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, October 23, 2019

Sustainable mobility platform news

Mobility Hubs. Minneapolis ("Minneapolis pilots mobility hubs combining transit, scooters and bicycles," Minneapolis Star-Tribune) and Pittsburgh are getting attention for their "mobility hub" "innovations."

From the MST:
... new spots called mobility hubs where multiple modes of nonautomobile transportation intersect. Each one has a bus stop, a bench and parking for Nice
Ride bicycles and scooters that can be checked out by smartphone app.

The hubs opened this month at four busy north Minneapolis intersections and are designed to make it more appealing and convenient for people to leave their car at home, said Josh Johnson, the city’s advanced mobility manager.

“We want to get people out of their personal cars and onto low- or no-carbon transportation,” he said. “We are trying to get to those who have not considered using a bike, bus or scooter … to think about how you are moving around the city.”

Mobility shed diagramSince I suggested setting up such hubs, centered around transit stations, dating to 2006-2008 ("Updating the mobilityshed / mobility shed concept"), it doesn't seem all that innovative to me.  (When I was writing about it, so too was the University of Michigan transportation center.)

More recently, the mode listings were updated in terms of a broader platform for sustainable mobility.

-- "Further updates to the Sustainable Mobility Platform Framework," 2018

And when I was involved in a bicycle facilities firm aiming to participate in the bike sharing space, we proposed similar kinds of layering, that you could integrate bike sharing systems with parking systems, and include electric charging infrastructure, have wayfinding systems and community information centers as part of the station kiosk system, and even create "transportation demand management stores" ("") on the front end of back end repair and operations depots.

Open Parking System diagram (Urbikes)

Integrating multiple modes by requiring different providers to work together.  What makes the Pittsburgh initiative ("A Micromobility Experiment in Pittsburgh Aims to Get People Out of Their Cars," CityLab) somewhat interesting is that instead of the city doing the integrating, they put out a tender calling on the for profit providers to work together and come back with integrated proposals.
But hearing from those residents was an affirmation for Ricks that the introduction of a few hundred so-called micromobility devices was not going to make the answer for everyone. “We know that Razors on steroids are not a safe way for a mom to take her kids to school,“ she said. “So while we still wanted them, we also wanted to be able to provide something else to improve that situation.” ...

That knowledge, and the stories at Mobiliti, helped seed Ricks’ idea for what is now the Pittsburgh Micromobility Collective, a self-organized, private consortium that aims to bring a range of “new mobility” services across the city. Led by the dockless bike and scooter startup Spin, the group also includes Zipcar, Ford Mobility, Waze, the scooter parking solution Swiftmile, and the Transit app. Earlier this year, the companies collaborated in response to a request for proposals from Ricks’ department, which called for a complement of car-free transportation options that customers can access and book through a single platform.

Their winning plan, which was one of five submissions, envisions “mobility hubs” clustered near transit stops throughout Pittsburgh. There, travelers would find some combination of bike-share stations, Zipcar vehicles, Waze carpool pickup spots, and parked and charged e-bikes and scooters from Spin to rent. The Transit app would handle route planning and ticketing services to customers, and Ford Mobility would feed data analytics back to the city.
Prototyping German style transport associations.  This is tricky.  While I think that all mobility providers should have to participate in a broad transport association which integrates planning, servicer, and operations, along the lines of a German Verkehrsverbund (VV), it's not clear that there are good examples, even in Germany of for profit and government agency actors all getting along.

-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017
-- "Verkehrsverbund: The evolution and spread of fully integrated regional public transport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland," Ralph Buehler, John Pucher & Oliver Dümmler, International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (2018)
-- Transport Alliances - – Promoting Cooperation and. Integration to offer a more attractive and efficient Public Transport, VDV, trade association for German transport associations

So Pittsburgh is moving things forward.

By contrast, bike share programs operated by Boston and San Francisco actively opposed "competition," even to the extent of seizing bikes ("Another example of the need to reconfigure transpo planning and operations at the metropolitan scale: Boston is seizing dockless bike share bikes, which compete with their dock-based system").

Berlin's integrated transit app: integrated apps as an element of brand leadership.  Although in Berlin, they've created a mobility app that integrates both transit modes provided by the transport association and non-transit modes offered by private firms ("Berlin's new transit app Jelbi connects all modes in one place," Fast Company).
The app, Jelbi, which will launch this summer, connects services that currently each have apps of their own, making it difficult to plan a trip or buy tickets given the number of choices. “We have eight bikesharing companies in the market, alone,” says Christof Schminke, the managing director in Germany for Trafi, the tech company that built the platform for BVG, Berlin’s public transport company. “I think it’s a good sign that Berlin has all the mobility options, but for every service you need a separate app on your smartphone.”

BVG, which runs the city’s subways, trams, buses, and ferries, wanted to become a broader mobility provider for Berlin. “They also saw a competitive threat, because there are also other players, like automotive companies or the Ubers of the world, that are also starting to integrate other modes of mobility… they didn’t want to leave it to private players to [take on] this integrator role,” Schminke says. Other companies, like the startups offering bikes and scooters, saw the benefits of connecting with a public transit platform and getting more riders.
So maybe I am wrong in my past writings where I suggest that it isn't necessary to have an integrated app linking all modes, since most people are likely to use just a couple modes and are inclined to "self-integrate."

-- "integrating payment systems in the Sustainable Mobility Platform," 2018
-- "Chicken and egg transit planning: Greater San Francisco and the Clipper Card upgrade," 2018

From a branding perspective, even if it might not be absolutely necessary to provide one integrated app, it is key for the transit agency to maintain a prominent position in the mobility landscape and not unnecessarily concede its position, by yielding coordination of the sustainable mobility platform to for profit providers.

Here you can rent bicycles, car-sharing cars, electric scooters and soon also e-scooters with the new app: the new Mobility Hub at S-Bahn station Schönhauser Allee. Photo: Gerd Engelsmann, Berliner Zeitung.

According to the BZ, Jelbi is the Berliner word for yellow, and yellow is the primary color used by  the BVG transit system.  They are using the same word and design for both the transit app and micromobility hubs ("BVG turns on Jelbi This new app is intended to revolutionize Berlin's traffic" and "First hub for mobility In Kreuzberg, the change is now easier").

The aim is to include as many providers as possible, but rather than include everyone at the outside, providers are being integrated into the app in phases, and some firms, like Car2Go, have declined to participate.

As demonstrated by Berlin and Pittsburgh, government agencies do need to step up to be able to continue to assert the primary leadership role in the sustainable mobility platform, to be innovative when media coverage tends to accord innovative practice to the for profit firms, which fueled by venture capital and other big money normally move much more quickly.

Surcharges for ride hailing trips. Ride hailing -- Uber, Lyft, and others -- shifts trips from transit to private automobiles, hurting transit agency revenues and increasing congestion. So it's reasonable to put surcharges on the trips, to pay for the negative effects.  Chicago is proposing a $3 per trip surcharge ("Mayor Lightfoot's proposed ride-share fees would be the highest in the nation. But other cities are also considering hikes," Chicago Tribune).

As I state repeatedly, it pisses me off that in DC, the tax on a ride hail trip is 6% and sales tax on a car share trip is 10%.

Scooter rides now more expensive than a bus or subway trip.  Recently, led by Bird, scooter companies have significantly increased their pricing.  Originally, the cost was 15 cents/minute plus a $1 flat fee per trip.  New entrants conformed to the pricing, but some didn't assess the per trip fee.

But prices have gone up considerably.  The Washington Post ("That scooter ride is going to cost you a lot more") made a table showing the cost of a ten minute trip.  Now the cost is significantly higher than a typical bus or subway ride.

This isn't a surprise.  It's hard to show a for profit business model for scooters that shows the likelihood of significant profits justifying the big investments made in the sector thus far, made by firms seeking extranormal returns.  The scooters don't last that long and not that many people use them.  There's a reason bike share is subsidized...

I can see scooters being integrated into community bike sharing systems, but it would be at a subsidy.  In terms of for profit operations, I don't think the business is sustainable. 

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At 11:22 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

"In terms of for profit operations, I don't think the business is sustainable. "

Since we argued about this last, new scooter models have appeared. Appear to be more waterproof and don't have the external battery that can be removed.

Also, not well advertised but they are offering $5/m subscriptions to people who qualify for medicaid? Unclear.

Bigger picture -- it would be great if this innovation drives down the price of electric bikes into the $500 range. I bought a scooter b/c I don't want to spend so much on an electric bike - and need very minimal electrics (5-10 mile range).

Also all this goes to Mari's point -- who is the customer of the school -- and there is no question what WMATA thinks the customer is -- the jurisdictions that fund it. Why bother with transit riders and make things better?

(again that logic can go to far but useful exercise in terms of identifying real incentives).

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Even with hardier scooters, will people pay $7 to $15 each day to ride them? If they do, yes, the business will be successful, because they only need about 8 rides/day to make a lot of money. (But $15/day is not a lot less than the cost of owning a car.)

I don't see it. But maybe people aren't smart about figuring out the daily cost of stuff.

... like meal kits and going out to restaurants. Meal kits are cheaper than restaurant meals and more expensive than preparing your own. After using meal kits, a goodly number of people figured they can cook on their own. Combine that with a plethora of companies so that no one company could develop critical mass, therefore means an unviable business.

2. WRT WMATA, you're probably right. I'd say the other thing that you always say too, that they see their primary rider as the commuter, so they don't care much about evening and weekend ridership.*

This does get back though at your point about the funders being the jurisdictions, not the riders.

This dichotomy has been built into WMATA from the very beginning. DC wants to build a sustainable mobility paradigm, suburban jurisdictions, with the exception of Arlington, are focused on the daily commute.

(Just think how Arlington would have been different if the line from the Pentagon out Columbia Pike had been built.)

Because the compact requires unanimity, there will never be satisfaction.

... remember my writings on the financing of WMATA and how high farebox recovery on rail (+ charging by mode) has reduced the outlays required by the jurisdictions, and they've cared more about that than promoting sustainable mobility.

* By contrast, the transit authorities with the mission of promoting transit/transportation demand management especially versus the automobile, have much different orientations, lots of special fare pass programs, promotions, etc.

E.g. Melbourne (and now Montreal) have great programs to promote night and weekend usage.

Other agencies

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The problem with batteries is that they have to be maintained, charged, and replaced.

So at the end of the day, a bike is a lot cheaper to offer that a scooter or e-bike.

(I imagine in a few years I'll have to get an e-bike, we live in the lowest of the foothills, but still the hill climb up is 3x or 4x the hill at 13th St. and Florida Avenue NW.

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Looking forward to some SLC insights!

RE: electric bike -- yeah, I'd do the investment. I know you bike for health as well. Battery life is an issue, but you have to take care of battery (don't run it down under 80%, don't; use it in the cold etc) and it will last 2-3 years.

RE: scooter prices. So you've got this master $5 mostly plan. You have Bird renting scooters by the month. I do see more private scooters -- for example last year it was very rare, now seeing it almost every day. That said, volume seems very high so the prices aren't deterring people. Uber prices are up as well and no, people aren't very good and understanding $8-10 is a lot of money when it is being billed to a cc.

I've got to wonder f part of the price is to explicitly discourage 2 miles ride (which would tax the battery). Lyft and Jump(uber) are basically just accepting errors in the scooter department and I'm not sure how committed either company is to the future.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think Bird's monthly plan is $60. That's a lot more than $7/mo. for bike share.

The $5/mo. "lifeline plan" (using the term that DC uses for electricity) is nice to do. It won't have that much impact, but has nice optics. (Similarly the low income programs for bike share don't seem to have a lot of takers. Again, the issue that I bring up is providing more direct assistance to get people to make the switch.)

wrt Uber and Lyft, both said bikes and scooters weren't material in their IPO documents. I can't see them staying in the business LT if it doesn't make any money.

The issue is not unlike the point in the entry about BVG and the transit app. Whereas I previously argued that it wasn't necessary for "a universal app" they looked at this differently, in terms of maintaining leadership in the mobility space, for branding, etc.

Maybe it won't make them any money, but it's visible both in terms of the branding of the "devices" but also in terms of the space, and participating in multiple sub-sectors.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WRT SLC, the big thing now is the election, but I am maintaining my DC residence into next year because of job.

Both candidates for mayor are reasonably young. One is more grassroots based, the other has been state senator for awhile. The latter speaks more coherently (the other one is younger and perty).

I don't know anything about the various District councilpeople.

Interestingly, one thing I learned from the next door neighbor is that if your neighborhood has the equivalent of "Washington Globe" streetlights, the lights are charged to the household of the property where it is located, and they are also responsible for changing the light bulbs.

Self help at its finest.

And WinCo. They are the discount leader in the supermarket grocery space. On some items, Aldi would still be cheaper, but the overall, compared to traditional companies (sorry Smiths [Kroger] is pretty damn great, even if they don't sell some items we like. There is still WF, TJs, Sprouts.

I am having a real hard time understanding N and S and E and W. The streets called "South" and "North" are actually east and west facing respectively, while East and West streets face north and south.

South and North are "from the Temple", but they should have named them East and West.

Anyway, Wasatch Front is visible from the front door and they are pretty majestic.

... the streets in many places are very very wide. Even residential streets, at least outside the core. Our street intersection could fit in a nice little circle to use up otherwise wasted pavement.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Here (and in California) everyone is talking about affordable housing and the homeless too.

I haven't yet written about the latest DC thing, but it's all the same to me.

You gotta make more land. City boundaries are fixed and most land has been built upon.

The only way to "increase the amount of land" is to change the density (e.g., multiunit as infill).

To do that you'll need purposeful institutions buying and assemblying land, doing teardowns and building infill apartments and condos.

But the new housing of course won't be affordable unless subsidized. But it will add to supply and over time will help to brake pricing appreciation.

And all those other things I repeat ad infinitum, but you honed in on faster and more directly, the "opportunity costs" of what we might term "underbuilding."

2. WRT the homeless, they are doing the same thing DC did. Closing the big unruly shelter and opening 3 smaller ones. But with fewer beds in total than what is being replaced. And yes, they are already at capacity and it's not even cold yet.

The newspaper columnists are suggesting keeping the unruly shelter open on an emergency basis.

But even so they will still have that capacity issue more generally.

At 10:34 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

24/7/365 rent your own scooter.

Rent a scooter in DC that you don’t have to share.

Gig one way car share is in SF Bay, Sacramento, and now Seattle. Owned by AAA

Free2Move one way car share is expanding from DC to Portland. It's owned by Peugeot and now that Peugeot has merged with Fiat to become Stellantis, they are going to deploy Jeep branded vehicles in Portland. In DC, they've been using GM vehicles. Maybe they'll be changing.



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