Shared mobility—the shared use of a motor vehicle, bicycle, or other low-speed transportation mode that allows users to obtain short-term access to transportation on an as-needed basis—can have implications on access and mobility for users in terms of transportation equity.
EQUITY BARRIERS FACING TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS
While increasingly becoming more mainstream, the demographics of shared mobility users often differ from the general population. Typically, users tend to be younger, have higher levels of educational attainment, higher incomes, and are less diverse than the general population.
Older adults, low-income individuals, rural communities, and minority communities have historically been less likely to use shared mobility. Additionally, access to the Internet, smartphones, and banking services—a pre-requisite for many shared mobility modes—tends to be lower among many of these groups.
STEPS TOWARDS transportation Equity
To understand the equity barriers facing transportation system users, public agencies should consider using the STEPS framework for transportation equity. STEPS stands for – Spatial – Temporal – Economic – Physiological – and Social.
Using shared mobility as an example, here are some ways that public agencies can use STEPS to analyze transportation equity:
Shared mobility may provide a low-cost solution for bridging transportation gaps, providing both a first-and-last-mile (FMLM) connection to public transit and serving as a stand-alone service option.
Shared modes, such as bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesourcing/transportation network companies, may be deployed in underserved areas in less time at lower cost than traditional projects by leveraging private sector investment and operation of these services. In response to spatial service gaps, public agencies could consider requiring shared mobility operators to locate services in neighborhoods with gaps in the transportation network as conditions for operation in the public rights-of-way.
Shared mobility may provide temporal benefits over traditional service models, such as reduced wait time and increased travel-time reliability, advance booking options, and reduced travel time. For users without access to automobiles in areas with limited public transit, shared mobility may significantly reduce temporal barriers. Recognizing temporal challenges, a public agency could consider facilitating partnerships between employers and shared mobility operators for late-night transportation for shift workers.
Shared mobility services can offer new travel options to users that may have lower operating costs and fares compared to existing paratransit and fixed-route public transit services, particularly during off-peak and late-night hours. However, the lack of smartphone data access and credit/debit cards may be a barrier for disabled, low-income, and older adult users. Recognizing potential economic barriers with shared mobility, public agencies could consider programs to overcome these barriers such as: 1) subsidizing access to shared mobility for qualifying users; 2) deploying shared mobility kiosks to address access for users without smartphones; or 3) offering alternative access modes (e.g., telephone concierge service, SMS text access, etc.) that do not require a smartphone.
Shared mobility has the opportunity to lower the cost and diversify the range of assisted modes to users with cognitive and physical challenges. However, rapid technology change can create unforeseen access challenges for disabled users, if specific needs are not taken into account. In response to a variety of physiological needs, public agencies could define multiple tiers of accessible vehicles to expand services for users with special needs (e.g., curb-to-curb; door-to-door; door-through-door).
Shared mobility services have increased awareness and interest in multi-modal travel; however, challenges associated with marketing to low-income communities, minorities, and users with limited English proficiency can remain.
Shared mobility providers, advocacy groups, and researchers are continuously trying to address barriers to ensure that shared mobility services improve social accessibility through community engagement, improved product design, and marketing. Recognizing social challenges, public agencies and service providers could shift from prescriptive outreach requirements to performance-based community engagement metrics that allow for flexibility in ensuring broad participation.
This is just a few ways the STEPS framework can be applied to assess potential gaps and identify solutions for equity challenges impacting shared mobility.
To read more about Shared Mobility and Transportation Equity and the STEPS framework, please read one of our latest publications with the US Department of Transportation.
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Susan Shaheen is an adjunct professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a research engineer with the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley.
Adam Cohen is a shared mobility researcher at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Susan Shaheen, Adam Cohen, Corwin Bell, and Balaji Yelchuru are co-authors of the Federal Highway Administration primer Travel Behavior: Shared Mobility and Transportation Equity.