How Cities Can Harness the Benefits of Shared Mobility

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When it comes to new forms of shared-use mobility – including bikesharing, carsharing and ridehailing – no one stands to benefit more than our nation’s cities.

Shared-use mobility works differently in every city. One of the truly innovative aspects of cities is their ability to experiment and develop unique, locally-driven solutions to new challenges. (image: National League of Cities)

This is a guest post by Sharon Feigon.

Communities both large and small have begun to use shared mobility combined with transit as an effective tool to cut auto congestion and emissions, provide first and last-mile connections, and expand access to jobs and a better quality of life for their residents.

As these new services proliferate, however, city governments have also found themselves playing catch-up as they try to manage their growth and balance varied goals such as preserving safety, ensuring equitable service and allocating parking and use of curb space.

To address these issues, the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) recently convened a unique cross-section of public sector transportation leaders, private sector innovators and community representatives in Chicago for the 2015 national shared mobility summit Move Together.

The summit’s 500 attendees – including mayors, transit agency officials and department of transportation executives from across the nation – discussed the latest developments in shared mobility and explored new solutions related to integration of all modes and how these services can successfully work for diverse neighborhoods, in smaller cities, and with all different age groups.

In particular, the discussion centered on several strategies that cities can pursue to overcome challenges and better realize the benefits of shared mobility. Those include:

Elected officials and civic leaders celebrate the launch of an electric carsharing pilot serving low-income communities in Los Angeles earlier this year. (Photo: NK Artography)
Elected officials and civic leaders celebrate the launch of an electric carsharing pilot serving low-income communities in Los Angeles earlier this year. (Photo: NK Artography)

Set Mode Split Goals

To focus attention on the big shifts in mobility needed, SUMC kicked off the Move Together summit by advancing an ambitious goal – take 1 million cars off the road in the U.S. within the next five years by expanding shared mobility and public transit in 15 metropolitan regions.

We estimate that we could reach this goal if:

  • 8 percent of the adult population in the 15 cities evaluated joins carsharing
  • 4 percent joins bikesharing
  • 4 percent takes one trip per week using ridesharing or ridesourcing instead of driving alone
  • Transit ridership increases by 3 percent

In all, the effort would reduce annual vehicle miles traveled by 2.9 billion – the equivalent of 10 round trips to Mars. It would also result in 134 fewer gallons of gas consumed, $8.6 billion in household transportation savings and more than 1.6 million metric tons of CO2 averted, equivalent to planting 40 million trees.

Setting mode split goals can help cities focus attention on the need to cut congestion and reduce overreliance on private auto. And, they can be incredibly effective.

For instance the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) set ambitious goals a few years ago and organized its workflow to support them. Earlier this year, the agency announced it had surpassed its goal to reduce private car trips to 50 percent of all city trips by 2018. The SFMTA credited the shift to tactics such as encouraging compact development and using smart land-use and parking policies to chance travel behavior – actions that any city can take.

Take a Proactive Approach to Setting Policy

Cities are often forced to react to new developments in shared mobility, whether it is grappling with issues related to the sudden launch of ridehailing providers like Uber and Lyft or responding to demands for bikesharing or increased transportation options.

It’s not easy to balance the need to protect the public without stifling innovation. But the best path forward for cities is to decide – before they’re forced to – what mobility services they want to attract, how they want to manage them, and what they need to do to establish an effective policy framework.

SUMC’s new shared mobility database – which summarizes more than 500 of the most important shared-use mobility policies, studies and strategic plans in the United States – highlights best practices of several cities in addressing issues related to shared mobility.

For instance, cities such as Portland, Seattle and New York City have included reporting requirements in their agreements with ridesourcing providers to ensure they have access to important performance and user trip data, which they can use for planning and to address equity-related concerns.

Cities such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have developed successful strategies for managing on-street parking for carsharing vehicles. The SFMTA launched a pilot offering a total of 900 street spots to carshare providers and used outreach to residents and businesses to help reduce conflicts over this use of parking space.

Washington, D.C. – which has also made parking available for one-way carsharing – has mandated that carsharing operators place at least as many cars in private parking locations as public spots, and that they locate at least one car in each D.C. ward to ensure equitable distribution of vehicles.

Experiment with Pilot Projects

Sometimes it is hard to tell what will work in your city until you try it out. Pilots allow cities to experiment with solutions and make necessary adjustments before moving to a full-scale investment or entering into long-term agreements with mobility providers.

Many successful shared mobility systems – such as Capital Bikeshare and Zipcar’s ONE>WAY carsharing service – started out as pilot projects before expanding. Cities such as Portland have also used pilot projects as a way to more closely manage the operation of ridesourcing providers like Uber and Lyft.

Recently, the City of Los Angeles announced that it will work with SUMC and the California Air Resources Board to launch an electric carsharing pilot project focused on serving low-income residents in L.A. The goal of the three-year pilot, which will be funded with $1.6 million in state cap-and-trade revenues, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve mobility by introducing electric carsharing fleets into disadvantaged communities. SUMC is also managing a peer-to-peer carsharing pilot in Chicago in several low-income areas and in a suburban community as well.

Additionally, we are working to develop a full-service shared mobility toolkit including an interactive map and gap analysis tool that cities can use to identify pilot opportunities by better understanding where greater service is needed and what shared modes the market can support using a high-quality data set.

While issues related to shared mobility can present challenges for cities today, the benefits far outweigh any perceived negatives. By actively engaging and experimenting, cities both large and small can harness the power of shared mobility to increase transportation choice and help improve the environment and the quality of life in their regions.

About the Author: Sharon Feigon is the executive director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center, a national public interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility and extend its benefits for all. Prior to SUMC, Feigon served as CEO of IGO Carsharing, the nonprofit that started carsharing in the Chicago area.