Greg Lindsay's Blog

August 29, 2019  |  permalink

ThinkTransit Keynote Recap

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(Back in April, the Trapeze Group invited me to deliver the opening keynote at their annual ThinkTransit conference. Given the opportunity to address public transportation officials from across the U.S. and Canada, I didn’t hold back. A recap of my talk appears below.)

HOW PUBLIC TRANSPORT CAN DRIVE FUTURE MOBILITY

On Monday’s opening keynote, Greg Lindsay presented the transit industry with a critical challenge – how to become the core of tomorrow’s multi-modal transport ecosystem. Guiding ThinkTransit 2019 participants through the increasingly complex landscape of multiple, competing services, Greg outlined the issues confronting public transit and identified opportunities for transit agencies to define mobility’s future.

Declining ridership, rising car sales, and the emergence of new ride-hailing and bike-sharing enterprises are changing the industry’s outlook on service provision. Greg’s keynote focused on three themes affecting how transit agencies are moving forward – Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), micromobility and congestion pricing.

Mobility-as-a-Service: Public Square or Walled Gardens?

The traditional thinking on MaaS is to create an integrated system where public transit works with private vendors to deliver seamlessness for the passenger journey. An example is Portland’s TriMet app, which combines Lyft (ride-share), car2go (car-share) and BIKETOWN (bike-share), to offer a first- and last-mile solution. Another is Whim, a subscription service founded by Finnish entrepreneur Sampo Hietanen, which provides mobility options much like an all-you-can-eat data plan for your cellphone.

MaaS is meant to strengthen public-private partnerships and ensure that public transit remains at the forefront of an integrated transport system.

The aggressive market ambitions of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, however, are changing the game for public transport as well as the approach to Mobility-as-a-Service. Uber is moving ahead of transit agencies to own the customer relationship and the entire transaction in this shared mobility scheme. Lyft is not far behind.

By adding public transportation, car- and bike-sharing to their apps, TNCs are creating a vertically-integrated ecosystem that incorporates public transit, and not the other way around.

We need open data

How does public transit get back into the game, so to speak? Greg pointed to Open APIs as a possible way forward. Promoting interoperability prevents TNCs from running vertically-integrated walled gardens with little oversight and allows transit agencies to demand open standards so public transit services align with those of mobility providers.

Examples of these are NACTO’s SharedStreets initiative, which creates an open-source database for exchanging street-level geographic information and Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s own Mobility Data Specification (MDS) which tracks scooter and bike movements.

The challenge, however, would be to compel these private mobility providers to share useful information. Greg notes that Uber and Lyft have used the Freedom of Information Act to lock up their granular data from potential competitors.

Micromobility: Friend or Foe to Transit?

The rise of bike-sharing and e-scooters further complicates the emerging mobility landscape. Micromobility has been a hot transportation trend, with the data showing that scooters are being adopted faster than Uber and Lyft.

However, while micromobility steals rides from TNCs, helping to ease congestion, it also threatens to compete with public transit, oddly creating a scenario of ‘monetizing walking’. The acquisitions of JUMP by Uber and Motivate by Lyft also strengthen the TNCs’ push to dominate the industry, compounding the problem for public transit.

The challenge confronting the industry is how to ensure that micromobility complements public transit, instead of eating into its market.

Greg notes, though, that micromobility has its share of problems, which may affect its sustainability. Ridership plummets during cold weather and big names like Lime and Bird are having trouble getting additional financing. The scooters break easily, too, lasting an average of 23 days.

How Will We Pay for It? Congestion Pricing and More

Congestion pricing adds another layer of complexity to mobility’s future.

New York’s congestion pricing initiative promises to be a game-changer if implemented, offering a viable solution to traffic gridlocks in dense urban areas.

Greg focused his talk on the future of our priced roads and how the technology can allow for flexibility to allocate lane space to various transport modes, enabling free access for some and creating fee structures for others.

In laying out what must be done for public transit to move forward, Greg pointed to the paradoxical nature of public support for transit:

In 2016, 71 percent of Angeleno voters passed Measure M, raising $120 billion for transport over 40 years. At the same time, ridership on the LA Metro has dropped 19.7 percent over five years.

In other words, people overwhelmingly support mass transit for others, but not for themselves.

Greg’s underlying message as he ended his keynote: the industry needs to examine how to make transit more appealing and position it to be the backbone of a shared mobility ecosystem.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion.  He is also a partner at FutureMap, a geo-strategic advisory firm based in Singapore, a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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