Transit – Mobility Lab https://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:48:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 WMATA Metrobus data projects explore effects of fare payments, disruptions https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/wmata-bus-techies-data/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/wmata-bus-techies-data/#respond Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:23:23 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21941 Other presenters at Transportation Techies’ Bus Hack Night shared projects to help riders better understand their local bus routes Though the D.C. region has one of the busiest bus systems in the country, with more than 120 million trips in 2016, it’s still part of the nationwide movement to stem recent bus ridership declines. As such, WMATA is... Read more »

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Other presenters at Transportation Techies’ Bus Hack Night shared projects to help riders better understand their local bus routes

Though the D.C. region has one of the busiest bus systems in the country, with more than 120 million trips in 2016, it’s still part of the nationwide movement to stem recent bus ridership declines. As such, WMATA is looking to better understand how to provide reliable, efficient service that keeps daily riders and draws others back.

Catherine Vanderwaart of WMATA’s Office of Intermodal Planning is working on just that. Speaking at Tuesday’s Transportation Techies meetup, “Bus Hack Night,” she presented a wide range of findings pulled from multiple aspects of bus performance and rider behavior.

bus transaction time - wmata

Chart by Catherine Vanderwaart, WMATA

Vanderwaart presented the time costs of fare payment and her findings that tapping a SmartTrip card averages two to four seconds per transaction. The time it takes passengers to pay by cash or reload their card varies widely, however, taking anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds per person, which can impact a bus’s dwell time at a stop, and therefore its overall performance. Because this dwell time accounts for 19 to 25 percent of a bus’s run-time, according to another WMATA staff member, speeding up the payment and boarding process could make a noticeable difference along some routes.

Given its unique service changes, WMATA’s ongoing SafeTrack campaign has provided abundant information on how riders react to disruptions. Vanderwaart’s office has collected data on the shuttle buses (called “bus bridges”) that connect closed stations to better understand how to deploy them. Since, prior to SafeTrack, self-reported data only existed on established routes, the agency at first faced delay issues with its shuttles, but eventually established methods to automatically track shuttle ridership. With more robust tracking during each surge, WMATA now has a better sense of how to space out the bus bridges and improve their service.

surge 4 shuttle times

A day of shuttles from Surge 4. Chart by Catherine Vanderwaart, WMATA.

Vanderwaart also presented lessons from last year’s system-wide rail safety shutdown, which provided a unique chance to examine reactions on bus ridership. Using anonymous SmartTrip data from the previous 30 days as a baseline for typical ridership, Vanderwaart compared it with those riders’ behaviors during the shutdown to determine how people shifted their commutes. Those who typically combine bus and rail dropped out of the system that day – avoiding transit or working remotely – but a large number of new or infrequent users tried the bus. Overall, Metrobus saw 20,000 more riders, a 5 percent increase, than on a typical day.

Turning around bus performance

JD Godchaux, of civic tech group NiJeL, worked with TransitCenter to convert New York MTA buses on-time performance into an advocacy tool for better bus policy. Bus Turnaround NYC collects historical data on every bus route in New York and provides a performance report card. These categorize the problems facing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus system and help explain why it is losing ridership despite a growing population. Now, Bus Turnaround is developing report cards for the buses of every elected official’s district in the region, to draw attention to the need for a better bus network and the ways to fix it.

Back in D.C., the District Department of Transportation’s District Mobility project has helped to visualize the broad concepts of congestion and reliability and their effects on accessibility. The site’s tools show the most crowded roads, bus routes, and even individual stops, as well as on-time performance in an effort to define and measure the idea of urban mobility.

What’s in a wait?

On the ground, there are a number of tools in development to help passengers understand the services available to them and how long one can expect to wait for a bus.

  • Michael Eichler of WMATA shared Metrobus Explorer, which maps the Metrobus system and shows users how they can navigate it from any point. By selecting an individual stop, or drawing a box around a group of them, users can identify routes and the frequency of buses at each location and get a sense for how the tangle of lines translate into bus lines.
  • Mobility Lab’s Michael Schade built a similar tool that maps all of the region’s transportation operators. Users can select agencies to see their service area, and select individual routes to highlight and to pick out their stops in order to see how they fit into the region’s larger transportation network. Schade built this using MapZen’s Transitland project, a “community-edited data service” that aggregates the feeds of transportation services around the world, which MapZen’s Dave Nesbitt briefly demoed.
  • MetroHero, Max Grossman, and Daniel Turse are all building tools to estimate bus wait times and when to expect them. Turse’s wait-time tool uses PlanItMetro’s historical data, which includes bus positions but also time between stops, dwell time, and what every bus did at every stop, such as skipping one. With that, the tool helps users determine how wait times vary for any route across the region and by time of day.
  • Grossman’s DC Latebus uses WMATA’s live bus position information to visualize bus lateness along every segment of a route. By comparing arrival times at each stop to the published schedule, the tool measures median deviation to show which parts of every route are most likely to bog down your bus. Grossman and Turse’s projects launched a discussion of how to measure bus delay, especially taking into account how riders might ignore schedules and focus more on frequency.
  • MetroHero‘s bus-tracking tool, a beta webpage in the same fashion of their original Metrorail app, shows current bus positions along their routes, and allows users to click on each one for performance information. Users can also click on specific stops to see estimated arrival times, and how many stops separate them from each predicted bus.
  • Ranjani Prabhakar of Fehr & Peers dove into the gritty details of traffic planning by explaining the Poisson Distribution that planners can use to predict the probability of events over time, such as if cars traveling behind a bus might be backed up into the “upstream” intersection. By understanding the flow of traffic on any stretch of road, and how buses travel along them, planners can work out the likelihood that a bus stop’s location will cause nearby vehicles to actually increase congestion.

Photo: A Metrobus picks up passengers in Rosslyn, Arlington, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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Disparity across D.C. region’s commute times a “serious equity problem” https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/17/disparity-across-d-c-regions-commute-times-serious-equity-problem/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/17/disparity-across-d-c-regions-commute-times-serious-equity-problem/#respond Mon, 17 Apr 2017 16:33:58 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21900 An analysis from the Washington Post, with transit-mapping software provider Mapzen, highlights several severe disparities in the availability of reliable, frequent transit options for parts of the D.C. region. The animated map lays out shifting isochrones, or areas reachable within similar time frames, that reflect projected transit travel times during a given period of the day.... Read more »

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An analysis from the Washington Post, with transit-mapping software provider Mapzen, highlights several severe disparities in the availability of reliable, frequent transit options for parts of the D.C. region. The animated map lays out shifting isochrones, or areas reachable within similar time frames, that reflect projected transit travel times during a given period of the day.

Washington Post reporter Faiz Siddiqui notes that the map shows serious revelations regarding commuters’ proximity to the District and their ability to reach frequent transit:

… [D]ata shows that wealthier neighborhoods and suburbs have an easier time tapping into it, while residents of poor and lower-income neighborhoods on the eastern side of the District and, farther east, across the border in Maryland face longer and often more-complex commutes.

… Most striking, commuters in some areas in Southwest and Southeast Washington and close-in Prince George’s have longer trips to get downtown than more transit-connected locations dozens of miles away from the White House.

Speaking to the Post, Mobility Lab’s managing director Howard Jennings expressed concerns that the disparities in transit access will only worsen with the coming cutbacks to Metrorail’s operating hours, set to come into effect in June. “People who are used to being rail riders, who are not bus riders, you’re going to have a real shift there in awareness of options. The onus is really going to be on providers of information.”

mapzen faiz - mvj

Faiz Siddiqui, John Muyskens, Howard Jennings, and J.D. Godchaux look over the Mapzen visualizations at Bus Hack Night. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

Using Mapzen’s Mobility Explorer and Transitland interfaces (both featured at last week’s Bus Hack Night at WMATA headquarters), The Washington Post also constructed an in-depth display of who exactly “gets left behind” by these changes. District residents in Wards 7 and 8 east of the river, for example, comprise the most concentrated areas of low-income households who are also regular transit riders.

Using the isochrone mapping technique, the Post analysis shows just how these neighborhoods would be cut off from late-night transit access under Metrorail’s new late-night schedule. Clicking from “PM rush” to “Late, no Metro” shows many areas east of the Anacostia requiring 45 to 60 minutes of travel to reach downtown.

See the full set of visualizations here, which include current peak-hour commute times and projected travel times under the new late-night schedule.

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A visualized day of New York’s transit options, working together https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/11/nyc-visualization-transit-options/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/11/nyc-visualization-transit-options/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 19:54:48 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21882 New York City is blessed with a lot of ways to get around town. From MTA buses to regional Metro-North rail lines to the omnipresent subway, the overall transportation system moves millions of people every day. A new visualization puts 24 hours of them together, showing how each works together in the broader context over... Read more »

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New York City is blessed with a lot of ways to get around town. From MTA buses to regional Metro-North rail lines to the omnipresent subway, the overall transportation system moves millions of people every day.

A new visualization puts 24 hours of them together, showing how each works together in the broader context over the course of a day.

Multimodal Symphony from Will Geary on Vimeo.

Will Geary, a graduate student at Columbia University, recently constructed the video by incorporating transit data from a number of sources. Speaking with John Metcalfe of CityLab, he explained how, depending on the option and the availability of the transit data, some of the sets were taken from schedules, while others were real trips.

“Data on taxi and Citi Bike trips are drawn from a single day in 2015, and most of the rest he obtained via schedules downloaded from various transit agencies. ‘So this is static data according to the timetables, not real-time data that would reflect delays or deviations from the schedule,’ he says. ‘It is also worth noting that information is only available on the pickup and drop-off locations for each taxi and Citi Bike trip—not the actual route taken—so the visualization simply draws a straight line from point A to point B.'”

In the transportation demand management industry, programs emphasize “transportation options” in spreading out the demand for streets across many different modes, from transit to vanpools to bikes.

What Geary’s visualization captures is not only the origins and destinations of that demand (typically from the entire region into Manhattan, and also a steady stream to and from the three airports) but also how the different modes complement each other. Northeast Regional Amtrak trains bring commuters into midtown from New Jersey and Connecticut, while buses fill in gaps in the outer boroughs. Other options, like the barely-visible navy bikeshare dots, provide options for unique shorter trips where a bus may not make sense.

While few other cities have the spread of transit options New York does, it’s enlightening, and even fun, to see the system working in a broader sense.

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Atlanta’s I-85 disruption shows importance of transit, flexibility of demand https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/05/atlantas-85-disruption-transit-flexibility-demand/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/05/atlantas-85-disruption-transit-flexibility-demand/#respond Wed, 05 Apr 2017 14:17:28 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21803 Current estimates of Atlanta’s I-85 collapse give the freeway at least several months before it is repaired and re-opens. When the fire collapsed a section of the highway last Friday, a major route became closed for commuters. Like similar emergency disruptions in other major metropolitan areas, the situation is a clear glimpse into how people... Read more »

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Current estimates of Atlanta’s I-85 collapse give the freeway at least several months before it is repaired and re-opens. When the fire collapsed a section of the highway last Friday, a major route became closed for commuters.

Like similar emergency disruptions in other major metropolitan areas, the situation is a clear glimpse into how people shift their traditional commuting habits, and the significance of transit in providing alternative options.

On Monday morning, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported MARTA stations flooded with new commuters looking for a non-driving way into downtown Atlanta. Fare sales provided an early look into how many new riders were trying out rail this week.

Sales of Breeze cards were up 100 percent in some stations. Or more: Sales were up 111 percent Monday morning at North Springs and a whopping 172 percent at Sandy Springs.

“What we’re also finding is that people weren’t buying just one (trip) on a Breeze card,” Taylor said. “They were buying 10 trips or monthly cards, because they know this is going to be a long haul.”

And as Joe Cortwright notes at City Observatory, the predicted “Carmageddon” – similar to other daunting shutdown situations in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. – never quite appeared on Monday morning.

The fact that Carmageddon almost never comes is powerful evidence of induced demand: people travel on roadways because the capacity is available for their trips. When the capacity goes away, so does much of the trip making.

Transit options like MARTA rail play a key role here. When disruption occurs, commuters, fearing clogged highways, have the option to shift their trips off of the road. These emergencies create an environment in which people who would not typically try rail or bus take it for the first time, potentially changing their habits. Together with other flexible options, such as telecommuting, the potential for congestion on alternate highway routes is reduced.

But telework may not necessarily be a sustainable long-term option for many Atlanta commuters as they wait for the I-85 to be repaired. Georgia politicians are already citing the I-85 collapse as a key reason to fund expanded MARTA transit service and capacity.

Photo: A man waits for a MARTA train (Druh Scoff, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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How do we encourage more transit-accessible sports stadiums? https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/04/encourage-transit-accessible-stadiums/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/04/encourage-transit-accessible-stadiums/#respond Tue, 04 Apr 2017 20:33:11 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21797 As baseball season begins this week, the Atlanta Braves officially relocate from Turner Field – much closer to Atlanta’s downtown – to SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County. The move raises interesting questions about the transit accessibility of new stadiums. Part of the Braves’ stated reason for their relocation was that Turner Field was not easily... Read more »

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As baseball season begins this week, the Atlanta Braves officially relocate from Turner Field – much closer to Atlanta’s downtown – to SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County. The move raises interesting questions about the transit accessibility of new stadiums.

Part of the Braves’ stated reason for their relocation was that Turner Field was not easily accessible to transit. Even though the field was close to downtown, the closest Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) station was a mile away, requiring bus shuttles on game days.

But now SunTrust Park will likely have even greater challenges bringing people to games via transit. For one, the new stadium has no MARTA rail access. And the incentive to drive may be too great, since the park is nestled right at an interchange of two of Atlanta’s busiest highways (I-75 and I-285).

That said, the Braves plan to have a shuttle service connecting major points of interest in metro Atlanta to SunTrust Park. MARTA suggests taking a MARTA bus as close to the stadium as possible, then taking on-demand services or a Cobb County bus. There is also CobbLinc, a bus service connecting Cobb County to Downtown and Midtown Atlanta.

SunTrust Park currently has no rail access, but the region envisions an extension of rail lines into Cobb County. This would be roughly on par with Turner Field’s rail access, with a rail line connected to the field via shuttle.

The bike amenities look to be improved, though now in an area less conducive to biking. Turner Field’s closest bike racks were a mile away, and SunTrust Park is planning a bike valet. In addition, SunTrust Park will soon have a long pedestrian bridge across the freeway.

suntrust park sept 2016

SunTrust Park under construction in September 2016 (Google Street View).

Yet, most of the emphasis is placed predictably on personal vehicles. Turner Field had up to 12 parking lots on high-demand days, with some accommodations for handicap parking and drop-off. SunTrust Park will have an app with real-time traffic updates about the games, the connection to the nearby Galleria’s parking, and the surrounding interstates. There will actually be 30 percent less parking at SunTrust than at Turner Field.

By comparison, FedEx Field, where the Washington Redskins football team plays, out in the Washington D.C. suburb of Landover, Md., was ranked 30th out of the 32 NFL stadiums in 2012 for accessibility.

Sure, at the Landover location there are acres of parking, luxury vehicles for rent, and bars that provide free bus trips to the games. But the closest Metro is about a mile away, there’s no Capital Bikeshare in Prince George’s County, and little evidence of bike racks, not to mention a bike valet like the one at Nationals Park. The congested Beltway is by no means inviting for non-driving fans, either.

While FedEx Field is miles from central D.C., there are stadiums in city limits, so aren’t those more accessible? After all, cities tend to have better transit than the suburbs.

Nationals Park, within Washington, D.C., has two Metro stops within three blocks of the stadium, though it also has eight parking garages within 10 blocks. The DC Circulator stops half a block away from the stadium and there are eight options for Metrobus within blocks. There’s even bikeshare: three stations within three blocks, corral service for some games, and a free bike valet.

And the fact that Nationals Park works closely with the D.C. Department of Transportation and its transportation demand initiative goDCgo to publicize the many transportation options is important as well. From initial research into the matter, there appears to be little TDM being practiced at FedEx Field or SunTrust Park.

For one example, goDCgo’s Nationals-centered Bus to the Ballpark campaign raises awareness of the Navy-Yard – Union Station Circulator. This connection is especially important because Union Station connects to the broader region through Amtrak, Greyhound, Megabus, and other services.

It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds in Atlanta at the Braves’ home opener on April 14 – how will people get to SunTrust Park? How will drivers in the area react and how will traffic be affected? Perhaps there’s just not enough incentive for sports franchises to want their products to be more accessible to more fans in more ways. And that’s a shame.

Photo: Nats fans at the Navy Yard Metro station (bootbearwdc, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Breaking the mold in the quest for the ultimate connected city https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/breaking-mold-connected-city/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/breaking-mold-connected-city/#respond Thu, 09 Mar 2017 22:17:17 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21529 This is part 2 of a two-part series on how advocates can create connected cities. Part 1 examined public agencies reshaping their transportation priorities. Pinellas County, Fla., just west of Tampa Bay, is one of several local governments in the nation to essentially embed Uber and Lyft into the local transit system. Transit riders can... Read more »

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This is part 2 of a two-part series on how advocates can create connected cities. Part 1 examined public agencies reshaping their transportation priorities.

Pinellas County, Fla., just west of Tampa Bay, is one of several local governments in the nation to essentially embed Uber and Lyft into the local transit system. Transit riders can get $5 back if they use those ride-hailing companies to connect to a bus stop.

Such a program from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority encourages a healthy public-private relationship and, more importantly, should make it easier for more people to not rely on private car ownership or be left in isolation because of their distance from transit.

Transportation should be viewed like a smartphone. It should allow everyone to be connected to opportunities throughout the rest of society, at reasonable and low cost. And this ride-hailing partnership with transit is a crucial example of how local governments can catch up and be responsive in a fast-moving world of technology-driven transportation options.

No longer should agencies partition buses and rail from all the newer private solutions. Simply put, shared services can be complements to transit. But this is just one way that cities can look beyond traditional thinking in their mission to better connect their transportation systems.

Public agencies must engage with private service providers

Like the auto companies that have begun aggressively investing in ride-hailing efforts, many transit agencies are ramping up efforts to form partnerships with providers like Uber and Lyft. Paratransit is one area ripe for cost savings and real-time service (rather than having to book rides days in advance) through transit agency use of private services like Lyft.

The major caveat here to work out is whether ride-hailing vehicles – with drivers who can spend lots of time driving in between fares – are actually making traffic in cities worse. The only place this has been measured, New York City – which has a unique, data-sharing contract with providers – shows that Uber and Lyft are worsening congestion. The research from the American Public Transportation Association, the University of California-Berkeley, and others have said the jury may still be out on the traffic impacts, but this is an area for local governments to concern themselves. Uber at least has taken steps to help the greater cause, having entered an agreement with Washington, D.C., and several other cities to share data with transportation planners in an effort to better manage traffic flows.

Once ride-hailing arrangements are smoothed out, the next great frontier is autonomous vehicles. In 2016, the U.S. government announced a $4 billion program for self-driving cars, and Pittsburgh took steps so Uber could use the city as an AV testing ground. How can other local governments feel comfortable and confident when considering to do what Pittsburgh has done? Or what Local Motors with its mini-bus Olli – formerly operating outside Washington, D.C. – is doing? For starters, cities need to map out all the pluses and minuses (especially financially) that AVs will bring. From there, they can implement regulations, policies, and plans to safely integrate in this mode of the future.

Don’t forget about transit

“The first thing we need to do is talk with our public institutions to try and make more partnerships, more connectivity, between the different modes, new and old,” said Paul Lewis, vice president of policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, at a panel I moderated at this year’s TransportationCamp DC. “It’s not an easy task. Transit is one of the biggest areas we can do this.”

Indeed, the cities that create connections best will do so basing it off the existing core infrastructure of roads and mass transit. But we also can’t forget that to truly make this ultimate city work, people need to buy in to the concept of multimodalism. To help get there, companies like Ford  are leading the way toward one interactive pass or app that allows people to book, pay, and communicate with all travel options from anywhere. This seamlessness is key for the commute of the future.

Broadening the possibilities of the transit ride is also key. Where partnerships for transit might make the most sense is to have private companies “get people to transit from in-demand areas during off-peak hours,” according to Mobility Lab Director Howard Jennings, quoted in APTA’s Passenger Transport. This can reduce costs to transit agencies for pricey, low-ridership routes and bring in a wider customer base – a prospect that should be a more aggressive part of the mission for transit agencies. So-called “first-mile, last-mile” options are an area ripe for transit agencies to get involved, and some places are even going so far as to subsidize rides to and from transit. Orlando suburb Altamonte Springs, Fla., became the first city, about a year ago, to subsidize Uber rides to transit.

Another APTA report finds convincing evidence that on-demand modes, in many cases, complement – not replace – public transit. Transit consultant Jarrett Walker notes, “Many people who work inside of big companies [like Uber and Lyft] understand perfectly well how the profit motive conflicts with what you’d do if you were just trying to foster a better city, and many welcome regulation precisely to plug that gap.” As evidence appears that Uber may not be the answer to traffic dilemmas, the necessity for companies like it to work within a congestion-reducing framework grows even stronger.

And pricing itself will need to be worked out between all travel modes, which means car travel and parking prices need to reflect their true costs. When it’s cheaper to drive and park downtown than it is to take the bus or train or Uber, the multimodal, connected city goal will remain a fantasy. But there are signs of creativity to balance incentives: some European cities are paying residents to bike to work rather than drive.

Ideas for breaking molds

There are many directions cities could go to become “connected.” And while it could take larger cities with more staffing power to be able to do everything well, smaller cities could at least focus on a handful of these ideas, and do them well.

And as ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft get even more attractive as alternatives to transit, with dynamic in-ride app entertainment and cheaper casual-carpooling options, more and more transit agencies are examining how to use software like TransLoc that can make it easier to take services like Uber and Lyft to and from transit stations. Journalist Esther Dyson, who also spoke on my recent TransportationCamp panel, thinks this general idea can succeed far beyond city centers. “[Uber and Lyft] would have a real opportunity in small, less dense communities where there are people without jobs but with cars. They can dynamically schedule themselves,” she said, adding that hubs like hospitals and campuses could be ride-hailing hubs.

Parking is a ripe place for innovation, as it is generally overbuilt and underpriced. Santander, Spain, has become “the most connected city in Europe” because it’s focused on installing “smart” infrastructure such as sensors that monitor parking spaces. Sensor infrastructure can improve information about parking, and help people choose whether to drive or take other options.

Autonomous vehicles seem to be the elephant in the room. Cities want to prepare for them, but they don’t know how. Federal regulations and standards would certainly be a help in order to even the playing field, but there will likely be large shifts – more people might drive, parking and signage will need major reconfigurations, housing patterns will need to change – involved for the least-prepared places. A draft manifesto from several Cal Poly professors examines how AVs interact with pedestrians and people on bikes, but what about how AVs work with and complement mass transit? I’ve asked before: When cars can be summoned with a button and don’t require attention from humans, will it become even more difficult for transit to compete with the experience of autonomous vehicles? Grush Niles Associates have noted that planners should start mapping out various scenarios in which AVs could be linked into the existing transit foundations, including loops, small areas, large areas, cities, megaregions and routes where buses negate the need for AVs.

Biking, bikeshare (which increasingly see slight increases in travel share thanks to better bike parking and street infrastructure) and walking may soon have some company from electric additions: battery-powered people movers. Electric skateboards and hoverboards and electric bicycles could all soon close a lot of gaps in connecting people to transit options. It helps that 67 percent of those surveyed say they need a shower after a conventional bike trip, while 74 percent say they don’t after an e-bike trip, according to Portland State University’s Transportation Research and Education Center.

And last but far from least, transportation demand management – which includes clear information about options – presents an inexpensive, effective path for forging and solidifying those connections. Arlington Transportation Partners in Virginia works with 221 local organizations in its Champions program to make sure residents and employees know about the many transportation options throughout the county. Places are also learning that their front-line transit information – maps – simply need to be clearer, because most of us don’t understand them. And, finally, to catch up with the allure of the personal car, TDM and marketers can promote these options to connect in more exciting ways that portray transit as the norm.

Having the freedom to walk from home to take bikeshare to the subway to get to work, then maybe take a Zipcar on the way home, should present an exciting opportunity for cities. Racing towards the ultimate connected city could allow for places to provide innumerable benefits like improved traffic, health, safety, environmental conditions, and overall quality of life for many more people.

Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com

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Transit as a lifelong habit: Early transit use informs choices later on in life https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/transit-lifelong-habit-study/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/transit-lifelong-habit-study/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 15:31:33 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21514 Travel choices are a habit, and not just one for a day-to-day consideration. A new study by Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein found that people who lived near reliable transit options early in their lives, such as in their 20s and 30s, were more likely to choose transit later on. Writing on Planetizen, the authors... Read more »

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Travel choices are a habit, and not just one for a day-to-day consideration. A new study by Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein found that people who lived near reliable transit options early in their lives, such as in their 20s and 30s, were more likely to choose transit later on. Writing on Planetizen, the authors note this held true even when people later moved to areas where transit was less reliable. These people were also more likely to live “car-light” lifestyles, owning fewer cars than average.

The study, “Rembrance of Cars and Buses Past,” published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, used a survey of households maintained since 1968 in order to follow transportation choices over long periods of time.

According to Smart and Klein, the study has implications for how planners address ridership rates and regard investments in reliable transit, many of which also apply to potential transportation demand management programs.

“Planners should consider transit as a long-term investment in neighborhoods and the people who live there. By encouraging exposure to transit at an early age (for instance, through free or reduced transit passes for students, recent transplants, or new hires), transit agencies and advocates could “plant the seed” for future ridership. These long-term benefits may be difficult to quantify and incorporate in cost-benefit analyses, though our research suggests the payoffs may be substantial.”

While many campuses might offer some kind of discounted transit pass already as a way to manage near-term issues of parking crunches, these findings support a longer-term justification. In the D.C. region, the unlimited Metro passes offered at American University and Howard University may be influencing transit riders decades down the line, so WMATA might consider the program an investment in future ridership.

The authors also point out that the findings could have considerable implications for younger people currently moving into cities at higher rates. Even if they eventually move to less-dense areas as they have families, they may take transit at higher rates than others and will likely own fewer cars.

Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com

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Untangling the jumbled path towards the ultimate connected city https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/28/untangling-path-towards-connected-city/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/28/untangling-path-towards-connected-city/#respond Tue, 28 Feb 2017 16:19:17 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21366 This is part 1 of a two-part series on how advocates can create connected cities, examining how public agencies can reshape their priorities. Part 2 will detail how they can then move beyond conventional projects. Smartphone owners feel connected much of the time, for better or worse. But shouldn’t that be the goal for physical... Read more »

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This is part 1 of a two-part series on how advocates can create connected cities, examining how public agencies can reshape their priorities. Part 2 will detail how they can then move beyond conventional projects.

Smartphone owners feel connected much of the time, for better or worse. But shouldn’t that be the goal for physical movement as well, to be literally that connected – with a transportation system that could take one anywhere at any time?

That’s a big ask. But what’s exciting is how realistic the vision is for cities that dramatically alter outdated transportation planning. And this is not just about the New Yorks and San Franciscos; auto-oriented towns and cities can develop completely new blueprints for how people get around.

Many people and organizations have taken cracks at defining the connected city. Often these delve into the realm of Internet of Things-type technology. And beacons, smart traffic lights, and sensors will be a big part of cities in the future.

But from Mobility Lab’s standpoint, we look at the connected city as more about access, and making sure people can get to jobs, shopping, family and friends, and healthcare as easy as possible. And that they can do this without owning a car if necessary. Affordable, efficient, easy access from anywhere, anytime is the heart of a “connected city.”

Finding new funding

Of course, the major elephant in the room is always funding, most of which still goes to highways and roads, which have both divided and connected our cities over the past century. The good news is that autonomous vehicles and an increasing focus on making places bikeable and walkable could offer avenues for bringing mass-transit funding up above its typical level of 20 percent of the overall transportation budget. The bad news is that it’s still unclear whether the growth of services like Uber and Lyft will compromise transit funding sources or expand their pool of possible riders.

“Fortunately, communities are increasingly willing to tax themselves” to fund transit expansions, says Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association, who spoke at an “Ultimate Connected City” panel I moderated at TransportationCamp DC in January. “There will be a whole new way that agencies are structured with new connectivity coming online.”

Public agencies must dramatically adjust their planning

The National League of Cities 2016 “Cities of the Future” report [PDF] made even clearer how cities are woefully prepared for new transportation technologies. Of the 68 metropolitan areas analyzed, only 3 percent considered the effects of app-based, on-demand companies like Uber and Lyft in their city plans. Only 6 percent considered the effects of driverless technology. Meanwhile, 50 percent have explicit plans for new highway construction.

The federal government has taken some recent steps in the right direction, with an Obama administration report [PDF: pages 34-35] recommending pilots, workforce training, company and city partnerships, and research into future transportation engineering for autonomous vehicles.

Some places are already making headway on these guidelines. In San Francisco, if new mobility providers meet the necessary requirements, the S.F. Office of Innovation’s new City Transportation Platform grants them access to public rights of way. On a smaller, short-term scale, Washington, D.C’s Metrorail has been aggressively asking customers how it can improve, notes that “competitors” are really partners in connecting the region, and has been implementing some customer suggestions. These are the kinds of elements that need to go into comprehensive, nimble, flexible local transportation plans.

New adhesives clarify for riders

New adhesives clarify for Metrorail riders where the end of six-car trains stop at the platform.

APTA’s Grisby adds, “We would need to re-invent government. How do we maintain social equity? How can we show we’re going to be responsible with taxpayer money while making these changes? All of these changes need capital, cash, and this requires trust. We need trust.”

Public agencies must see advantages to competing confidently

Despite some remaining hesitancy, city leaders are beginning to dabble in this space. Joshua Schank, LA Metro’s first chief innovation officer, says, “As long as we continue to run mass transit systems that are treated like social services, instead of treating them as if they’re trying to attract customers and they’re trying to compete, then you’re going to have real problems in terms of trying to get our capacity to be used more effectively.”

The vision statements in many of the U.S. DOT Smart City Challenge applications show the beginnings of lights turning on. But other local officials still have a long way to go to research and understand carsharing, ridesharing, new technologies, and the needs of their constituents. Getting all of this mobility right will be a significant competitive advantage for cities, according to a recent report from McKinsey and Bloomberg.

To make one or multiple connected cities happen, local governments – and perhaps the feds as well – will simply have to start jumping in the water more than they have so far. In Finland, a government bureau called Liikennelabra (Traffic Lab) works to bring inexpensive transit providers to cities. Part of the answer may be that simple – a more fluid array of public options.

“What an agency looks like today may look different 20 years from now. A transit agency might be a contract manager, partnering with all sorts of entities. The question is: can we encourage folks to try? To not be afraid of failure?” Grisby asks.

Many transit agencies are already on the right track, but often fail to communicate the true benefits of key transit service. Transit planner Jarrett Walker recently wrote:

“The most urgent thing transit agencies need to do, right now, is start talking more confidently about what their fixed-route, high-ridership transit service is achieving, so that they negotiate with the new players from a position of strength and confidence.”

One example: Seattle has consistently supported its bus and rail transit in recent years, drawing higher rates of transit ridership to its booming downtown in a time when bus ridership is dropping in most cities.

seattle bus - BeyondDC

Seattle buses, which are given dedicated space in parts of the city’s downtown.

Educating and informing connective habits

It’s a bit surprising how successful transit projects are across the country. We’re still largely a drive-alone culture in which carpool rates have fallen consistently since the 1980s. To truly have a connected city, where people can move around seamlessly, people must be willing to share rides, and they must be aware of the availability of these options.

There is indeed hope that people are increasingly understanding that they have non-driving transportation options available. More than 30 percent of households do not own a car in six of the 30 largest U.S. cities. And people want these options, as seems apparent by the 77 cities that applied for the Smart City Challenge and the influx of younger residents to places with transit and walking options.

Connected cities must be woven into the fabric of people’s lives. There’s little doubt that Los Angeles is successfully experimenting with this concept. LA Metro is seeing a surge of new light rail riders to Rams football games because the Expo line offers a much-better deal than expensive parking at the stadium. Coordination around big events is a great way to help change people’s habits, and LA’s Olympic committee wants to further embed non-car culture into the city through its planning for the 2024 Games.

Consumer-oriented technology certainly has a big role to play in educating people, too. Apps such as Metropia, which incentivizes people to drive or travel during off-peak hours, or like Mobidot, which helps people monitor and improve their travel behavior, offer new options. Education efforts like these might be key puzzle pieces for creating connected cities.

Next, a look into how cities are finding creative ways to enhance the connectivity of their transportation systems.

Photos, from top: D.C.’s Eastern Market, where Metro riders can connect to the DC Circulator or Capital Bikeshare (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). A six-car Metrorail sticker (WMATA). Buses in Seattle (BeyondDC, Flickr, Creative Commons).

Mobility Lab technology reporter Andrew Carpenter contributed to this article.

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Would minor map changes encourage Metro riders to shift their commutes? https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/23/map-tweaks-dc-metro-riders-shift-commutes/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/23/map-tweaks-dc-metro-riders-shift-commutes/#respond Thu, 23 Feb 2017 17:19:59 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21288 SafeTrack surges in the past months have highlighted one of of the D.C. Metrorail system’s largest demand crunches: the Rosslyn tunnel bottleneck, where the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines converge to head east into downtown. This capacity issue has been exacerbated by the 2014 Silver line opening, and more recently by the current Blue line shutdown... Read more »

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SafeTrack surges in the past months have highlighted one of of the D.C. Metrorail system’s largest demand crunches: the Rosslyn tunnel bottleneck, where the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines converge to head east into downtown. This capacity issue has been exacerbated by the 2014 Silver line opening, and more recently by the current Blue line shutdown surge.

Many commuters coming from the south prefer to take the Blue line downtown, as that route does not require a transfer at L’Enfant Square or Metro Center, even if it less geographically direct. This can create crowding on less-frequent Blue line train cars.

To encourage people to choose the Yellow line as their path to downtown D.C., a New York University professor experimented with manipulating how the Yellow and Blue lines appear on the well-known Metrorail map. Speaking with Martine Powers of The Washington Post, Zhan Guo detailed how, in different maps, he shortened the Yellow line’s Potomac River crossing and lengthened the stretch of Blue that passes Arlington National Cemetery to see if these affected the choices of test-takers at a crowdsourcing website:

“Three different maps showed the Blue Line to be more out-of-the-way as it crossed the Rosslyn tunnel: that section of the route appeared more angular or boxy, but the line was the same length as in the original map. In those cases, the percent of people who opted to use the Yellow Line route increased by sizable amounts: from as little as 1.9 percent, to as much as 5.7 percent.

“In another map, he redrew the Yellow Line to be less angular, more of a straight shot between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations. That also had an effect, encouraging 2.6 percent more people to use the Yellow Line.”

Guo told the Post that even regular Washington, D.C., commuters (based on respondents’ zip codes) were more likely to switch to the Yellow line given map changes. Practically speaking, most regular commuters are less likely to reference a map on their way to work, but those Blue/Yellow tweaks might be effective for newer commuters and visitors.

One change from Guo’s experiment, which smoothed the Yellow line river crossing to make it appear more direct.

Even if the changes – some designed to be deliberately unattractive – are unlikely to be incorporated into a future version of the iconic Metrorail map, Guo’s results highlight the key role transportation information plays in guiding the deliberate choices people make in how they get to work. Small changes can lead commuters to more efficient paths that skirt congestion issues. Besides, who doesn’t like taking in a morning view of the Potomac as the Yellow line makes its way into the District?

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Five ways employers are thinking big on commuter benefits https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/21/five-ways-employers-are-thinking-big-on-commuter-benefits/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/21/five-ways-employers-are-thinking-big-on-commuter-benefits/#respond Tue, 21 Feb 2017 17:39:03 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21276 A new publication from the Association for Commuter Transportation, entitled “Getting to Work,” highlights the ways several forward-thinking employers are offering better commuting options to their employees. Each story offers a look at the unique transportation challenges major employers face – from parking crunches to time-consuming commutes – and which solutions have proven effective in addressing... Read more »

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A new publication from the Association for Commuter Transportation, entitled “Getting to Work,” highlights the ways several forward-thinking employers are offering better commuting options to their employees. Each story offers a look at the unique transportation challenges major employers face – from parking crunches to time-consuming commutes – and which solutions have proven effective in addressing them.

Keeping ridesharing fresh

While carpooling rates have fallen consistently across the U.S., Salt River Project, a water and electricity utility in Phoenix, Ariz., has maintained a strong employee ridesharing rate for decades. Starting in the 1970s, SRP began promoting carpooling as part of a sustainability campaign, encouraging employees to do “one in five for cleaner skies” – as in, take at least one carpool commute per week.

Today that trend and ridesharing culture continues. SRP enjoys a 6 percent vanpool commute rate and an attractive vanpool setup: the utility leases vans to ferry employees to and from its 20 office locations, and employees only have to split the costs of gas.

“We subsidize the vanpool because it’s been, hands­ down, one of the most effective ways of getting employees involved in an alternative mode of commuting,” SRP transportation coordinator Perez told ACT.

A free connection to transit

In Atlanta, Coca-Cola is also offering rides for employees, but on a fixed route. The “Red Bus,” which first launched in 2013, circulates from the company’s two downtown office locations to the MARTA Civic Center rail station. The first-last mile transit connection is further cemented with a complementary incentive: a $50 transit pass monthly subsidy, more than half the cost of a $95 monthly MARTA pass.

Speaking with ACT, Eric Ganther of Coca-Cola explained that the ease of use makes the shuttle a popular option.

“‘The transit benefit helps. But the [most impactful piece] is the shuttle,’ Ganther said. ‘It’s that direct connection from transit stop to doorstep that makes the choice to leave your car at home easier, one part of helping ease the barrier to entry for those who have never used public transit to get to work.'”

Coca-Cola sees its responsibility to commuters and employees as part of its long history with Atlanta, where it has resided for over a century. The company estimates that its shuttle replaces approximately 800 trips each day in the metro region.

Use new transit as a jumping-off point

The opening of the first leg of Metro’s Silver Line reshaped the transportation landscape in Northern Virginia three years ago. In McLean, Va., not-for-profit MITRE sought to build off of the interest in the new option by investing in commuter benefits to encourage some employees, many of whom drove through Beltway traffic, to try the new Metro line.

The organization found that, with Metro nearby, the number of employees taking advantage of the pre-tax transit benefits is now on track to quadruple pre-Metro levels. Now, employees can also take advantage of a $30 subsidy on top of the pre-tax benefits. MITRE also reported to ACT that the number of employees commuting by transit has yet to level off as of late last year.

Like Coca-Cola, MITRE complements its transit benefits with a free employee shuttle between the Silver Line and its office locations.

Pay employees to not drive

Seattle Children’s Hospital, a national leader in commuter benefits, has been working to reduce drive-alone commuting since the early 1990s in order to meet Seattle’s commute reduction plan. Using a three-part model for shifting commute preferences – parking reform, non-driving subsidies, and amenities – SCH has already reduced its drive-alone percentage by 35 points in the last 20 years.

One key part of this plan is a daily subsidy for commuting by any mode other than driving alone. Employees log their commutes in a web portal, and are in turn given $4 for each day they do not drive. This creates an additional opportunity cost for driving that, when combined with market-rate parking costs, adds up over time and helps influence transportation choices.

Expedite longer commutes through vanpools

At Marriott’s current headquarters in North Bethesda, Md., three miles from the nearest Metro station, the hotel company has seen success in a recently-launched vanpool program. After Marriott’s transportation manager Jude Miller reached out to employees about connecting those who lived near each other to better commuting options, two vanpools launched in 2015. In the short time since then, four others have taken off as well, bringing employees from as far as Ashburn, Va.

As Miller told ACT, the vanpool can be a time-saving alternative for those who would otherwise drive long distances alone: “In a van, driving in an HOV lane, it definitely takes less time to get here, making employees happier and more productive.” Car rental provider Enterprise operates the vanpools and stressed the flexibility of the option, noting that Marriott can add or eliminate pools depending on future changes in commuter ridership.

Marriott also encourages employees to apply their $120 monthly commuting subsidy toward the cost of the vanpools. And while the publication makes no mention of Marriott’s recently-announced move to downtown Bethesda, the new location mere steps from Metro will open new transit options to its commuters.

It’s worth checking out “Getting to Work” for a deeper dive into each commuter benefit program: beyond the cited options, each works to offer a network of additional benefits to appeal to commuters of all types and needs.

Photo: The McLean Metro station on the Silver Line (Malcolm K., Flickr, Creative Commons).

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