Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
– Bob Dylan
However oft-quoted, Bob Dylan’s lyrical forewarning never fails to strike me as both timeless and apropos to almost everything these days, especially in the context of mobility where his words are also quite literal.
All around us, the ecosystem of urban transportation is evolving at a rapid pace. Keeping up with these changing times has proven to be no easy feat, particularly for the entities who feel the highs and lows of change the most: cities.
Shifts in consumer preferences are usually the main drivers. For instance, after WWII, throngs of families uprooted from urban areas such as Manhattan and Chicago, chasing the newly founded American Dream to suburban outposts such as White Plains and Clarendon Hills. This would prove to have a large and long-lasting impact on the form and function of cities, particularly when it came to transit.
Back then, commuting was preferred. Today, not so much.
SHARING THE FUTURE
In many ways, history is coming back full circle. We’re seeing a rapid repopularizing of small and large cities alike, with a lot of the change catalyzed by the new generational preferences of young professionals. The retail industry is one great example… At least what’s left of it. E-commerce has dramatically shifted both consumer trends and urban development, so that today it’s not uncommon for housing developments to replace retail buildings in high-demand urban areas.
Transportation is changing, too. The same generational preferences that drive young professionals to city living are likewise reflected in their preferences to forego long commutes and personal automobiles in exchange for walkability and diverse mobility options—options geared less around ownership and more around convenience.
“Over the past decade,” explains the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in a recent study, “consumers’ views about cars and car ownership have been changing as younger generations see car ownership less as a tool of freedom and more as part of a diverse menu of mobility choices.”
Observing from the curb of any large American city, that diverse menu seems more like an all-you-can-ride buffet. Or a potluck.
Tech companies have brought a smorgasbord of mobility options to the table, allowing consumers to pick from app-based peer-to-peer vehicle rentals, ridesharing, e-bikes, dockless scooters, and more. What’s truly unique about these offerings is that they’ve ushered in a sharing economy that most consumers are 100% on board with.
And why not? An array of options affords an array of benefits, such as the down-driving of costs by supply. But, oddly enough, consumers may actually come to benefit most from public transportation as shared mobility permeates the transportation ecosystem.
Even taking into account the array of choices, most consumers (77% as a matter of fact) actually view public transit as the bread and butter of shared mobility. This doesn’t mean it’s consumers’ preferred choice, but it does mean that “public transportation agencies and transportation authorities have a powerful role to play in negotiating future mobility. They are uniquely positioned as “mobility managers” to help organize transportation options throughout an area.” (APTA)
Managing the constantly shifting landscape of mobility will expand the role of public transportation from traditional transit options to a wide array of integrable services. It’s neither unrealistic nor unfeasible to consider a metro’s public transportation department spearheading initiatives that streamline last-mile mobility or consulting on smart technologies aimed at resolving traffic congestion.
Such a future doesn’t involve competition between public transit and private services, but a collaboration. And that’s where the benefits to consumers and cities really shine.
If new technologies, data capabilities and business platforms are the leading disruptors in transportation today, as indicated by APTA’s findings, then they’re also what will lead to transit authorities’ success as mobility managers.
Technological advancements in automation and electric fuel sources will lead to reduced labor and operational costs, which reduce rider costs. By integrating the data resources used to streamline trip logistics, consumers will be able to hop from one mobility option to another to another and know exactly when they’re due to arrive at their destination. And today, by somewhat forced collaborative business efforts, tech and transportation industries are—finally—beginning to take steps towards safer and more automated public shuttles and busses that run exclusively on clean energy and low costs.
Putting urban transportation experts in charge of urban transportation seems like a no-brainer. But it’s something we in the industry need to actively pursue if we’re going to turn the opportunities of today into the realities of Tomorrowland. That may mean stepping up as experts in our respective fields to fill new demands for consultation; or helping to redesign existing infrastructure; or finding a relevant way to lend your hand in these a-changin’ times.
– New generational preferences are shifting the paradigm of car ownership. Fewer people see owning a vehicle as a source of freedom, but instead value choice and convenience when it comes to urban mobility.
– Advancements in transit technologies have introduced a plethora of options, and challenges. Promoting public transportation and transit agencies from service providers to mobility managers will prove to be a key strategy in effectively handling the rapid pace of change.
– Open collaboration between the public and private entities involved will benefit both consumers and cities in the near and long term.
– 55 years later, Bob Dylan is still right.