Change can be costly and uncertain for any organization, but it’s an absolute imperative to stay relevant and profitable in today’s dynamic and easily disrupted economy. Change is a familiar tune for any competitive business, and the song remains the same for our cities’ public transit systems.
New technology and the rise of non-traditional mobility options, such as Uber, Lyft, and transportation network companies (TNCs) are forcing transit agencies to evolve their M.O. or otherwise face the consequences of steady ridership decline or more frustrating, ever increasing urban congestion on our roadways.
It’s unsettling to imagine the unravelling effects that would have on most American metropolises.
But instead of scrambling to develop competitive counter strategies, many of our country’s transit agencies are going with the, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach. Also known as collaboration.
Transit agencies are slowly assuming more wholistic roles as mobility managers, an evolution that stands to benefit our cities tremendously.
WHAT’S ENTAILED WITH MOBILITY MANAGEMENT?
Let’s keep in mind that mobility management is certainly already a thing, but because services are so disparate and ununified, it feels more like mobility mis-management.
There’s greater call now for transit agencies to work symbiotically with tech and mobility entities to streamline a multi-modal transit system that people can rely on for first- and last-mile transportation, and every mile in between.
“Many transit agencies are embracing the concept of ‘mobility management’, which is a strategic approach to designing and delivering transportation services that starts and ends with the customer,” explains the American Public Transit Association (APTA). “It begins with a community vision in which the entire transportation network—public transit, private operators, cycling and walking, volunteer drivers, and others—works together with customers, planners, and stakeholders to deliver the transportation options that best meet the community’s needs.
The two central tenets of transit-led mobility management are the prioritization of the customer journey and the inalienable collaboration between all mobility participants, public and private alike.
How this collaboration plays out, however, depends on the unique demands of each city, including customer habits, local infrastructure, land mass, sprawl, development laws, and a nearly endless list of possible factors—chiefly around Mayoral leadership.
While the execution of mobility collaboration may look different city to city, there’s some important universal commonality.
For instance, while TNCs have negatively impacted public-transit ridership and added to urban congestion, most people are extremely supportive of public transportation, in addition to freeway and roadway improvements. And where there’s a want, there’s a way.
THE GENERATION DRIVING CHANGE
Mobility-agnostic millennials who prefer transportation that’s convenient, even if it’s not private, are a major driving force in the development and adoption of better mobility management practices.
A missing component in unified multi-modal transit is the integration of different forms of data and technology. The data, the technology, the platforms… they are all well-developed and popularized today, but they force users to choose one transportation mode over another, instead of encouraging the use of two or more—even if that would make trips safer, faster, and easier.
This often dissuades riders and encourages mobility that adds to congestion and pollution.
The APTA underscores the importance of transit agencies positioning themselves as mobility managers with a “single platform for routing, booking and paying for a trip across not only the transit network, but also private-sector services, such as ride-hailing or car-share operations.” (GovTech.com)
This is admittedly easier said than done, but cities around the country have just such plans in the works.
FIRST STEPS HAVE ALREADY BEEN TAKEN
In Los Angeles, TAP Card holders may soon be able to use their account to pay for private transportation with third-party mobility providers partnering with L.A. Metro. The transit agencies in Portland, Columbus, and Chicago, are likewise beta-testing integrated programs that will mutually benefit private and public mobility organizations alike.
Denver, Colorado is perhaps the quickest out of the gate. Riders there can plan bus or rail trips through the Uber app. Naturally, this has raised skepticism from experts who caution against handing the mobility management reins over to the private sector.
I don’t wholly disagree with such precaution, particularly in light of recent scrutiny Uber has received for its brand ethics and contribution to congestion.
Nonetheless, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Public-private integration of software applications that consolidate fares, rider miles, arrival and departure times, and first-mile/last-mile options could elevate the customer journey in ways we’re simply not seeing today, no matter where you look. Take ACE’s strategic partnership with Cubic Corporation. This is the type of private sector collaboration that drives positive results for consumers.
If we think of transportation networks as the vasculature of our cities—with people on their way from Point A to Point B as the cells—it really helps to underpin how important highly coordinated mobility is.
Because of the specificity of private companies, each focusing on perfecting their unique products and technology, they are in a strong position to provide advanced, real-time data and consultation to transit and other government agencies. For their part, public agencies can provide measurable feedback on how third-party contributions are helping or hindering the health of the city at large. Organizations on both sides can then make needed changes with greater confidence.
Let’s call it, City Symbiosis.