Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A product in search of a problem: getting the right mobility product for the right market segment (The failure of the Slide mobility service and the introduction of Zipbike bike sharing at colleges)

WBJ reports ("D.C.-based ride-sharing service Split ends operations") that the equivalent of a "shared taxi," Split, which operates in the core of DC is shutting down its service.

I've written about it a few times, just as I write about shared taxi/taxi collectif services, mostly the examples I use are from Montreal, or the recent FRED service that has been introduced in Downtown San Diego.

Like how I believe that e-bikes are mostly mis-marketed to core inner city residents when they are best for longer distance trips ("(Still) tired of mis-understanding of the potential for e-bikes," 2015), shared taxi services tend to work at the ends of transit systems, not in the core, or in areas underserved by transit ("Underserved in transit, Mattapan wants a lift," Boston Globe).  (The FRED service in Downtown San Diego is subtly different, a service for people unfamiliar with or slightly fearful of the inner city core.)

In the core, people can walk, bike, use transit, or take one-way car share.  Destinations are close and close to transit obviating the "need" to drive.

Split CEO Ario Keshani and strategy and biz dev director Dan Winston. Photo from Bisnow.

Therefore, I am not surprised that the Split service is shutting down.

Shared taxis often need subsidy in part to operate because of relatively low passenger loads.  The reason to provide the subsidy is to meet public policy goals concerning the breadth and reach of the transit network.

Some transit services are working with ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft to provide so called "last mile" services from and to transit stops at the edge of transit service areas. That's the market segment Split should have focused on, but it isn't nearly as visible as a service is in the center city and negotiating subsidies from public agencies for a new service is very very difficult.

Zipbike.  Last week, Zipcar and Zagster announced a new bike sharing system they'll be marketing to colleges and universities ("Zipcar and Zagster Launch Zipbike, the First National, Sponsored Bike-Share Program for Universities," press release). From the release:
Zagster, which operates 140 bike-share programs across North America — including nearly two dozen on college campuses — will manage the Zipbike systems at all participating universities. Zipcar, which is the largest and most longstanding campus car sharing provider with operations on more than 500 college and university campuses, will launch at participating Zipbike campuses if they don't already have Zipcar programs.

"We know that today's mobile-first, app-centric students value on-demand access over ownership," said David Piperno, vice president of finance and strategy at Zipcar. "Zipcar programs on campuses improve the quality of life for students, faculty and staff alike by making it easy to access a car only when they need one, and our partnership with Zagster will allow us to offer that same access to bikes."
To me, this is another example of the wrong product being offered to colleges and universities.
Bicycle racks at the University of California, Davis, 1963, by Ansel Adams
Bicycle racks at the University of California, Davis, 2963.  Photo by Ansel Adams.  When the UCD campus was constructed, it prioritized walking and biking, and didn't include roads within the campus.

What colleges should want is to prioritize and reify "sustainable mobility." Rather than doing it fractionally, they need to encourage as many students as possible to use bikes, all the time. And it's much easier and cheaper "to give them a bike" rather than to buy a limited number of bikes and have them be shared, but to be used only occasionally.

Universities like UCLA have "bike rental" programs (some call this a "bike fleet" or ""bike library,"  I call it "bike provision") where students get a bike for full-time use for an entire semester, along with a lock and helmet, and access to a bike repair shop on campus.

Some charge a small fee (UCLA seems to have doubled their fee since I last was looking--to the point where it's probably best to just buy a bike), while other colleges, like North Central College, recognizing this is a transportation demand management initiative, don't charge anything.

The other type of program is giving students free bicycles to own, in return for an agreement to not bring a car to campus and/or other responsibilities.  Ripon College is one of the pioneers of such programs, and they did it because they realized that land is too valuable to use it all up for parking instead of buildings (Ripon College gives freshmen free bikes for no-car pledges," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).

Other colleges offering similar programs include the University of Dayton, the University of New England, and the University of Louisville ("UofL forges path to change how students commute," Louisville Courier-Journal; "With Free Bikes, Challenging Car Culture on Campus," New York Times).

Technology heavy fractional use bike sharing programs make sense when people only occasionally use bike.  By contrast, on a residential-based college campus, where students can conduct upwards of 90% of their typical trips by walking and biking--augmented by transit and car sharing, bike provision programs are the cheapest and easiest to administer and get much greater return on investment, ,

Note that UCLA also has a free bike program for staff and faculty.  In return for giving up their parking permit they get a $400 credit towards buying a bike at a local bike shop.

Depending on the length of the typical commute trip, the university should consider adding e-bikes to the mix and providing more funds towards the program, or doing a payroll deduction program to assist with the purchase.

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At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Tom Quinn said...

I'm surprised you didn't look closer to home for examples/opportunities for universities to play a bigger role in bridging that last mile.

In my neighborhood American University has a particularly vexing challenge/opportunity in increasing student cycling.

AU is .8 miles from the Tenleytown Metro, a gap which is mostly filled with their frequent shuttle bus service (which is essentially available to the public as well) but a lot of students also walk.

The weird thing about AU is that it is essentially in a no mans land - it is a suburban campus in an urban area surrounded by several busy roads with no good retail nodes that are really within walking distance.

But the campus is so small that it doesn't really make sense to bike within campus but the relatively smaller student population also means you don't seem to have the same opportunities to do things on campus that you'd have at a bigger university.

So there are limited things to do on campus and really not much to do near campus either and though the restaurant choices in Tenleytown have improved a lot most students are just hopping on the Metro to head downtown once they get to TT too.

Starting this semester AU is including in the student fees a charge for an unlimited Smarttrip pass that all students will receive.

I mention all of this as background wondering if it would make more sense for both the University and immediate neighborhood if AU instead invested in a fully developed Capital Bikeshare network around the campus and similarly bought memberships for all students.

The distances around campus and to and from the TT metro would all be amenable to using CABI (currently there is 1 station on the main campus with another coming this spring but no stations on Mass or NM Ave)but the retail nodes on NM Ave and Mass Ave really don't have stores that currently cater to students so today at least its not obvious that creating such a network would encourage students to visit them.

It's odd to have a university with almost 10,000 students who barely have a presence on the streets in the neighborhood but it seems like a lost opportunity for generating active retail nodes to not cater to those students.

I'm mostly thinking out loud here but AU's decision to encourage more transit use (they were already bridging that last mile with their shuttles) instead of subsidizing a CABI network seems to have made it easier for students to leave the neighborhood which may be good for the students but not good for neighborhood retailers.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

will get at your comments more deeply later.

the reason I didn't talk about this in terms of local universities is because I have discussed it in the past.

This is relevant too,, listing five methods at universities:

1. Give students a free bike (with some conditions) as a transportation demand management strategy designed to reduce automobile traffic, parking demand, and the space required to park cars.

2. Bike library -- you can go to the Rec. center and check a bike out.

3. Rental by the term. At North Central College, for $30/term, you can rent a bike and you get a lock and helmet too. And depending on the program, free repairs. This is for TDM purposes and limits the amount of program management and labor demands imposed by the bike library.

4. Discounted purchase programs like the Fuji University program by Fuji Bicycles, which is in place at many universities including Michigan State, Emory University, Temple University, and Brigham Young University.

5. Bikesharing programs.

and sometimes that makes it hard to want to write about it again.

It's worth putting together a particular post again.

Interestingly, an AU student contacted me about this stuff years ago, and I offered to come make a presentation, but they never followed up.

I did presentations at Towson U when I worked in Balt. County and I served as a guest online lecturer for a class at the New School, on bicycle and pedestrian planning.

In that presentation, I included a special section expanded from my TU presentations, on bicycle planning for college campuses.

But yes, there are tremendous opportunities for universities based in cities like DC. Georgetown is recognized at a bronze level in the LAB "Bicycle Friendly University" in recognition program, but I don't know what they do that is special.

CUA, Georgetown, CUA, AU, and GWU all have great opportunity.

Even though I prefer that universities do a program more along the lines of what I wrote about in this piece, Harvard and MIT are standouts in that they have paid for bike sharing stations to serve their campuses.

What is also of interest is in support of biking for faculty and staff. MIT recently introduced a new TDM program.

And UCLA has three programs that I think are outstanding:

- $400 towards purchase of a bike (but I think it should be more and expanded to include e-biking)

- two week term for bike loans (to test commuting, if they are out of a bike for a time, etc.)

- organized regular group commuter rides from key points around LA

My previous writings focused on students mostly, and should have included staff. That was a major omission and justifies a new updated piece.

Besides supporting biking for students and staff in systematic, appropriate ways. The two other biggest things that universities could do is have a high quality bike lane network on campus and way better accommodations (preferably state of the art) for bike parking, including provision of secure and protected parking, including biceberg type accommodations.

... I wasn't in a position to take a photo when I saw it, but last year, a student in one of the dorms on Brookland Ave. had a tandem bike. I meant to try to track him down but didn't.

Tandem bikes, cargo bikes, etc. would be a nice addition to these kinds of programs.

AND regular programming.

The thing with UC Davis (in my cited posts) is that I think they forgot that as driving became much more prevalent, more students were coming to campus unfamiliar with biking, and so a much deeper commitment to ongoing promotion and programming was required, since a new large group of students comes in each year while one leaves, constant "market development" is necessary.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WRT your specific comments, participating in the bike share network is expensive for the number of bikes that would be required.

There are stations serving the campus, but as you say intra-campus mobility is served fine by walking.

Bikeshare would support local retail more, but students are probably more interested in getting away from campus/Tenleytown, and there is more available anyway further away.

That being said, prioritizing a protected bike lane on Nebraska Avenue to/from the campus/Tenleytown Metrorail station allows the creation of infrastructure that supports greater take up for biking.

But it would have to be complemented by the kinds of programs I mentioned above and in previous entries.

(I was supposed to go to a presentation at AU today, but I bagged it because of rain and other stuff, and that is the route I take, Military Road to Nebraska.)

DK know what of TDM planning they do, whether they capture much data on student trip behavior. The universities in California have hard core requirements, hence the multiplicity of programs in biking, transit, etc.


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