ITF Corporate Partnership Board releases report on shaping the relationship between public transport and innovative mobility

ITF Corporate Partnership Board releases report on shaping the relationship between public transport and innovative mobility

The report ‘Shaping the relationship between public transport and innovative mobility’ investigates the convergence of public transport and innovative mobility solutions, such as ride services, car- and bicycle-sharing, app-enabled on-demand micro-bus services, and platforms that connect app-using travellers and drivers. It examines the role of public authorities in ensuring this convergence supports commercial innovation as well as public policy objectives and identifies principles to guide partnerships between innovative mobility services and public transport operators.

The report also explores where action may be needed to ensure that this convergence does not lead to reduced mobility options for those that have difficulty using existing transport modes, and in particular, how the needs of an ageing population may be met in an evolving mobility service landscape.

This study was organised under the auspices of the International Transport Forum’s Corporate Partnership Board (CPB). It is based on a workshop with commercial actors, public authorities and other experts that took place in November 2016, and interviews with various officials and experts as well as input from CPB member companies. Additionally, extensive desk research for this study was carried out by the International Transport Forum.

What the working group discovered: The rapid deployment of new types of mobility services has the potential to change the way in which urban mobility and access are delivered. This will have an impact on the nature of public transport. The convergence of public transport and ride services in particular provides an opportunity to deliver better mobility outcomes for a broader share of the population. At the same time it poses clear risks to the provision of equitable and sustainable mobility for all.

Ride services like those offered by Didi Chuxing, Grab, Lyft, Ola, Uber and other innovative mobility options – including app-based microtransit platforms like Chariot and car- and bicycle-sharing – account for a small share of trips in most urban areas. Nonetheless, they are starting to have an impact of trip-making behaviour where they are present and are starting to be seen as a potential complement for first and last mile connections. In low density regions difficult to service with public transport and areas where public transport is available but quality is perceived to be lacking, ride services may also come to be seen as an alternative.

Some public transport operators and authorities are already exploring partnerships with app-enabled mobility services. Most of these initiatives are taking place in the United States – partly because of the popularity of ride services there, partly because many urban areas there have difficulty providing attractive public transport. Many of the partnerships described in this report are pilot projects or promotional campaigns and at present there is no evidence for a permanent shift in public transport service delivery towards structural partnerships with ride services. Nonetheless, authorities and ride-service operators are using these pilots to test new ways of improving mobility outcomes where it is difficult to provide quality public transport.

Co-operation with ride services is unlikely to save poor-quality public transport, however. Providing first and last mile connections via ride services to poor quality (i.e. unreliable, crowded, slow, infrequent) public transport will not suffice to attract users to public transport; it certainly seems unlikely to entice car users to switch. Such co-operations may result in cost savings for public transport operators in certain contexts. But introducing ride services alone will not reverse a decline in ridership if the overall service offer does not result in improved outcomes for travellers.

The group recommends:

Focus on improving overall mobility outcomes, not just on lowering public transport costs

Replacing more expensive, less demand-responsive and less flexible public transport with less expensive, more demand-responsive and more flexible ride services (or other combinations of innovative mobility services) can free funds that public transport operators could allocate to improving service quality. Cost savings should not be the only motivation for seeking synergies between ride services and public transport. These synergies can be leveraged to provide improved outcomes for travellers while at the same time allowing public authorities to deliver on important public policy objectives such as improved equity, reduced congestion and improved environmental outcomes.

Set a vision for urban transport that includes full integration of innovative mobility options

Public policy is best served when it is framed within a coherent set of visions and goals. These should be incorporated into a publicly vetted plan that sets out how authorities intend to deliver on these goals despite fast-changing circumstances. This is the case with the public policy approach to innovative mobility services, automated driving and generally how digitally-driven changes may fundamentally challenge the concept of public transport. One good example of this type of plan is the city of Los Angeles’ “Urban Mobility Plan in a Digital Age” that re-orients the focus to Mobility as a Service.

Ensure partnerships between public transport and innovative mobility operators to improve mobility for all people, including those with disabilities

If innovative mobility services complement or replace accessible mainstream public transport, they will need to provide at least the same degree of spontaneity and flexibility to travel when the individual wants or needs. Where frequent accessible buses and on-street hail taxis are available, licensed ride services must not erode overall levels of accessible transport. App-based ride services can improve overall accessibility by better matching supply of accessible vehicles and demand – but only if the design of the service and of the partnership takes into account the specific needs of travellers with impairments.

Target low-performing or costly routes, and leverage government assets to guide convergence

Where public transport is expensive and service quality is low, replacing certain poorly-performing, expensive bus services may increase the overall attractiveness of public transport. By undertaking inventories of existing public transport routes to examine the potential for alternative service delivery models, public authorities and public transport operators can evaluate where synergies with innovative mobility services are strongest. Governments can also leverage assets they control to guide this convergence: Re-allocating parking space at public transport hubs, for instance, can improve the convenience of trips by public transport combined with rides-services; as can the creation of curb-side pick-up and drop-off zones.

Split regulatory oversight from operation of urban transport and adapt procurement practices

The governance of public transport will play an essential role in either facilitating or impeding the convergence of traditional and innovative mobility services, and of ride services in particular. Split responsibilities complicate the task of aligning outcomes. For instance the regulation of ride services may be in the hands of an authority in charge of taxi or for-hire services, while public transport regulation may fall under a completely different authority. Governance models that unify regulatory oversight and planning functions, define quality outcomes and performance objectives, and set contractual relationships to deliver these across a wide range of mobility operators may accelerate the integration of these into a co-ordinated ecosystem. Procurement rules for ride services and platform-based micro-transit services, however, will have to adapt to the specificities of these services. In particular, this will require a focus on outcomes (e.g. average wait times) versus strict service delivery (e.g. on-time performance).

Mitigate innovation risk for new services through pilots and portfolio management

Public authorities must ensure that public expenditure delivers value to citizens. This is understandable, but can also hamper their ability to engage in innovative arrangements where the value for the public is initially uncertain. Time-bound pilot projects contain this risk, and many jurisdictions in the United States have used these. Public agencies might also create public-private “innovation laboratories” that manage a portfolio of new projects to help identify interesting initiatives. National authorities can help as well, by creating dedicated programmes to help fund trials that have the potential for widespread replication. A good example is the US Federal Transit Agency’s “Mobility on Demand Sandbox” programme. Another option to avoid the risk of lock-in with single service providers is for public authorities to implement user-side subsidies rather than supplier-side subsidies.

Incentivise age- and disability-friendly interactions in partnerships between public transport and ride-service operators

Ageing has a major influence on disability trends. These, in turn, will have an impact on the ability of an ageing population to remain mobile and enjoy good access to services, opportunities and other people. Many older people are affected by impairments including loss of visual acuity, loss of hearing, short-term memory loss or difficulties in balancing. The design and delivery of partnerships between public transport and ride services must take this development into account so as not to exclude older people and those with disabilities. Public authorities should generally ensure that innovative services meet the needs of the population as a whole on an inclusive basis. Incentives for ride-services to deploy wheelchair-accessible vehicles, appropriate levels of training for drivers, call centres for bookings and questions for users with special needs and innovative contracts between operators and public authorities to improve para-transit services (like in Boston) are examples for how this can be achieved.

  • ITF-report: New relationship between public transport and innovative mobility.

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