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.
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.To me, this is another example of the wrong product being offered to colleges and universities.
"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."
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.
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, ,
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.