Equity – Mobility Lab https://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Fri, 23 Jun 2017 21:55:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Annual bikeshare conference brings focus to equity, integration, and growth https://mobilitylab.org/2016/11/17/nabsa-bikeshare-conference-equity-growth/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/11/17/nabsa-bikeshare-conference-equity-growth/#respond Thu, 17 Nov 2016 19:17:37 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19559 Last week, the North American Bike Share Association brought together bikeshare systems from across the continent to Austin, Texas, for its third annual conference. BikeArlington program manager Henry Dunbar, who manages Capital Bikeshare in Arlington County, Va., attended the conference, and reports back that three major themes dominated the presentations. A growing mode Though NABSA... Read more »

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Last week, the North American Bike Share Association brought together bikeshare systems from across the continent to Austin, Texas, for its third annual conference. BikeArlington program manager Henry Dunbar, who manages Capital Bikeshare in Arlington County, Va., attended the conference, and reports back that three major themes dominated the presentations.

A growing mode

Though NABSA itself has only existed since 2014, the rapid growth and spread of bikeshare systems is a major trend. Not only are major metropolitan systems expanding exponentially (see: Bay Area Bikeshare’s tenfold growth from 700 to 7,000 bikes with its Ford partnership), but smaller systems are also taking off. The growing variety of models and technologies is allowing small cities, campuses, and towns to find the kind of bikeshare system that fits their needs. This speaks, also, to the broad understanding from cities that bikeshare is a necessary part of the transportation options for their residents and visitors.

Accessibility a priority

As they grow, however, bikeshare systems have struggled with equity issues, finding fair ways to provide accessible service for low-income and minority communities. Now, systems and cities are determining what matters most when reaching out to residents. Often, this means thinking beyond the assumptions of how people engage with biking and transportation.

“Systems are learning that partnerships with existing organizations is the way to bridge barriers into low-income communities. You have to make that extra effort and show people how it works,” said Dunbar.

Affordable housing organizations, for example, can be key to reaching low-income residents because they already know them and their staffs. In Arlington, Capital Bikeshare partners with local non-profit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. Bicycling organizations like Get Women Cycling in New York City are working to connect interested residents to Citi Bike.

Part of the transit portfolio

Lastly, as cities see growing bikeshare systems as key pieces of their transportation-options toolkit rather than recreational curiosities, more are looking into ways to better integrate them into their transit systems. One key way to do so is through combining the fare systems into a single platform, removing a key barrier and simplifying the fragmented transit landscape.

Speaking to TechCrunch last week, NABSA president Nicole Freedman laid out the goal. “You’ll see all of the modes intertwine. And that will be made possible by better tech that allows a single payment for all systems.”

Unfortunately, there exists a number of obstacles to this, which range from bureaucratic hurdles to political impasses to technological gaps. In just the D.C. region alone, there are five jurisdictions with Capital Bikeshare, with WMATA’s SmarTrip system setting the standard for transit payments for the foreseeable future.

One low-cost way forward for some systems could incorporate phone apps into the payment and unlocking mechanisms. B-Cycle, which operates bikeshare systems in dozens of cities in the U.S. (including Austin), allows users to receive unlock codes through the standard B-Cycle app.

Of course, the nature of these challenges differs depending on regional needs, bikeshare technology, and other factors. But NABSA’s Austin gathering demonstrated how bikeshare systems across the U.S. are taking their collective challenges head-on, by finding ways to grow and become more accessible and useful for people.

Photo: Austin B-cycle bikeshare (NACTO, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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After 60 years, chances to overcome the interstate system’s legacy https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/20/60-years-chances-to-overcome-the-interstate-systems-legacy/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/20/60-years-chances-to-overcome-the-interstate-systems-legacy/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 17:29:46 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19003 Editor’s note: This is one of the final parts of our Transpo(nation) series, in which Andrew Carpenter bicycled across the U.S. – from San Francisco back to Washington, D.C. – to report on transportation options. A series about transportation across the United States would be remiss to gloss over the country’s highway system. Rather than... Read more »

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Editor’s note: This is one of the final parts of our Transpo(nation) series, in which Andrew Carpenter bicycled across the U.S. – from San Francisco back to Washington, D.C. – to report on transportation options.

A series about transportation across the United States would be remiss to gloss over the country’s highway system. Rather than connecting places, highways affected my trip mostly in how I could not use them.

Riding along even state routes proved dangerous: restricted access roads near Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge forced me around  – instead of over – some boundaries, and massive structures divided neighborhoods in the cities I explored, like the I-43 and I-794 interchange in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which cleaves through Marquette University’s campus and walls it off to the south. From a cyclist’s perspective, the limits that car-centric infrastructure places on mobility are obvious.

https://twitter.com/mvs202/status/775751129019912192

This June marked the 60th anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower signing the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which established the interstate system as we know it now.

Much like the railroad expansion of the 1800s played a huge role in national growth and westward expansion, the interstate system played a pivotal role in development and social evolution through the second half of the 20th century, though with a highly mixed legacy. As many segments of the Interstate system near the end of their useful life, more cities are questioning their value and are considering other options as they move past a car-dominated transportation system.

(Mostly) unintended consequences

While the interstate system allowed for the creation of affluent suburban communities by establishing car access to downtowns, it had the opposite effect within cities by fragmenting neighborhoods.

It’s widely told that when President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, he hadn’t intended for interstates to develop the way they did. Instead, the supposed goal was to establish interurban freeways that connected cities and ended with a distinct, separate road network upon reaching these dense areas. It would have created two complementary systems that provided fast, cheap transport through spacious rural areas and funneled vehicles into densely populated areas without tearing apart the urban fabric by prioritizing traffic flow.

However, the aggregated effects of lobbying, concessions to urban elected officials to justify funding, and less-than-subtle racial discrimination, pulled the country’s interstates into auto-centrism. Transportation planners came to neglect transit and walking, leaving travelers in many areas without options and disrupting urban cores in a way that negatively affected poor, minority communities at disproportionately high rates.

In the end, focusing so heavily on developing car infrastructure without any alternative modes backfired, creating communities that are entirely dependent on personal vehicles. Thanks to the phenomenon of induced demand, expanding roads doesn’t solve the mobility issues that highways are supposed to address, and they sink into a spiraling strain on states, overspending to maintain or expand them, further creating car demand and crowding out more efficient modes physically and financially.

On the Embarcadero

New approaches

Transportation infrastructure, in any form, is expensive to build and to keep up. Six decades after President Eisenhower signed the interstate system into law, it is getting old, deteriorating faster than it can be maintained. In many places, sustaining interstates is becoming more expensive than the value they supposedly add. As a result, cities from San Francisco to Rochester, New York and Providence, Rhode Island have been rethinking the presence of highways within their cores.

Though voters rejected tearing down San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway in 1986, the freeway had to come down after the Loma Prieta earthquake, and has since become a multimodal waterfront area (above). Rochester has begun filling in a portion of I-490 with plans to reconnect the neighborhoods that they cut off. The city of Providence and a wide set of stakeholders are currently fighting the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s plan to scrap plans for an urban boulevard and instead reconstruct a highway interchange, indicating how entrenched car-centric planning remains, despite its known negative impact on cities.

And even in D.C., the ongoing Capitol Crossing project is reconnecting part of downtown with a seven-acre cap over I-395. The development looks to bridge the downtown region with the Union Station and NoMa areas in the city’s Northeast quadrant, which can feel physically and psychologically divided by arterial roads like the interstate.

Nationally, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is looking to take advantage of the opportunity that the aging infrastructure and changing mentalities offer at the city level, and shows promise of changing the national paradigm for how we approach transportation planning. Speaking on NPR in May, Secretary Foxx touched on the ill effects of urban highways, the idea that planners must be conscious of how they replace aging infrastructure, and the necessity of rebuilding in a more equitable, multimodal way.

Building on that, the department unveiled a growing focus on changing transportation to be more inclusive, efficient, and responsible. This summer, USDOT launched the Every Place Counts Design Challenge, seeking to “identify innovative community design solutions that bridge the infrastructure divide and reconnect people to opportunity.”

As interstate infrastructure ages, it provides an opportunity for us to focus on new modes that improve mobility and accessibility, being careful to ensure the new expansion of American transportation is more equitable and sustainable than in the past. Applying this 60-year lesson into how the U.S. prioritizes transportation projects should ultimately reconnect neighborhoods and make possible more non-driving transportation options.

Photos: Top, Interstate 794 cuts off Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan shore, to the left of the photo (Jaremey Jannene, Flickr, Creative Commons). Middle, San Francisco’s post-highway Embarcadero (M.V. Jantzen, Flickr, with permission).

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WABA designing a regional bike lane map to inform a more equitable network https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/09/waba-regional-bike-lane-map/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/09/waba-regional-bike-lane-map/#comments Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:04:20 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18936 Across Washington, D.C., and its bordering counties in Virginia and Maryland, the data on bike facilities and who has access to them can be awkward to piece together. The region is blessed with scores of miles of bike lanes and trails, up from very few in 2000. But when D.C., for example, says it has “75 miles of bike... Read more »

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Across Washington, D.C., and its bordering counties in Virginia and Maryland, the data on bike facilities and who has access to them can be awkward to piece together. The region is blessed with scores of miles of bike lanes and trails, up from very few in 2000. But when D.C., for example, says it has “75 miles of bike lanes,” what exactly does that mean for its residents?

This lack of clarity is what the Washington Area Bicyclists Association is seeking to address with its ongoing project to map every bike lane and trail across the D.C. region. The map – available in an early version here – currently includes geographic buffers around each facility, demonstrating how much of the region is within one mile of a lane. Ultimately, WABA would like that one-mile coverage to include safe biking routes for every resident in the region.

Presenting at the latest Transportation Techies meetup, WABA deputy director Nelle Pierson explained that the growth of bike lanes has not been balanced throughout the region. Neighborhoods where people have the time, connections, and resources to lobby for safer streets have historically received bike lanes, cementing the safe-biking network mainly to communities with privilege. A map that captures every lane will help WABA see where lanes are most needed and advocate for more equitable planning, helping bring bikeable streets to communities long deprived of them.

Coding group DCFemTech has been building the map, an idea that originally began at a two-day hackathon. “We quickly realized we actually needed months, not days, for this,” said presenter Alexandra Ulsh of the DCFemTech coalition.

The map itself uses lane data provided by D.C., Alexandria, and Prince George’s, Montgomery, Fairfax, and Arlington counties, but these all had to be reworked into a standardized style. Arlington-based bike advocate Chris Slatt, who helped unify the code styles, also explained at the meetup that the data raised questions for the overall purpose of the map.

For example, many jurisdictions classified small, 50-foot segments of trail leading into public parks as bike lanes. Should those count toward the lane coverage goal? What about marked sidewalk trails, or on-street lanes along fast-moving highways? Google Maps might include these, but they don’t help protect bicyclists or connect them to other networks.

Disconnected lanes

Would these trails in PG County help more people bike comfortably?

Beyond creating just a mapping-design problem, DCFemTech and WABA have to grapple with the question of what kinds of facilities lead them toward their end goal of safety and inclusivity, and how the map communicates and informs that.

Ulsh explained that the next steps are to add to the usefulness of the map. Adding population data will allow WABA to see who would benefit from future bike lanes, while filters will let users compare the efficacy of different types of bike infrastructure. And, in the spirit of most Transportation Techies presentations, the project is looking for more insight and help from interested civic coders.

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College Park’s mBike brings accessible bikeshare to the region https://mobilitylab.org/2016/05/12/college-parks-mbike-brings-accessible-bikeshare-region/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/05/12/college-parks-mbike-brings-accessible-bikeshare-region/#comments Thu, 12 May 2016 19:36:27 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18216 A new bikesharing system, mBike, recently launched in a partnership between the city of College Park, the University of Maryland, and bikeshare operator Zagster. The mBike program has 125 bikes that serves students, faculty, staff, and residents on the university campus and in the surrounding city. Though it’s not compatible with Capital Bikeshare, what’s particularly... Read more »

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A new bikesharing system, mBike, recently launched in a partnership between the city of College Park, the University of Maryland, and bikeshare operator Zagster.

The mBike program has 125 bikes that serves students, faculty, staff, and residents on the university campus and in the surrounding city. Though it’s not compatible with Capital Bikeshare, what’s particularly notable for the new system is its inclusion of five accessible bikes.

College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn said, “College Park is proud to be one of the first jurisdictions to have a bikesharing program that is broadly accessible to all users, including people with disabilities.”

Similar to existing Zagster bikeshare programs in Carmel, Indiana, and at The Ohio State University, mBike provides several different types of accessible bikes. Users who may be unable to ride a typical two-wheel bike without a modification (like me) can choose from two tricycles, two side-by-side bikes (similar to a tandem, but side by side), or one handcycle. Beyond the design, the bikes operate the same as the rest of the system, and can be returned to any of College Park’s 14 stations.

The system is not yet perfect – with so few accessible bikes, it can be difficult to find them amongst all the others. I spent a good 45 minutes at Ohio State with my mom last fall searching for the handcycle option, which works best for me. Zagster has said it is working on a solution to this. Still, once I’m on the bike, I’m loving it.

mBike’s handcycle option. Photo from Zagster.

Creating a standard of equitable bikeshare

Bikeshare has become popular in cities around the world, providing people who do not own a bike – or who may want to only bike a short distance in a city – with the chance to ride. And as it’s grown, advocates have raised the need to ensure all community members are benefiting from bikeshare programs.

This goal of inclusion is spreading: the Federal Transit Administration is encouraging transit agencies and jurisdictions to integrate bikesharing and other modes of “mobility on demand” with public transportation. In its MOD Sandbox funding program, the FTA includes in its guiding principles the need for “equity of service delivery” to low-income communities, the aging population, and people with disabilities, including wheelchair users.

A side-by-side accessible mbike.

The author on a side-by-side accessible mBike.

Other bikeshare programs have worked to address equity, including race, class, and gender inequities – ensuring access in typically underserved neighborhoods, cash options for riders who may not have access to a bank account (Indego in Philadelphia and Capital Bikeshare in Arlington both have cash options). Zagster allows riders who don’t have smartphones to reserve bikes using text messages and may be the first bikeshare company to provide accessible bikes for different body types, or, in their words, “different spokes for different folks.”

Personally, I’ve been working alongside bicycle and pedestrian advocates for the past few years, and have friends who work for and use bikeshare systems, but the docking stations around D.C. barely register on my mind because they are inaccessible to me. To suddenly have access to a new technology that so many others take for granted is akin to being granted a door to another world.

That should be the goal for every transportation program and service: to ensure access for all. I hope the notion that bikeshare can be available for different body types will spread. Our transportation options should reflect and serve the communities that we live in – and that means ensuring sidewalks, busses, trains, taxis, TNCs, and bikeshares are accessible to, and benefit, all of us.

Photos by the author.

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Affordable housing and transit should go hand-in-hand https://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/28/affordable-housing-and-transit/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/28/affordable-housing-and-transit/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:37:53 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18118 The term “affordable housing finance” isn’t quite as catchy as “carshare,” “bikeshare,” or any of the other technology improvements helping promote transportation demand management. Yet for low-income members of our communities, who stand to benefit the most from those solutions, affordable housing finance should be considered, and put to use as, a TDM strategy. In... Read more »

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The term “affordable housing finance” isn’t quite as catchy as “carshare,” “bikeshare,” or any of the other technology improvements helping promote transportation demand management. Yet for low-income members of our communities, who stand to benefit the most from those solutions, affordable housing finance should be considered, and put to use as, a TDM strategy.

In the United States, housing and transportation costs are often the two largest expenditures for households. Unfortunately, for those who need affordable housing, it is often located outside of the urban core, driving up their transportation costs and negating the savings on housing.

For barriers both real (smartphones often required) and perceived (“the sharing economy is for yuppies”), many of the newer transportation solutions do not work for those in low-income housing. While some creative initiatives have arisen from this need, the real way to decrease transportation financial and time costs for low-income residents is to provide housing near transit. By providing housing near transit for low-income people, and allowing them to use public transit and use it more efficiently, both those residents and the community benefits.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Guidebook for Creating Connected Communities, typical households in auto-dependent neighborhoods spend about 25 percent of their income on transportation costs, but this number drops to 9 percent in neighborhoods with a variety of mobility options. The savings of both dedicated affordable housing and decreased transportation costs allows these families to save for homeownership or market-rate housing, spend more money in the local economy, and spend on essential services such as healthcare. These benefits are not just individual, but societal as well, as they place less strain on social services and resources.

The improved location of affordable housing also provides access to a wider job market, while taking more cars off the streets, from which even an SUV-driving CEO benefits. Appropriately scaled and distributed affordable housing, such as that near transit, prevents pockets of poverty, and has been shown to have no negative impacts on surrounding property values.

Locations of affordable units in Arlington County.

Locations of affordable units in Arlington County.

Higher land values near transit often make it difficult for affordable housing developers to purchase land in these locations. These two maps of Arlington County, Va., showcase this: one shows locations of committed affordable units, and the other maps the density of such units. It may appear that affordable housing is well spread throughout the county, but the density map shows that the largest concentrations are not in the county’s Metro corridors.

Affordable Housing Heat Map

Density of affordable units.

While Arlington does have a robust affordable housing plan, these patterns still exist due to the difficulties of acquiring land. However, several strategies to ensure the creation and preservation of affordable housing in close proximity to transit are in use in Arlington and in other jurisdictions across the country.

Making transit-oriented affordable housing happen

Tax credit points for transportation

Strategies for incorporating affordable housing near transit are varied, and can be accomplished from the federal level down to community development corporations. One way to promote this development on a national level is through the allocation of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. These credits are provided to each state on a per-capita basis from HUD, and then distributed to projects via states’ Qualified Allocation Plans. Each QAP outlines various points that a proposed project earns based on a number of criteria, which, for this case, could include transportation solutions. Massachusetts is one of several states that have incorporated mobility into their QAPs by awarding points based on a project’s proximity to rail or bus.

Housing protection district

Despite a large concentration of affordable housing on the western end of Columbia Pike, Arlington County, is seen as an affordable housing success [PDF], and does have a method for preserving affordable units in its Metro corridors. In addition to the county’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Arlington’s main financing mechanism for affordable housing, the county also has a Special Affordable Housing Protection District included in its General Land Use Plan.

The SPAHD protects affordable housing sites along Metro corridors by stipulating they be replaced on a one-for-one basis in most new developments (specifically, anything with a floor area ratio of 3.24 or higher). So if a new building knocks down a smaller one that had affordable units, the new one must include just as many. This initiative protects vulnerable committed affordable units as areas in the county’s Metro corridors become even pricier.

Denver LRT

Transit-oriented development fund

One of the most forward-thinking examples of not just preserving affordable housing, but getting ahead of the curve, is Denver. The city is in the midst of massive additions of light rail (above), commuter rail, and BRT within the next several years. In advance of these projects, the city, Enterprise Community Partners, and affordable housing developers worked together to create the Denver Regional Transit-Oriented Development Fund.

The fund provides developers a loan to purchase and hold land for five years for affordable housing developments within a half-mile of rail and a quarter-mile of high frequency bus stations. Provisioning land while the transit lines are still being constructed allows affordable housing developers to purchase parcels at more reasonable prices. Originally established just within the City and County of Denver, the TOD Fund has expanded to the entire seven-county metro area and has provided $24 million in funding. To date, there are 600 affordable units in the pipeline, with a goal to create more than 1,000 new units near transit.

The increasing number of transportation options are great, and do a good job of serving those already living in dense urban cores, but the best strategy for those who need it most may be affordable housing policy finance. Affordable housing creates more diverse and economically sustainable communities: working to focus affordable housing near transit will only serve to increase its benefits.

Photos, from top: Riders exit the Ballston Metro stop in Arlington, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). Arlington County affordable housing maps (Michael Ryan). Light rail in downtown Denver (BeyondDC, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Federal agencies highlight the intersection of housing and transportation https://mobilitylab.org/2016/03/03/feds-intersection-of-housing-and-transportation/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/03/03/feds-intersection-of-housing-and-transportation/#respond Thu, 03 Mar 2016 17:43:52 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=17144 People often consider the costs of owning or renting a home and getting to and from it as completely separate items in their budgets. They also likely consider these items as highly personal and local matters beyond the influence of the federal government. But U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Housing Secretary Julian Castro made the... Read more »

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People often consider the costs of owning or renting a home and getting to and from it as completely separate items in their budgets. They also likely consider these items as highly personal and local matters beyond the influence of the federal government.

But U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Housing Secretary Julian Castro made the case last week at a Brookings Institution event that President Obama’s Cabinet is working across their respective fields to build creative tools that help local leaders improve their economies and communities based on this relationship.

An American household’s two biggest expenses are housing and transportation, yet transportation costs tend to be discounted when people are making decisions about where to live. As a result, transportation is often referred to as the “hidden cost” of housing.

To that end, the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, in 2013, launched the Location Affordability Portal, which not only aggregates your total housing and transportation costs, but also creates an anonymous costs database for researchers and planners, who can now work to help improve transportation access for potentially millions of Americans.

With the new paradigm of considering housing and transportation costs together, the general rule is that the combined total should be no more than 45 percent of a household’s income. Mobility Lab’s Research Director Stephen Crim has noted that many areas of Arlington County, Va., for example, that are considered unaffordable following the old 30 percent housing rule in fact become affordable when applying the “housing and transportation” 45 percent rule. An otherwise expensive location, for example, may benefit from highly accessible rail and bus transit options, making car ownership (and its associated costs) unnecessary.

When many people think of the housing and transportation equation, they think it only directly affects lower-income households. But it is a factor of concern to middle class, and even fairly wealthy, people as well.

“Poverty is actually pretty expensive, both for the poor and for the country,” Secretary Foxx told the Brookings audience. “People end up becoming more isolated when they move to the suburbs and don’t have transit options.”

Secretary Castro added that the poorest people are affected disproportionately by the lack of investment in mobility options for some neighborhoods.

“We need to stop stacking and segregating poverty. Improving transportation and fair housing are keys to equality and opportunity,” he said. Castro explained that these circumstances have far-reaching effects. “There are 14 neighborhoods in Baltimore, including the one where Freddie Gray lived, that have lower life expectancies than North Korea.”

Foxx agreed that transportation options can often be part of the answer, but that the lack of transportation has often exacerbated housing problems.

“We have a very ugly history of our transportation infrastructure being built,” Foxx said, but added, “Who would have thought we would have light rail in [Los Angeles’ poor] Crenshaw [neighborhood] 30 years ago. We’re starting to see businesses where there were deserts in the past.”

He cited how Rochester, N.Y., recently asked USDOT for a TIGER grant to tear down a highway as representative of how communities – after years and years of narrow-minded thinking that transportation only meant building highways – are rethinking their own designs.

Photo: Bus riders board a Metrobus in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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Bikeshare’s future looks great – If cities can address these key challenges https://mobilitylab.org/2016/02/01/bikeshares-future-key-challenges/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/02/01/bikeshares-future-key-challenges/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2016 19:23:58 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=16677 As 2016 rumbles on, the forecasts and fortune telling for the new year continues apace. In transportation, the headlines have mainly been won by the automobile of the future: driverless, electric, perhaps ownerless. I would like to put forward another candidate for transport form of the future: bikeshare, or as it’s known in the UK, cycle hire.... Read more »

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union jack, steve p2008As 2016 rumbles on, the forecasts and fortune telling for the new year continues apace. In transportation, the headlines have mainly been won by the automobile of the future: driverless, electric, perhaps ownerless. I would like to put forward another candidate for transport form of the future: bikeshare, or as it’s known in the UK, cycle hire.

Bikeshare is the perfect fit for the 21st century. It is a publicly-available form of private transport, with smart infrastructure, operation and payment systems and real time, location-specific information. It is also a moving advertisement for the ability of cities to tackle modern challenges to public health, the environment, safety and access. Meanwhile, users get all the choice without any of the commitment, a perfect example of the sharing economy.

Over the last decade, bikesharing has evolved from vacation bicycle rentals, organizational bikes fleets, and a few tentative trials into a full scale form of urban transport operational in hundreds of cities world-wide. It is not a stand-alone transportation system, but complements existing public and private transport networks and is growing in popularity and importance and helping the bicycle grow its overall mode share.

But the future of bikeshare is not all plain sailing. Poor bicycling infrastructure, wavering political support and unrealistic business models could make recent progress falter. Unless we make sure that doesn’t happen.

There is a desire for bikeshare among 21st century urban populations. The market for access to such on-demand goods and services is burgeoning everywhere from TV to travel. In transportation terms, fewer people want to own, store and maintain their own bicycle (or car). However, they do want to choose their route, the length of ride, whether they want to take a bus or get a lift for the return journey.

These populations want ease of access and convenience, which means readily-available, geographic information, which is accurate in real time on their phones. Third generation bikeshare systems have RFID chips and sometimes GPS trackers built into the bicycles. The docking stations are smart too. Most systems have their own apps. And as Moovit adds bikeshare data from around the world to its app, the complete transportation package is becoming reality.

Unfortunately, that reality still fails to reach as wide a swathe of those urban populations as it should. Various bikeshare customer surveys indicate that the ridership is skewed towards young, white, male urban professionals. Are women, for example, who have voiced their preference in other surveys for traffic and more safety measures, discouraged by poor quality bicycle infrastructure? According to the handbook “Optimising Bike Sharing in European Cities,” the presence or absence of basic cycling infrastructure is its number one factor for the success and survival of bikeshare systems.

Meanwhile, bikeshare is an emblem of civic pride in many places where mayors and municipal leaders want to showcase their efforts to improve public health and reduce carbon emissions and air pollution. However, because of the publicity bikeshare can attract, local governments can also lack commitment. They may be willing to fund only pilot systems, which are much more likely to fail as they do not provide sufficient coverage and convenience to attract significant ridership and fare income. Or they may only fund initial implementation, expecting the operators to make a business of it without further assistance to find funding, sponsors, expansion sites, etc.

Which brings us to the third threat to bikeshare’s current success and future potential: unrealistic business models. Unfortunately, my observations of two years ago, regarding fixed funding and constrained user fees, are still relevant. London may have attracted a new sponsor and increased its ridership figures again, and New York’s system has also seen improvements, but the obstacle of funding uncertainty remains for many programs. I was excited to hear about the Bikeshare Transit Act being introduced in the U.S. Congress by two congressmen who want to see funding certainty provided to bikeshare systems in the same way it is provided to other public transportation: through regular national subsidies. Could that happen in the UK too?

Whether by national legislation or neighborhood action, my crystal ball shows that bikeshare is a perfect fit to be the 21st century poster child for urban transportation. Now let’s make that fortune into the actual future.

Photo: Visitors to Kensington Gardens prepare to rent a Barclays Cycle Hire bike, aka Boris Bikes, in London (Garry Knight, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Ride-Hailing Services Present Major Gap in Access for People with Disabilities in the D.C. Area https://mobilitylab.org/2015/10/05/ride-hailing-services-present-major-gap-in-access-for-people-with-disabilities-in-the-d-c-area/ https://mobilitylab.org/2015/10/05/ride-hailing-services-present-major-gap-in-access-for-people-with-disabilities-in-the-d-c-area/#comments Mon, 05 Oct 2015 17:22:53 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=15943 Many regions – like the Washington, D.C., area – are fortunately and rapidly adding a multitude of transportation options, especially in the realms of on-demand mobility and ride-hailing. In August, Arlington Transportation Partners set out to highlight this variety of modes and options in the District through a creative “commute race” from Petworth to ATP’s... Read more »

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Many regions – like the Washington, D.C., area – are fortunately and rapidly adding a multitude of transportation options, especially in the realms of on-demand mobility and ride-hailing.

In August, Arlington Transportation Partners set out to highlight this variety of modes and options in the District through a creative “commute race” from Petworth to ATP’s offices across the Potomac River in Rosslyn, Virginia. This race featured Uber, Bridj, Split, Capital Bikeshare and Metro.

However, one aspect overlooked in this and many other endeavors when comparing transportation choices is the accessibility of certain modes for people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities.

Ride-hailing companies are uniquely positioned to offer an essential on-demand transportation service for people with disabilities, but currently offer little in the way of accessible options in the D.C. region.

Uber has taken criticism nationally in recent years for its generally lackluster approach to integrating wheelchair accessible vehicles, or WAVs, into its fleet and all of its services. In February of 2015, the Justice Department weighed in on a California case, noting that the company should comply with ADA mandates for accessibility. Uber, however, “considers itself a technology platform, not a taxi company, and so it doesn’t require any of its drivers to have wheelchair-accessible vehicles,” as Wired’s Issie Lapowsky notes.

While Uber is testing several piecemeal city-by-city approaches to incorporate wheelchair-accessible cars into its fleets, it currently offers no such vehicles in its D.C. fleet. Currently, the company is operating experiments in a handful of cities, including, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Chicago, in which the company offers accessibility options for app users. In Chicago, for example, the UberACCESS program partners with disability access nonprofit Open Doors Organization to offer UberWAV, for wheelchair-accessible options, and UberASSIST, for customers who would like to request a specially trained driver.

In the Washington, D.C., region, the company offers no vehicles in its own fleet that can serve people with disabilities. Instead, Uber has attempted to build partnerships with taxi companies with WAVs in it their fleets, but has had little success. Currently, Uber and competitor Lyft are required to ensure their apps and websites are accessible to the blind and visually impaired, and submit wheelchair-accessibility plans to the D.C. Council by January 1. Rather than require companies to add WAVs to their fleets, the Council is considering providing Uber and Lyft drivers with Transport DC grants to pay for the vehicles.

Newer ride-hailing services face these same gaps in their coverage. Bridj, a bus-hailing company relatively new to the D.C. area, notes on its website that it “will make every effort to be accessible to all riders,” but does require an advance reservation to do so. Split, also recently launched, has no available information on its website about access for people with disabilities.

WAV taxi - NY MTA

A wheelchair-accessible taxi.

For customers with disabilities, D.C.’s taxis have begun to offer WAV options for riders. Unlike ride-hailing companies, taxis operate under a mandate of accessibility. While many companies did not initially meet the first of three deadlines to make a percentage of their fleets wheelchair-accessible, WAV taxis are providing the option for spontaneous travel to many District residents for the first time.

There is concern, though, that competition from Uber and Lyft will make it difficult to maintain and increase taxi accessibility. In San Francisco, the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis has decreased from 100 in 2013 to 64. Last year, New York City rolled out a plan to ensure 50 percent of its taxi fleet is accessible by 2020. This year, taxi companies are going bankrupt and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission is having difficulty selling WAV medallions. Advocates in New York are pushing for a cap on the number of ride-hailing vehicles to level the playing field for taxis.

The D.C. Taxicab Commission’s Accessibility Advisory Committee recently released its annual report on Accessible Vehicle for Hire service, in which it recommends requiring ride-hailing companies to provide accessible service, along with regulatory changes and incentives, to allow for increased accessible on-demand service.

In 2014, Houston, Texas, passed legislation requiring all vehicle-for-hire services (taxis and ride-hailing) provide accessible service, though options for how to achieve equal access are debated. Other jurisdictions, including Montgomery County, Maryland, are assessing a surcharge on ride-hailing app trips to be used towards increasing accessible taxi service. Both DCTC and Montgomery County are working towards apps that would allow passengers to request taxis.

Whatever the local regulations, ride-hailing companies should seek early partnerships with local disability advocacy organizations, as a general best-practice, so that they are aware of local transportation issues, and guarantee they are providing quality service.

The world of app-based ride-hailing services is a rapidly growing field that provides many with more flexible transportation options. As ride-hailing and transportation apps become more prevalent, it is key that they incorporate plans for serving customers with disabilities from day one. Other equity concerns related to provision of adequate wages and benefits must also be addressed. Doing so will set a better precedent for ensuring effective on-demand transportation benefits all people.

Photo credits: Sozialhelden, Flickr, Creative Commons (top); NY MTA, Flickr, Creative Commons (bottom)

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Metro Helping Blind People Better Navigate D.C. Transit https://mobilitylab.org/2015/09/17/metro-helping-blind-people-better-navigate-d-c-transit/ https://mobilitylab.org/2015/09/17/metro-helping-blind-people-better-navigate-d-c-transit/#respond Thu, 17 Sep 2015 15:25:26 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=15779 Transit agencies have an opportunity to follow the cutting-edge initiatives for the blind that have already been introduced in places like retail outlets Macy’s and American Eagle, and most Major League Baseball ballparks. With a grant from ClickandGo Wayfinding, Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind and the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) are harnessing the... Read more »

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Transit agencies have an opportunity to follow the cutting-edge initiatives for the blind that have already been introduced in places like retail outlets Macy’s and American Eagle, and most Major League Baseball ballparks.

With a grant from ClickandGo Wayfinding, Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind and the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) are harnessing the ubiquity of smartphones to make using public transportation for those with limited or no vision much easier and safer.

The concept is fairly simple: CLB will install iBeacons to collect detailed information on key locations in Metro stations like escalators and train platforms. Then that information will be available using interactive voice recognition or through Braille phones. The program will also provide directions to places of interest near Metro stations.

The simplicity in mapping, however, is deceptive, said Brandon Cox, senior director of Rehabilitation and Education Services for CLB. Because the disabled depend on the accuracy of the information for their safety, they can’t depend on crowdsourced data or even on public maps like Google.

The directions are also unique in that they note the number of steps a person would likely have to take to reach an escalator, a turnstyle, or the platform edge.

The iBeacon is something that is currently in use on the London Tube and in the San Francisco International Airport, pinging nearby smartphones with helpful information about arrival times or points of interest. However, this is the first time the iBeacon will be used on any U.S. subway system in an integrated way.

Right now, CLB is focusing on Gallery Place Metro in downtown Washington. Cox said this is one of the most challenging stations for the disabled because it is often crowded, has multiple street exits and has multiple Metro lines.

Cox said the CLB hopes this initial pilot is successful enough that WMATA will extend these services to all 91 stations. “The transit system is the primary way disabled people get around,” he added.

WMATA provides transit services for the disabled via MetroAccess but often wait times for vans can be upwards of an hour, eliminating the ability to use that service for spontaneous trips.

This wayfinding technology, if widely adopted, would also be a boon to WMATA’s MetroAccess budget. As of Metro’s latest numbers, in 2010, providing MetroAccess costs the rider $3 per trip but actual costs to Metro are about $38 per trip.

In the future, this technology could be used to provide information not only to the disabled but to international tourists visiting the D.C. area.

Photo by Jonathan Nalder

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Free transit attracts riders and helps communities in more ways than one https://mobilitylab.org/2015/09/03/free-transit-attracts-riders-and-helps-communities-in-more-ways-than-one/ https://mobilitylab.org/2015/09/03/free-transit-attracts-riders-and-helps-communities-in-more-ways-than-one/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 19:55:47 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=15718 In January, Missoula, Montana’s transit agency, Mountain Line, began a three-year, “zero-fare” demonstration project on its fixed-route and door-to-door services, meaning boarding passengers no longer pay to use the bus. Implementing a zero-fare system was part of a larger transit improvement package that includes late-night service on its four most popular routes, increased frequency on... Read more »

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In January, Missoula, Montana’s transit agency, Mountain Line, began a three-year, “zero-fare” demonstration project on its fixed-route and door-to-door services, meaning boarding passengers no longer pay to use the bus.

Implementing a zero-fare system was part of a larger transit improvement package that includes late-night service on its four most popular routes, increased frequency on key routes, and more door-to-door service to help senior and disabled residents.

The demonstration project costs $460,000 per year to operate. The University of Montana and the city are its biggest funders, annually contributing $205,000 and $100,000 respectively. The balance is made up of 12 other community partners, including Missoula County, the metropolitan planning organization, hospitals and medical centers, public schools, the department for aging, downtown and parking associations, a shopping mall, and an affordable-housing provider.

According to a 2012 Transportation Research Board (TRB) report, Missoula is one of more than 35 communities in the United States that have implemented fare-free public transit systems. Mountain Line cites its inspiration as Corvallis, Oregon, where the Corvallis Transit System ridership grew by 37.9 percent in its first year of fare-less operation.

Mountain Line is aiming a bit higher. It serves just under one million bus riders each year and hopes to grow its ridership by 45 percent within three years. This would be an annual ridership increase of 400,000 or 1.4 million riders by the end of three years.

According to Bill Pfeiffer, Mountain Line’s community outreach coordinator, “In June 2015, just our 6th month of zero-fare service, we gave 50 percent more rides than in June of 2014. Before this February, Mountain Line had never broken the 100,000 ride barrier. We’ve broken 100,000 rides every month since, setting ridership records in every month of 2015. As of July 31st, overall ridership has already increased 26 percent from the previous year, and for the first time ever, our ridership increased during the summer months.”

MountainLineRidershipMthly Graph

Overall, throughout the country, zero-fare systems have resulted in many benefits, including:

  • Lower administrative costs: The costs associated with charging and collecting fares, like acquiring fare boxes, issuing various tickets (transfer passes and monthly passes, for example) and enforcing the payment of fares.
  • Savings in travel time: With no fares to collect, passengers can board more quickly. Less time spent at the stops (known in planning lingo as “dwell time”), in turn, helps reduce travel time.
  • Fuller buses: As current customers ride more often, ridership in the off-peak hours increases.
  • Improved quality of life: Reductions in traffic yield less pollution and congestion, improving overall health and quality of life.
  • Enhanced community pride: More than just an amenity, having fare-free transit service is a source of community pride. It has even helped communities earn recognition, like state and national awards as “best places to live.” Missoula Mayor John Engen called the fare-free service “a feather in the community’s cap.”
  • Modal shift: Up to 30 percent of the additional trips generated from operating with no fares come from people switching from other motorized modes. This is really significant because in my experience, transportation planners seem to always be talking about attracting “choice riders,” that is, riders who can afford to drive but choose to use other modes like transit. Typical suggestions center around providing nicer buses or more amenities at transit stops, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest offering reduced fares, let alone free ones. Isn’t it ironic that the way to entice those who have money to use transit is to offer them free service?
  • Transit equity: By removing the fare requirement, transit service becomes accessible to everyone, regardless of income. I have heard of transit systems providing reduced fares for their low-income residents. To qualify, a person must submit documentation to prove their income falls below the stated threshold and must provide verification of income periodically to remain eligible for the subsidy. Just think about the bureaucracy this generates and the humiliation for the recipient. A fare-free system disposes of all of this.
  • Improved transit image: According to Mountain Line, “When zero-fare community bus services are properly funded and maintained, the image of the buses changes from being the clunky transportation choice of last resort to the service that connects all elements of the community and provides equal opportunity to access all that a community offers.”
  • Increased productivity of public investment: With zero-fare, the funding per passenger drops significantly and the effectiveness and productivity of public investments in transit are enhanced.
  • Increased support from bus operators: Bus operators are reportedly very supportive of zero-fare policies in almost all locations where such service exists. Not having to collect and enforce fares frees them to answer passengers’ questions and focus on safe bus operation.

So with all these benefits, why don’t all transit agencies operate fare free? According to the TRB, fare-free public transit makes the most sense for systems in which the percentage of fare-box revenue-to-operating expenses is low.

Free Bus

Charleston, South Carolina launched a free bus service in 2013

The TRB found that the three types of communities most likely to adopt a fare-free policy are:

  • rural and small urban
  • university dominated, and
  • resort communities.

Although a small number of public transit systems in larger urban areas experimented with offering some version of fare-free service over the years (from Denver, Colorado in 1979 to San Francisco, California in 2008), finding a source of funds to replace their substantial fare-box revenues proved too difficult. In fact, as of 2012, no public transit system in the United States with more than 100 buses offered fare-free service.

So fare-free transit systems clearly work in communities of the right size and type. Given the numerous benefits, it seems worthwhile for larger communities to explore or revisit the possibilities for going fare free in whole or at least in part.

So, for example, a city may find that going fare-free during the off-peak hours effectively attracts ridership during that time, increasing the productivity of the service and perhaps drawing riders to the peak hours as well.

Similarly, a community may want to experiment with fare-free service for a limited time – like a month – as a way to attract more riders in the long run. May is National Bike Month, so why can’t another month be National Transit Month? That could be a period to give fare-free a try.

Being from the Northeast, I would nominate one of the winter months, when people may not want to deal with the hassles of driving in the cold and snow.

In what ways do you think zero-fare systems would help or hurt public transportation’s overall good to society?

Photos and graphic courtesy of Mountain Line and North Charleston.

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