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Recap of Shared Use Mobility Summit 2016

Almost 500 people representing over 100 cities met in Chicago last week to discuss the future of shared transit at the Shared Use Mobility Summit (SUMC). The conference shed light on many changes occurring on our streets including implications of autonomous vehicles, rapid growth in ride and bike sharing, and changing consumer preferences for automobiles, .

Executive Director of SUMC, Sharon Feigon started the conference by pointing out that transportation is the #2 household expense in America, averaging 29% of household income. Much of this is driven by the cost of car ownership. She reiterated the mission of the Shared Mobility Use Center: making it possible to live well without owning a car through a multi-modal transit system available for all. ​Those shared modes include car sharing, bike sharing, and ride sharing.

The Changing Role of the Automobile

​The automobile, or more precisely its role in our future was a current through-out many of the conference presentations. American attitudes about cars and car ownership are changing rapidly.

One of more intriguing elements of the conference was the panel discussion of automakers in the mobility space. As the demand for shared mobility grows, automakers are evaluating their role in this future. Representatives from traditional car manufacturers including: ReachNow (BMW), Maven (GM), car2go (Daimler), Ford Smart Mobility, and Renaut-Nissan Alliance Future Lab, all spoke to initiatives they have underway.

From buying car-sharing companies to operating ride-sharing initiatives, each company pointed out the need to shift from car producers to mobility providers. Much of this reflects the changing usage patter of consumers regarding the usage of mobility services. As the speaker from GM noted, none of his company's shared mobility initiatives existed last September. The involvement of auto manufacturers is moving very quickly. ​

The DASH electric vehicle was on display at the Shared Use Mobility Conferene in Chicago. Manufactured by Enova EV the Dash provides autonomous first mile last mile shared mobility that fills the gap between walking, biking and public transportation in urban and campus environments

Another trend that influenced the discussion was the arrival of autonomous vehicles. Robin Chase, founder of ZipCar delivered the keynote address and outlined a vision for transportation that prioritizes people and not cars. Robin spoke about her views on the future impact of Autonomous Vehicles, noting they are a reality. She advocated for autonomous vehicles that are shared and electric as opposed to single-occupant. Her vision was encapsulated in the following video.

Robin's comments stuck a chord with me. As with many disruptive technologies, to focus only on the technology is perhaps to miss the bigger picture. How the autonomous cars will interact with pedestrians, bikes and other vehicles is important to understanding the type of streets we want in the future.


Smart Cities to Smart Regions

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued a $40 million Smart City Challenge. Columbus, OH was eventually selected as the winner. At the conference, representatives from the finalist cities including Kansas City, Austin, Portland and Pittsburgh shared their visions for smart, sustainable, and connected transportation systems.

Alex Pazuchanics, Policy Advisor, Office of the Mayor, City of Pittsburgh spoke to how the city evaluates transportation options. He referenced a sustainable return on investment metric that looks at the equity of transportation investments for under-served neighborhoods. Additionally, the metric includes workforce development initiatives to understand the impact of new technologies on the displacement of existing jobs. Alex cited the city's investment ethos in the quote, "If [the investment] is not for all, it is not for us." He also pointed out that autonomous vehicles are already being tested on the streets of Pittsburgh and need to consider the implications is very real.

Dan Dawson, VP of Marketing and Communications for Capitol Metro Austin outlined how the their transit mobile app which integrates all modes of transportation. As a result a commuter can plan their route and pay from a single app, whether they use the train, bus or bike share. This theme was also echoed by Leanne Redden, Executive Director at Regional Transit Authority in Chicagoland. She shared how the Divvy bike sharing system will be integrated into the Ventra app, so commuters can pay for their commute across train, bus or bike share from a single mobile app. ​

On another panel discussion, representatives from Atlanta, Seattle, and Philadelphia spoke about the impact of demographic trends and shared mobility on existing public transportation infrastructure. Panel moderator, Gabe Klein, Co-Founder of CityFi and Former Commissioner for Chicago and Washington D.C. Depts. of Transportation shared an interesting story. He spoke about urban developers that are designing parking garages with 18 foot ceilings which are substantially higher than the traditional parking garage. The thinking behind this approach was that if the numbers of cars in urban environments declines, they have a building that can easily be converted to trendy office space. Think about that for a moment: urban designers are willing to spend more money to design a building that anticipates a society with fewer autos, It is a clear signal that urban environments may indeed have fewer cars.

New York City is a good example of this direction. Ryan Russo, Deputy Commission of New York City Department of Transportation pointed out that over the last 25 years, New York has added 1.2 million residents and only 27,000 additional cars. Further, the city is currently focused on car-shedding in selected neighborhoods by installing car sharing. They have learned for every car share vehicle added, 5 to 20 private cars are removed.

Equity in Bike Sharing

Darnell Grisby from the American Public Transportation Association. commented, "Americans want choice in their mobility." However, a major theme at the conference was that not everyone has equal access to shared mobility.

The issue has drawn the attention of many organizations including the Better Bike Share Partnership which is a collaboration funded by The JPB Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. The partners include The City of Philadelphia, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the PeopleForBikes Foundation.

What is meant by bike share equity? Zoe Kircos, Director of Grants and Partnerships for PeopleforBike put forth the following definition: to have the bike share ridership reflect the demographics of that local community. Although she pointed out that different communities define bike share equity differently.

​The City of Philadelphia is leading an initiative to support bike sharing equity. Using Indego bike share they are reaching out to parts of the city not typically associated with bicycle riders. They have introduced low-cost, cash options for the unbanked (individuals without access to a credit or debit card) to access a shared bike. Additionally, they have placed the bike sharing stations in locations important to low-income individuals to facilitate activities such as bill payment and access to jobs. Carniesha Kwashie, Better Bike Share Partnership Grant Manager with The Mayor's Fund for Philadephia noted they are seeing an impact this year with 40% of those who signed up for passes reporting incomes of less than $35,000/year. Additionally, 20% of those who sign up identified as African American/Black.

Sean Wiedel, Assistant Commissioner for Chicago Department of Transportation outlined the Divvy for Everyone program now in its second year. It includes a one time $5 subsidized membership. no credit or debit card required. Additionally, any services fees incurred can be paid in cash at participating 7-Eleven and Family Dollar stores. Intended for low-income individuals. 1,700 members have signed up since the launch of the program. Divvy has also recently expanded it's service area with 85 new stations in the underserved west and south sides of the city.

Lastly, Caron Whitaker, VP of Government Relations for the League of American Bicyclists commented on the changes she has witnessed as a result of the growth in bike sharing. The act of using bike sharing has become a gateway for people to adopt biking in other aspects of their lives. In the policy realm, she has seen a shift of the perceptions of people using bikes; away from the niche view of lycra-clad individuals or bike messengers to a broader view of people using bicycles. ​It will be interesting to see how that change is reflected in government policies.


In conclusion, a transportation evolution is occurring on our streets. As behaviors and options shift in our mobility choices, we need to be proactive about how our transportation infrastructure supports everyone. And measure how well it helps us to get to our destination whether we are using car, bike, public transit or a combination of all three.

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