Can Shared Use Mobility be Accessible to Everyone?

Guest Post by Logan Sand, NRDC Intern

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As American cities shift away from complete car-dependence toward truly multimodal transportation systems, shared use mobility (SUM) options are becoming increasingly important, and an area of rapid innovation. SUM options provide critical First and Last Mile Connections (FLMC) and services that allow people to get from their front door to their final destination via transit without driving a personal vehicle. In North America alone, shared-use mobility transcends the submarkets of carsharing, bikesharing, ridesharing, on-demand services, shuttle services, and other emerging industries.

In Denver the marketplace for shared use mobility is evolving. These new and existing modes of transportation are being used and accessed in different ways. They are a key compliment to local and mass transit, and will ultimately help Denver build a more equitable and mobility-friendly metropolitan region. In the last of three case studies, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) focused on nationwide emerging and existing shared mobility models and systems that are striving to provide sustainable transit service to low-income communities and communities of color. The case study on new mobility highlights some of the best practices, tools, and technologies and where they have best worked in more disadvantaged communities.

Understanding the place of SUM in any context means first analyzing localized barriers and challenges. For shared use mobility operations to be successful in low-income communities they must overcome barriers in four key issue areas: structure, finance, information and culture, and profitability. Structural issues present physical and logistical access barriers. Financial barriers are reflected in the costs to the user, and “unbanked” populations. Informational and cultural barriers include the lack of mobility information access as well as the cultural stigma behind the populations using—or not using—shared mobility options. Lastly, the profitability barrier on the operational side of shared mobility systems limits the kinds of ridership included. Local governments are constantly challenged to provide and maintain a steady source of funding to help supplement bikeshares and carshares in low-income communities. 

There is a great potential for shared use mobility services to connect our first and last mile trips, but we need to make sure these services are extended equitably to all communities.

Bikesharing is arguably the founding component to the shared use mobility world. Now, most if not all big cities across the world have some form of a bikeshare system. Both Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare and Philadelphia’s Indego are publicly owned privately operated bikeshare systems in the U.S. that offer a few solutions to income and language barriers. Capital Bikeshare partners with a financial institution (Bank on D.C.) to help promote services with “unbanked” community members. Indego in Philadelphia offers multi-language kiosks that accept credit or debit payments, and several kiosks accepting cash. However, the most powerful and impacting equitable bikesharing and bike library systems are smaller-scale operations, found at grassroots and local levels. The Bicycle Collective in the Salt Lake region, and Cycles for Change (C4C) and the Community Partners Bike Library (CPBL) Program and Nice Ride Neighborhood Program in the twin cities are successful ground level equitable SUM examples. These types of bike-oriented operations generally rely on grant funding and donations. These local systems also offer low-income community bike programs in multiple languages, such as: earn- or build-a-bike and trips for kids, or a community bike shop. 

Carsharing is another SUM that provides on-site, on-demand access to a motorized vehicle. Carshare systems are also designed for round-trip and one-way use depending on the service provider and location. Carshares help increase access to jobs, are more time-efficient than other transit modes, and are more cost-effective than ownership. Still, carshares struggle to become an accepted and sustainable transit mode for low-income communities. Carshares in low-income communities generally require public funding and subsidies to meet a service provider’s bottom line. However, there are not many long-term funding mechanisms available. Buffalo CarShare (BCS) in New York recently went under due to a complicated New York “no-fault” law. Prior to going under, the small community-scale BCS operated out of a storefront and promoted at neighborhood meetings and church functions. Half of the 900 BCS members earned less than $25,000, with one in four members earning less than $15,000 a year. City CarShare in San Francisco has the greenest fleet in the country, with locations around major transit lines. The CommunityShare program subsidizes membership service fees and driving costs for low-to-moderate income residents. The program has been successful in generating interest and ridership numbers in low-income communities, however it relies on grant funding to do so.

The “shared economy” is currently being led by rapidly evolving on-demand ridesharing, ridesourcing, and technology-enabled services. Transportation Network Companies (TNC)—like Lyft, Uber, and SideCar—allow users to connect to drivers via smartphone, and request a ride for a fee. The ridesourcing platforms Uber and Lyft are leading the industry’s innovative solutions for bridging the gap of first and last mile connections to local transit. Unlike other platforms, Uber and Lyft make an effort to provide service within the critical first and last mile connection gap. For example, recently the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) partnered with Uber to explicitly bridge first and last mile gaps to local and mass transit. DART and Uber partnered to create an integrated mobile ticketing application that allows users to shop for transit needs and subsequent Uber connections in the same place. UberPool and LyftLine are new “ride-splitting” programs were service drivers pick up multiple riders heading in the same direction. However, there is a dark side to some of the on-demand services like Uber and Lyft. Some argue these services compete with public transit, rather than compliment them. Also, current litigation with Uber in California highlights challenges around how these on-demand business platforms do not provide basic benefits (i.e. healthcare) to employees. Lastly, there is no consensus that these services reduce overall green house emissions. 

In a world where ordering an Uber is one click away, and a carshare and bikeshare wait at a bus or lightrail station stop, new mobilities are becoming more accessible and defined within our transportation landscape. There is a great potential for shared use mobility services to connect our first and last mile trips, but we need to make sure these services are extended equitably to all communities. It will take leadership, innovation, and strategy to stoke and stimulate the momentum behind this profound paradigm shift in mobility. The NRDC has initiated a series of national Live.Ride.Share conventions to fuel the conversation around improving transportation systems as we shift to a new integrated mobility nation. On May 18th, 2016 an interactive Live.Ride.Share will be held in Denver. We’ll be bringing together local, regional, and national leaders across all sectors to discuss Denver’s fabric and potential for new mobilities. Critical discussion topics will include: market and economic realities, equity and accessibility, land use and urban design, health and environmental impacts, new technologies, cultural shifts, and jurisdictional steps forward. We’ll see you there.

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  • commented 2017-09-01 06:13:54 -0600
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