit will kill transit!” “Mobility-as-a-service will kill transit”. Public transit ridership is declining.
What does this all mean for transportation agencies, public transit providers, cities, and the traveling public? Public agencies must manage the use of roads and sidewalks and ensure public safety, but where and how are the public regulations best developed and inserted? Should innovation be encouraged, quashed, or managed? Many regions in California are making big investments in public transit to create a viable alternative to driving; are these burgeoning new services a threat or opportunity these investments? How can the public agencies maintain their core services and functions while still allowing innovation to thrive?
Towards a Clearer Picture
To understand the potential effects of mobility disruption going forward, it is imperative to first take a step back and consider the big picture. Clearly understanding trends in personal and commercial mobility, and the extent to which these trends are affected by innovation is essential to effective policy making.
What do we know about mobility circa 2018? What are primary drivers of travel behavior today, and how might new technologies, prices, and service options affect travel in the years ahead? What do we know about public mobility, especially as car access has recently increased and transit ridership dropped in Southern California, and perhaps the U.S. as a whole?
Differentiating Change and Hype
An effective public sector response requires distinguishing structural changes in mobility from cyclical hype that drives investment and marketing. At Arrowhead 2018, we will examine present and reasonably-foreseeable applications of technology, market conditions, and mobility service models — in both the public and private sectors. Some technological changes come from new breakthroughs, such as advancements in LiDAR sensors and computing algorithms that enable new breakthroughs in automated driving. Others come from combination of existing mature technologies such as an automobile (c 1885), bicycle (c. 1817), kick-scooter (c. 1930), lithium ion battery (1991), and GPS-enabled smartphone (c. 2007), matched with new business models. Some changes introduce new options into unfulfilled gaps in mobility services. These grow and thrive and may be eventually displaced by newer options that even better fit users. Others segue into irrelevance.
Dealing with Disruption
How does the public sector pursue effective operations and planning amidst a mobility transformation? How is this interest changing as the lines between public and private mobility blur? Private firms offer drivers information on and navigation through public road systems; Apps provide information on public transit services; private transportation providers provide services that compete with both traditional taxis and public transit. What is the public interest in public mobility, and how should the public sector plan for and respond to these many myriad other mobility innovations?
Public interests within mobility include equity, environment, resilience, and quality-of-life issues like congestion and safety. Public interest beyond mobility include labor implications of a gig-based economy and job automation. If ongoing disruption is expected, and it is, what are effective approaches to advancing the public interest in public mobility given available resources?
- For a public transit operator, this can be a transition to a user-centric product design technique which precipitates a mobility management approach. Change takes the form of strategic planning, identifying new market segments, comprehensive operational analyses, and a rekindling of interest in what transit does best: “macrotransit.”
- For a city, this may involve an asset management approach to understand and leverage unique public sector value – particularly the authority to control rights-of-way. This leads to data-driven approaches to smart management and regulation, including pricing.
- A transportation planning agency might accentuate scenario planning and robust decision-making, as well as the imperative to design adaptive infrastructure and systems.
- A state agency may sense renewed criticality for getting transportation prices right and the need for regulation to nudge or compel public interest outcomes.