Speeding Toward a New Paradigm: Integration and Innovation in the Sharing Economy

PapendroeuHead.jpgGuest Blog by Timothy Papandreou
Director of Strategic Planning & Policy
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)

Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, I used to ride the trams and trains into downtown. I became obsessed with the city center and how networks move people in and around it. As a kid, I would draw cities with imaginary rail lines and freeways.

It wasn't until I got to Cal Poly Pomona on an exchange program that I saw what congested freeways and lack of transit options really looked and felt like. I realized there had to be a better way than everyone driving individually owned cars, with all that space dedicated to vehicles, cutting communities in half etc.--and that's when I first started thinking about the sharing economy.

My master's thesis at UCLA was on shared mobility, using the concepts that cars represented individuality and sustainability represented sharing. I bridged the two concepts with car-sharing, extrapolating that we have the potential to have a 10 percent mode share in shared mobility in 10 years--but today we are only at a fraction of that - 1 percent.

One of the key reasons for this was a lack of the booking technology and city networks to support an effective car-sharing option for real Americans in everyday life. People literally had to call in and reserve a car or ridematch and it was tough to grow the market with cities. But now, with WIFI, 4G, GPS, new street designs, etc., we've seen the rapid rise of car and bike sharing services, including hybrid profit-making companies such as Uber and Lyft. While early adopters are trying these out, we still need to attract the mainstream--people who grew up driving their own cars.

When I first started talking about sharing, I was the oddball in the room. But at the Live-Ride-Share conference panel I facilitated earlier this year, I heard people from government, the private sector, and advocates all saying the same things in different ways. The momentum is building.

From a policy perspective, we have to integrate land use and transportation. It's not just about transit, car or bike sharing--the whole thing has to work together as one system for the customer just like it does with a person's own car, the road network and parking. It's the sum of the land use, the street network and the mobility services that will attract people to switch from driving alone every time. In LA, every single transit hub--be it Metrolink, Metro train or bus station will need to have these services. People need to easily route/book and pay for the train, to the car or bike share, and vice-versa. Otherwise, people are just going to say, "I'll drive my own car and deal with the traffic."

Agencies that take that big picture customer view will do well. For example LA Metro views its bikeshare pilot as an additional layer to support and augment the growing public transportation network. That's the right kind of thinking needed by all transit agencies that have bike and car share in their service area.

LA is growing up fast and going through a process of intensifying its many centers. It didn't help that we destroyed our streetcars, but the bones of these dense clusters are still there. The good news is LA is growing, forming and figuring this out, block by block. Fortunately, the physical street changes (bike lanes, bus lanes, dedicated sharing spaces, plazas etc.) needed aren't expensive--we're talking about tens of millions, not billions of dollars. For a county the size of Los Angeles, that's doable. Plus much of it can be done with development partnerships. Cities like New York have shown us how this can happen quickly and cheaply. The mayor changed the game by sticking up for good policies and supporting new street design pilots, backed up with great data. Now Times Square is closed to cars and open to hundreds of thousands of people with great mobility options.

A recent survey said that nearly 60 percent of people in LA County would use bikeshare, if it were nearby, accessible and safe. That's over 6 million people in this global city. So this is an amazing opportunity. But it's not going to be politically easy. There will be "bike lash," and push back--but that's life. And we need before-and-after data--otherwise we have anecdotes. But truly bike-friendly cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen took 70 years to get where they are today. So we will need time, but things are changing faster in LA than anywhere I know.

LA is headed to be a global leader in vehicle sharing. The emerging rise of driverless vehicles can be a game changer on how people in the world's growing cities get around, from Bangkok, to Sao Paolo, to my native Melbourne. It will be exciting to see.

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