The government constructed public transportation 100 years ago to make it almost universally affordable by aggregating people at fixed stops and loading them into high-capacity vehicles at pre-determined times. That was—and is—your basic subway and bus systems. Those schemes work well in high demand, high-density areas. But they are very capital intensive. And riders have to work around the schedule. The system doesn't work around riders.
Today, consumer behavior and preferences are changing. Everybody wants the same thing: convenience, speed, comfort and safety. Cities and transit agencies need to develop demand-driven models to be relevant. Right now, transit follows a supply-driven model. Buses show up at their scheduled stops at 8:00 am or 2:00 pm or 11 pm whether anyone is there to get on or not.
Perhaps that’s why, as moderator Ted Hamer said during this session, bus ridership has declined 10 percent annually since 1994.
“At KPMG, we really believe in the islands of autonomy concept and do a lot of thinking about how cities are going to evolve across modes of transportation,” said Jono Anderson. “Delivering relevant and equitable service must be customer-focused and data-driven. How you do that is really a question of balancing the change that’s occurring in each region and the dynamics of how people get around and the choices they have.”
Don Hunt created an initiative in Denver called Mobility Choice Blueprint. The mission is to create a broad mobility vision for metro Denver, driven jointly by the public and private sectors, using new technologies. “We brought together the state, through the Transit Agency and the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and the private sector, through the Denver Chamber of Commerce and the business community,” said Hunt. “And we said, ‘We know it's going to be different in the future. We know we all have to work together in new ways.’”
Bringing in the private sector, in Hunt’s estimation, has been the critical factor in making progress toward a mobility network that is more connected, mobile, adaptable and user-driven. These were people who really knew where the markets were heading and were free to say to the agencies, ‘What you're doing and what you've done for the last 10, 20 and 30 years is not going to work going forward.’
"Now, we're just finishing up the study,” said Hunt. “We have something like 42 recommendations that these three different agencies should take on over the next one, two and three years. And the measure of success is going to be our ability to keep the pressure on. We have some ideas for that, but basically it’s getting them to believe they have to change to survive.”
Speaking of change, Via is a dynamic, on-demand ride share network based in New York City. Via develops and operates micro transit systems all over the world.
What exactly is micro transit? You take out your smartphone and download the Via app. You enter where you are and where you want to go and Via dispatches a vehicle to pick you up, making short stops along the way to pick up and drop off other people. “The value proposition is that you have the convenience and the flexibility of a custom trip,” said Via’s Zach Wasserman. “But because it's shared with other people, it's much less expensive than Uber or Lyft or a taxi, or even driving your private car when you factor the capital cost sum.”
“The technology we've built provides similar economies of scale with a much lower capital investment, while at the same time really being demand-oriented,” said Wasserman. “That's how we're trying to change the experience of shared use mobility and make it more individualized.”
Via, which does about 70,000 rides a day or so all over the world, combines the personal freedom associated with your own vehicle with the social responsibility that comes with a bus and the convenience of shared-use mobility. Fewer vehicle miles traveled, less congestion, less carbon, less carbon emissions, fewer crashes, etc.
“A transportation revolution has at least two components,” said Wasserman. “There is a technology transformation and then there is a political realignment that takes that new mode and makes it mainstream. When it comes to micro transit, on the technical side, the service, the technology, has been de-risked. We’ve validated that it works in all contexts: big cities, lower-density suburbs, really-low-density rural locations. The next step, if we are to maximize the social value of shared-use mobility at scale, is getting the politics and funding right at the federal and local levels.”
Many of Via’s rides are through a joint venture with Mercedes Benz in Europe, called ViaVan. We license this technology and sell contracted transportation services to cities and transit agencies on almost every continent. Via’s soft product—the system—is entirely dynamic and flexible. There are no static routes or schedules. It is oriented around demand, not supply. So it comes to you. It accommodates you, you don't accommodate it, which is really a paradigm shift in the world of shared-use mobility.
“When you look at all of these factors identifying relevant and equitable transit service is a balance of how we make choices on a daily basis,” said Anderson. “It really starts to illuminate how cities, how each island of autonomy, will evolve over time. Sometimes it’s going to be shared transportation, sometimes it's going to be rail transit and sometimes it's going to be personal vehicles. All of these things are part of the big holistic picture of understanding movement in a city. I think that really gets to the need for customer-focused and data-driven solutions.”