Shared-use Mobility Summit explores future of urban mobility
Bay Area Bike Share

Bikesharing and carsharing systems were among the innovations in shared urban mobility discussed at this month’s Shared-use Mobility Summit in San Francisco. Photo by Richard Masoner.

“The 20th century is a century of general, and the 21st century is a century of sharing.” – Lisa Gansky, author of the Mesh

Shared mobility is the cornerstone of the sharing economy, which is spurred by demographic changes, increased environmental consciousness, and the global economic downturn. Sharing maximizes the use of assets in our society while giving more people the access to the resources they need. The idea that “access trumps ownership” is increasingly popular reflects the explosive growth of shared mobility.

On October 10 and 11, the Shared-use Mobility Summit brought public policy makers, private sector actors, non-for-profit organizations, and academics together in San Francisco. The conference explored the future of urban mobility by discussing current trends, policies, and opportunities in carsharing, bikesharing, and ridesharing. As the first shared mobility conference ever, it provided a cutting-edge opportunity for various stakeholders to have a direct, open, and timely dialogue on how to better provide urban mobility in an integrated way.

The rise of the shared-mobility market

Dr. Susan Shaheen from the Transport Sustainable Research Center at the University of Berkeley California shared the latest global status on carsharing and bikesharing at the Shared-used Mobility Summit. Today, there are about 2.5 to 2.8 million carsharing members sharing vehicles in 46 carsharing networks worldwide. In addition to traditional round-trip carsharing, one-way carsharing, launched in 2008, now accounts for 12% of membership and 16% of the fleet. Bikesharing is growing even more rapidly – in 2005 there were only 74 bikesharing systems in the world, and today there are 636 systems. This year alone, there have been about 120 new bikesharing systems launched.

Private and public sector preferences on regulations and transparency in decision-making

Many private sector actors, including traditional carsharing operators and technology providers, as well as large vehicle companies, like Toyota and the rental vehicle service group Enterprise, actively participated in the summit. Most of these private companies see themselves as transport service providers that are more efficient and creative than the public sector. This belief is based on the premise that their services are subscription-based, and innovative technologies help them design better products and services that cater to their customers’ needs.

Meanwhile, private mobility operators, especially Transportation Network Companies (TNC) like Sidecar and Lyft, advocate strongly for less regulatory barriers. Since their business models are very new, some of them are currently operating in grey areas of regulations. They would like more space to grow, and as a result they’re requesting more transparency in decision-making. The key issues raised by these players include TNC regulations, allocation of parking spaces, curbside usage for TNC vehicles, and zoning codes related to parking rental vehicles.

Government transit agencies as mobility managers

Three speakers from government agencies who presented at the summit described their organization’s roles as “mobility managers”. These officials, from both the national and local levels, showed openness to including shared modes of mobility in transport systems. They indicated their responsibility for creating efficient, diverse, and convenient urban mobility systems through coordinating different mobility providers, and to fairly and efficiently allocating resources representing the public interest. Art Guzzetti, Vice President of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) mentioned the recent launch of the National Center for Mobility Management under the Department of Transportation as evidence of this effort, which aims to help communities adopt transportation strategies and mobility options that improve their quality of life. In order to inform their decision-making related to managing public resources, local governmental officials specifically addressed the need for operators to share relevant data, like the impacts of their systems.

Discussions on how to balance efficiency and equity in shared mobility systems also came up during several presentations at the summit. While several experts pointed out that carsharing is often underserved, the challenge is balancing social equity with economic efficiency. Therefore, a goal addressing this quandary should be clearly established during the planning stage of a bikeshare or carshare program. The government should budget public subsidies if the goal of program includes social equity.

The future of urban mobility will be multimodal and integrated

Many attendees of the summit seemed to agree that the future of urban mobility should be multimodal and integrated in terms of payment, operation, information, and physical design. This vision is shared by people worldwide, and will be technologically feasible in the not-so-far-off future. However, as the former Chief Technology Officer of Siemens Peter Torrellas pointed out, the real challenge lies in data sharing and managerial structure.

Moving forward, experts at the summit suggested that players in the industry work with the government to agree on processes for integrating transport modes offered by different providers. The government should also play a key role in setting up open platforms, standards, and policies for sharing using data. With the advancement of shared mobility, an integrated and multimodal urban mobility future is becoming more obtainable than ever, and it’s time for the government and mobility providers to work together to make that future a reality.

To join the discussion about the Shared-Used Mobility Summit, check out #sums13 on Twitter. For further reading about the rapidly expanding carsharing industry, see our recent conversation with Robin Chase, the founder and former CEO of Buzzcar and Zipcar.

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