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Railvolution 2019: Micromobility Panel

Nov 14, 2019

For over 20 years, Rail~Volution has been the place to engage in thoughtful discussions with change makers and influencers, the place to share ideas and breakthroughs, frustrations and inspiration, about building livable communities using transit. The panel connects and expands networks with leaders in the public transportation, transit-oriented development, placemaking and community development fields. The annual conference delves in to how land use, transportation and development can transform communities into livable places — healthy, economically vibrant, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. In September, this year, the latest Rail~Volution panel took place in Vancouver and focused on micromobility – connecting the dots between multimodal transportation. Micromobility has seen an explosive growth in the last few years – McKinsey released a report this year stating that over 5.7 billion dollars has been invested into micromobility worldwide.

movmi’s CEO Sandra Phillips hosted the event and was joined by a panel of experts all of whom hail from the heart of the micromobility revolution – California, USA. The experts tackle some of the biggest questions posed to micromobility such as ‘how do we create sustainable services for the users and the companies?’ ‘How do we build relationships between private companies and local municipalities?’ How can we analyze, share and protect micromobility data?’ ‘How do we ensure social equity across all demographics?’

Keep reading to hear how the experts addressed and answered these questions and more or for more information on the micromobility, browse our blog posts here.

Rail~Volution 2019: Micromobility Panel

HOW DO WE BUILD RELATIONSHIPS?

Danielle J. Harris, Director of Mobility Innovation at Elemental Excelerator was the first expert speaker at the panel. Elemental Excelerator helps startups change the world, one community at a time. Each year, they find 15-20 companies that best fit their mission and fund each company up to $1 million to improve systems that impact people’s lives: energy, transportation, water, agriculture, and beyond. They co-fund, co-design, and co-develop projects and strategies that improve infrastructure and sustainably enhance communities.

Harris began by stating that the answer to the micromobility challenge is not tech and fancy new toys, it’s the building of relationships between the public, mobility operators and the city. With carbon emissions from constant traffic and congestion on the roads, it’s obvious that an alternative to the privately owned car is necessary.

However, she points out that ‘change is gradual’ and that ‘commitment takes time.’ We have already seen the disruption caused by the kick e-scooter but how do we proceed next? What is the right footing to take after the chaos? One way to go would be the introduction of pilot permits and we’ve already seen that happening in cities around the world.

Communication between each contributor is important. Cities make the policies and control regulation but by asking for what you want and avoiding what you don’t work, it is easier to move forward. Companies will have issues with maintaining ridership throughout changes in regulation but it takes time for the city to design the street and build an infrastructure, so it is essential for both sides to have some empathy.

Harris talked about the benefits of being proactive and reaching out to fifty companies in the San Francisco area. She discovered that most companies have little info in terms of transportation data whereas transit agencies aren’t focused on the user experience. Having these forums and embracing new perspectives has allowed these companies to learn a lot about creating and adapting to shifts in behaviour. Companies and local transit authorities also need to work together in creating equitable services available to everyone, including low income areas, marginalized communities and ensuring that their services are multi-lingual for great inclusivity.

Learning together is very important. Harris stated that “Data sharing is the ‘meat and potatoes’ of today.” By sitting at the table together, legislations created in parity gets more results and better outcomes. It is also very important that the city understands what they are regulating and what the services are, so they have an obligation to try it out first hand. Creating forums where every mobility company has their say can affect change. Harris held one in San Francisco and invited Uber, Lyft and micromobility operators and figured out how together they could disperse the crowd in order to reduce congestion in one area of the city. Finding common ground is very important.

Most importantly, mobility is about the people. Engaging with the public and making sure there is equitable access for everyone is huge. Diversifying hiring is a recommendation she has for companies. Hiring experts in different fields such as engineers, designers etc. as well as mobility experts will allow companies to approach challenges from a different angle and perspective.

WHAT ARE THE SUCCESS METRICS? HOW DO WE DEAL WITH micromobility DATA?

Diego Canales is the Global Partnership Manager of Populus, a third party sharing platform. They are the intermediate between the public sector and private companies. The challenge they face is an uptake in the number of mobility services and operators in the shared mobility market. Cities are completely in the dark with changing mobility patterns and they are the only ones that can make policies and planning decisions. In order to do this they need the correct data and that is what Populus does.

According to Canales, the three main goals cities have when analyzing mobility data are:

  • Safety: They want to know if new mobility providers are increasing safety and reducing fatalities?
  • Equitable Access: Are they improving accessibility? How they are impacting different communities?
  • Efficiency: How are mobility providers making use of public space and what is their energy use? Are the contributing towards a cleaner environment or not?

At the beginning of the ride hail revolution, cities missed out on their chance for data collection. However, with the rise in micromobility, it became a second chance to use data to answer the questions they had. The main data they request from the micromobility provider are:

  • The number of trips taken and vehicles on the road. Are they complying with caps etc.
  • Maintenance logs and the lifecycle of equipment, such as scooter and bikes.
  • Complaints from users and from the general public
  • Have their been many injuries are they complying with safety regulations?

In terms of data, there are two main standards within the industry:

  • GTFS – The General Transit Feed Specification defines a common format for public transportation schedules and associated geographic information
  • GBFS – The General Bikeshare Feed Specification which shows in real time data on the availability of docked and ‘dockless’ bike sharing services.

There is also MDS – Mobility Data Specification, that was built a year ago by the city of Los Angeles. They wanted to learn more about historic movements/trips starting scooter and with the end goal of ride hailing. Not all questions can be answered using GPS data, but they also use standardized surveys amongst the individual operators to learn more about each service. Populus evaluates all this combined data and is able to make recommendations for cities and companies based on their findings.

Cities need information and KPIs so they know how to regulate, monitor and to evaluate long term impact of these services for these operators. They need to harness this data to inform parking management regulations, how to make transport more equitable and when and where to build or improved infrastructure.

Populus analyses the data and make recommendations based on city regulations to the provider itself. User protection and user privacy is very important. Trip data and GPS data needs extra layers of security. An example of how they use this data can be found in Washington, D.C. They were concerned with the equitable access of car share operators in the region so they asked each company to ensure they had equal vehicle dispersion throughout the 8 wards each morning. Populus was able to measure this and provide data for the cities. Another example is in Arlington, where they provided a heat map of parked scooter locations to they city so that they were better informed of where to implement dedicated parking structures.

HOW DO WE ENSURE SOCIAL EQUITY in micromobility?

Clarissa Cabansagan, the New Mobility Policy Director at TransForm was the next guest speaker. TransForm believe in affordable, frequent and reliable transportation options. Rents are changing causing a housing and displacement crisis in urban centres across the US. Lower income families are being pushed out the suburbs where they can’t afford transportation options on offer to get to work. Racist policies like red lining, have caused an inequality in urban centres. Transform wants to create systematic change and disrupt inequity, particularly within the mobility sector. They look at gaps using equity outreach and working with grassroots groups in the Bay area – in response to the data they looked at and provide information and eduction to the communities.

In 2014, 3% of bike share riders had a low income and today it has increased to 22%, almost 5,000 people, and this is down to the right policy and regulations in place. They see new mobility as instrumental in filling public transit gaps. In Oakland, they are focusing their attention on looking at areas where transportation has failed black and brown communities. Private companies need to be encouraged to put their investment in places where people have very few options. They are also hoping to launch a bike lending library in the next few years, funded by Lyft. This will be a community driven alternative to bike share which will let someone, of any age, take a lend of a bike using a library card.

Public transit is at the backbone of mobility and needs to be robust before focusing on new mobility methods. It is important to put investments where they matter – to be more equitable. It’s not just about regulating new mobility, it’s also about looking back to see where cities have failed the communities. There also needs to be a creative approach to existing infrastructure, for example, creating more shuttles and express buses. Looking at ways to design more homes that encourage less driving and offer residents access to transit passes, shared vehicles and shared bike systems, which will reduce parking footprint and the number of privately owned vehicles.

EQUITABLE MICROMOBILITY

Jonathan Calmus, the CEO of Cosmic was next to speak and told the conference about his experience in the micromobility industry. Three years ago he moved to Columbia and invited like minded, skilled and talented people to work with him to create a viable business with a high social impact, in the region. Cosmic became the first shared e-scooters in Colombia. However, the realised that they only serviced a small part of the population. As an entire region, there are over 700 million people living in Latin America. 68% of the population have access to smartphones but over 70% are underbanked, meaning they don’t have a bank account or access to banking apps.

Cosmic decided that they needed to create a mobility digital wallet for everyone and offer alternate payment methods. However, this still ended up only servicing the same demographics in the same areas. There was a lack of communication and trust was the biggest issue they faced. Calmus found that even though their business model was being used by an affluent portion of the population, the nature of ‘on-demand’ appeals more to cash flow conscious. So he used three steps in order to change their target market:

  • Step one: Attention to longer lasting units. They invested money and took time to build scooters and bikes that would have a longer life cycle.
  • Step two: In order to build trust they had to minimize risk. They did so by including vehicle and rider insurance for their users and offering live patrols to prevent theft and vandalism.
  • Step three: They recruited help from local entrepreneurs and businesses and built a franchise model around the people who know that area and communities the best. Then they scaled up and began building partnerships with corporations such as Glovogo.

They are offering their services to lower income, unserviced communities in 35 cities around the world.

Rail~Volution PANEL DISCUSSION

How do we ensure that micromobility does not take over active modes such as walking and cycling? 

“When we think about how our freeways were created, people advocated for those, mainly private businesses so that people would buy their cars. We need to do the same with public transit. If we make it the spine, then people are mainly walking and biking to get to it… bringing it back to user experience, if you make streets enjoyable to walk on, people will walk…” – Danielle J. Harris

“As a bike advocate I can say that scooters have reach a lot more people that bikes have. And why is that? Why are scooters so popular? It’s reaching very different part of the population. I can’t ignore that. They are turning people on to the idea of being on the street rather than behind a wheel. How do we leverage this opportunity and create nice places to walk… There is opening in policy to make these investments happen… how do we take the opportunity towards getting the infrastructure that we want?” – Clarissa Cabansagan

“…We don’t actually know what’s going to happen with scooters just yet as it’s only been a year or so but I like to think about what happened with docked bike share systems. In cities they not only created a mode itself, but they created a culture. For example in Washington D.C, a very large, long term impact they had was with Captial Bikeshare was creating a culture of cycling. Once people got into bike sharing, after a couple of months they decided to get their own bike…” – Diego Canales

I think if anything it’s making it more understandable and more believable because a big part of of opportunity is expectations and sometimes people just don’t have the expectations that they can access some of the stuff. Now all of a sudden they can access the stuff and it changes from just kind of a ‘dip my toes’ to actually buying one of these vehicles…” – Jonathan Calmus

Should micromobility replace low performing transit services?

“A lot of these pilot programs for permits are lasting a year – the reality is, for cultural change, you can’t really learn much in a year. I mean, it takes sometimes generations to really understand impacts of things. I’ll give the same recommendation that this generation of self help and mindfulness is giving – give enough time for experimentation and enough leeway to learn what the proper methods are.” – Jonathan Calmus

“You don’t want to strip your whole bus system for a pilot because it’s very difficult to undo. You have to have pilots in place with the right KPIs and be thoughtful about measuring things. For example, if I get a big ridership, what do I do next?” – Diego Canales

Do we need to measure success differently and use different KPIs?

“How do we measure the things of whether or not people are thriving? It’s a different way of looking at life… where the emphasis is on not just whether or not we have access to clean food and water and basic human privileges but are we doing better as individuals? Are we doing better as a society? And those are really hard KPIs to track. So we’re trying to figure that out as a company.” – Jonathan Calmus

“I think even having a common framework about how we can measure, for example, this geographic region as a whole – what is it that actually matters? How do we make sure we don’t have conflicting KPIs? That alignment, that framework, that conversation, among different institutions that are operating in the same geographic regions, I think is very important to happen.” – Diego Canales

“Do I enjoy travelling through time and space in the city right now? How can you measure that? Do I have options? If I am one person, in one part of town that just has one option – that’s the metric that I want to see move. I want that person to have as many options as a person that’s living affluently downtown.” – Clarissa Cabansagan 

“I’m always going into a transit station and thinking how am I going to get out of here if something happens? How many dark corners are there? Where can I stand so I can watch my back? I think there’s a lot to say just based on that experience… I have a few friends that have wheelchairs so going into a train station with them is a whole new experience and so I think we don’t need new toys or tools, we need to have a high level of empathy and understanding and a willingness to try new things…” – Danielle J. Harris

 

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