Washington, DC. With innovations in public transportation and new service providers, reliance on car ownership is no longer the only way to be mobile. Nearly 80 percent (77 percent) of commuters see public transit as the backbone of a lifestyle that includes current and future technologies such as ride-hailing (i.e. Uber and Lyft), bike/car-share, autonomous vehicles (AVs), scooters and other future emerging innovations, according a new study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
“Commuters are demanding multiple mobility options, and they instinctively know it is simple arithmetic; public transit provides the best option to transport the most people in the smallest space,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “America’s public transit systems are poised to serve as regional mobility managers. This means they are best equipped to organize a multi-modal network of transportation options consumers can use.”
The report, The Transformation of the American Commuter, is based on the results of a qualitative focus group and a quantitative nationwide survey with a strong focus on millennials. The research was conducted by Anazalone Liszt Grove for APTA. The study also includes additional data by the National Academy of Sciences and other data sources.
“Customers expect to be in control of their mobility choices, so it is up to us to prove our relevance. Being easy to use and accessible via smartphones is key,” said Gary Thomas, President/Executive Director of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. “Recent updates to our GoPass™ mobile ticketing app deliver enhanced travel planning tools and a ‘cash-to-mobile’ option to help us reach the unbanked market, and fare-capping, which makes transit even more affordable. Combining innovations in customer-facing communication with flexible services makes us attractive to new partners like Apple, VISA, Ford, and Toyota.”
Many public transit agencies are centralizing the role of the mobility manager through a transit app, and other private entities are focusing on this area. APTA’s survey showed that 74 percent of millennials would use a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) app allowing for the coordination and payment of different types of transportation.“Technology is disrupting the transportation industry, and people are embracing new modes of transportation to commute,” said Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. “As a public transit authority, we need to be flexible and able to better collect and analyze our customer data to integrate new technologies – such as autonomous vehicles, bike share, and ride hailing – into a comprehensive transportation ecosystem to help ensure that public transit remains a viable, accessible and desirable mode of commuting. For example, our rideRTC app allows people to plan their trip, buy their pass and find their bus on their smartphone. Now, app customers can also plan and book an Uber or Lyft ride in connection with their RTC transit trip, all on rideRTC.”
APTA’s study shows some hesitancy from commuters about self-driving vehicles, with only 21 percent of millennial respondents saying that they would prefer a self-driving taxi to a traditional one. However, that figure increases to 46 percent when respondents were told that AVs have the potential to reduce costs by 90 percent.
Public transit agencies are, and should be, first adopters of AV technologies – from Automated Driver Assist Systems to fully autonomous vehicles, according to APTA officials. They note AV shuttles now being deployed can connect people to high capacity transit and serve mobility deserts – places that are not served by traditional transit. AVs can also expand mobility for those who are not able to drive.
“The upheaval in our industry has an upside: it has forced LA Metro to think hard about the best way to improve regional mobility,” said Joshua Schank, Ph.D., Chief Innovation Officer, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “For instance, our microtransit project will allow Metro customers to use cellphones to order, monitor and pay for rides in vehicles smaller than our buses. The service won’t be tied to a fixed route or schedule and will initially be deployed in smaller zones. We see microtransit as a great way to get around in areas where traditional bus service isn’t working for most people.”
Authors of the study note this multi-transit lifestyle is accommodated by transit-oriented development. Current research shows that most millennials tend to prefer walkable communities and short commutes. In fact, APTA’s study noted that 88 percent of millennial respondents said the length of their commute was important to them.
“SouthWest Transit, a suburban transit provider in the Twin Cities, has been operating a pioneering shared ride microtransit service for over three years,” said Matt Fyten, Manager of Planning for SouthWest Transit in Eden Prairie, MN. “The service, SouthWest Prime, has been highly successful with over a 400 percent increase in ridership since its first year in operation. Compared to traditional dial-a-ride services, SW Prime has proven to be the most efficient demand response service in the Twin Cities region serving over 400 riders a day while using only one dispatcher/reservationist to manage the entire system.”
The report explains that the use of AV technology by public transit agencies may help ensure the greatest access to mobility to low-income, older adults and persons with disabilities. In addition, without guidance from local transit agencies, those persons with limited access to financial institutions or smartphones are also at risk of not benefiting from these new technologies.
“It is essential we transform our thinking of how we provide local transportation services to ensure integration across markets, modes, and providers,” said Skoutelas. “It is important to continue to simplify the user’s access, and work to keep trip and service costs equitable for customers. Most importantly, it is critical we grow this new mobility network to safeguard our industry’s mission to serve people from all walks of life while enhancing a region’s transportation and community goals.”
To read the full study go to www.apta.com/transformation.