As I sit here deep in thought while in suburbia during the Easter long weekend, I contemplate the opportunities and challenges brought about by the future of shared mobility.
New mobility in the form of transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft and autosharing) and micromobility (Dropbike, Lime) are disrupting the transportation world to address the first and last mile problem.
While ridership in major North American cities and suburbs is on the decline, with the exception of Brampton Transit, new mobility options operated by startups are increasing. Travel delays, headways being too long – especially in suburbia, inefficient route design and technological advances are some of the reasons why passengers are flocking to these modes.
Suburban neighbourhood design is another reason why transit is losing steam. One argument missed in this discussion is perceived accessibility, a rarely studied topic in the transportation profession. Perceived accessibility focuses on the perceived possibilities and ease of engaging in preferred activities using different modes. This barrier to transit affects race, gender, and ability. Subjective experiences maybe just as important as objective experiences. For example, when planning transit stops are done by “flying over the crow’s nest” instead of “actual” walking distance based on street design, safety becomes an issue. Relying on neighbourhood watches with “eyes on the street” then becomes a lazy response. Perceived and objective accessibility, as well as availability, falls into the definition of transportation poverty, as defined in the graphic below.
In many Canadian cities, outside of Lyft and Uber, carsharing options are limited and micromobility is non-existent outside of the densely populated areas. In solving the first mile/last mile conundrum, the only resorts are continuing to own multiple private vehicles or resorting to infrequent, sometimes poorly designed transit routes.
Shared mobility, which is the integration of new mobility and transit, has the opportunity to close the gap. The digital divide has already disrupted transportation but presents another layer of challenges. Equity challenges still remain, as indicated by this image from Susan’s Shaheen’s paper “Transportation Equity in Shared Mobility”.
Shaheen addresses 5 strategies to enhance transportation equity.
- Provide access to people without smartphones or access to credit or debit cards.
- Develop innovative programs to enhance mobility for special populations and demographics.
- Implement policies and mobility services that target, overcome and mitigate equity concerns.
- Encourage inclusive mobility services that improve jobs access, health services and education for all populations.
- Ensuring equivalent service levels regardless of ability.
If ever the Sidewalk Labs project gets off the ground while addressing the privacy concerns, it will be a testbed for becoming a smart neighbourhood and one for shared mobility opportunities. Also as Mobility as a Service (MaaS) apps are developed and become available in North America, transportation coordination will be inevitable.
American and Canadian cultural differences aside, while for example, the Afro-Canadian population for the City of Toronto is 9% and are concentrated in the outer suburbs in priority neighbourhoods and more so in the 905 suburbs. Transportation equity concerns based on all populations must still be addressed by cities as shared mobility options will grow.
When cities start to think holistically about the urban landscape and the various ways to move through it, they can spark partnerships and collaboration, which can lead to increased comfort and convenience for residents. Skip Descant, Governing Magazine, April 12, 2019.
Shared mobility is based on collaboration. Municipal leaders must stop protecting their fiefdoms and working within silos, which is common in transit. Only then will transportation equity concerns be addressed properly.