When running a business, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, the here and now. How often do allow yourself to envision the future, particularly how the fast pace of change will impact your business?
I stepped out of the box on Monday for a day-long workshop in Los Angeles, conducted through the Shared-Use Mobility Center, which examined new modes of transportation and potential solutions to today’s mobility issues. Here’s a quick hit of the issues, concepts and trends from the event. And yes, they have everything to do with renting a car.
- Cities can’t build more roads.
When you wrap your head around this concept, you’re closer to understanding the future of transportation. “We used to just widen the intersections,” said Jay Kim of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “Then it was about getting out of cars into mass transit; now it’s about optimizing the roadways for various modes.”
London has no space to build new roadways in the face of growing demand, according to Ben Plowden, a strategist for Transport for London. “The goal is to find optimal use for finite capacity,” he said. In that vein, London is putting its Big Data (demographic, transportation, traffic flow) in an app store for any developer to use.
Seattle just authorized 3,000 public parking spaces to be made available for carsharing. A Los Angeles project is examining strategies to remove 100,000 cars by 2020 through a combination of increased carsharing, carpooling, bike sharing and ride hailing — or “ride sharing” through Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. (I prefer the term ride hailing, though that etymology battle may already be lost).
From a user perspective, the increasing cost of keeping a car and parking it in a city are driving users to new modes. Street space is the most contested real estate in cities, and parking is the number one issue in business districts. “Parking supply is the biggest determination if people will use their cars to travel to that area,” said Mike Bonin, Los Angeles Metro board member.
As a result,
- Roadways need to be redesigned.
Understand the concept of “complete streets” — where roads are designed not just for vehicles, but also for pedestrians, bicycles and low-speed vehicles.
Cities are considering “slow-speed lanes” that not only accommodate bicycles, but also low-speed electric vehicles. To protect cyclists, bike lanes could be placed in between parked cars and the curb.
Replacing bus stops, streets could be set up for “shared-use pods,” essentially transit stations for shared mobility that facilitate public transit, carshare, bike share, taxi and TNC service.
- Ride-hailing technology is facilitating other mobility needs.
Whereas technology introduced through Uber and Lyft has reinvented the taxi trip, it’s also being used to facilitate other common transportation needs.
As public school busing is curtailed, another area of focus is connecting students to schools, including getting kids to their myriad of afterschool activities. Boost by Benz, a Mercedes-Benz initiative testing in Palo Alto, Calif., gets kids to and from school and afterschool activities using Sprinter vans and an algorithm to economize the trips.
RideAmigos is licensing its ride-sharing platform to municipalities for use by school systems. RideScout aggregates transportation choices in an app and tells users the best option for the trip.
A local city council member said that traditional “dial-a-ride” services to help seniors get around are inefficient and costly. She wondered if TNC technology could be utilized to make the process more efficient.
While every movement a millennial makes seemingly becomes the subject of a study, the transportation needs of aging baby boomers are coming into focus. Some 80 million millennials enter the work force — just as 80 million boomers are exiting it. Serving the boomers’ transportation needs is big business.
- New modes must address “transportation equity.”
Technology facilitates mobility, as long as you have a credit card, but what about the “unbanked” population that relies on public transportation today? “The equity-slash-income gap is a big challenge to scaling up,” said Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation. “We need a model that services those that don’t have a bank account.”
In some high-density areas, 65% of incomes go to both housing and transportation. “That’s not sustainable,” said Reynolds.
The shared-use culture may not be far off from what already exists in low-income communities, said Ray Leon of LEAP (Latino Environmental Advancement & Policy Project). In the farm areas surrounding Fresno, Calif., workers convene at a central spot for “rideteros,” people offering trips for hire. LEAP is working to formalize this type of arrangement into a public program.
- With so many choices, we need an easier way to pay.
When it comes to the new mobility equation, an underlying principle is to take the type of transportation that fits the trip. But that presents a myriad of payment touch points. Can they be tied together?
Where 10 years ago, six smartcards to fatten your wallet may have been the answer, payment through smartphones and third-party payment systems such as Apple Pay are making this easier.
The city of Helsinki, Finland is developing a system of operators that bundle mobility services and offer them through an app, allowing the rider to choose the best option through a central pay point. The city is cultivating several operators to compete with each other.
In Los Angeles, the Dept. of Transportation is readying a Request for Proposals to solicit a team of vendors to do essentially the same thing.
- How do we solve the “First Mile/Last Mile” problem?
Mass transit is great at delivering riders to and from transportation hubs, but that’s never the end of the journey. How do they get to the train, bus or subway station and back?
Many think that public transit should satisfy the long trips, while private sector companies that offer carsharing, ride-hailing and bike-sharing services should facilitate the first and last miles and trips in less populous areas.
In this way, new transit modes would facilitate mass transit, not aggrandize it.
I sat down with a woman at lunch whose brother plays for the NFL. She said NFL players have selected Uber as their default transportation method. When you think of it, it’s perfect: when players land in a city, players no longer have to search for a limo service and pay for it themselves or through a contract. It’s all done through that universal app at their fingertips.
So where does car rental fit in?
Think about how your company might become part of these new transportation hubs, or facilitate a short trip from the train station to the office park. Can you position yourself as a solution to parking downtown? Can you integrate with these new payment systems? Can you automate the car rental process through technology?
At some point, you’ll have to.