Women in Shared Mobility: The Future of Shared Mobility with Carol Schweiger of Schweiger Consulting

women in shared mobility

Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting and Chairperson of the New England Intelligent Transportation Society, has nearly 40 years of experience, and is nationally and internationally recognized in transportation technology consulting.  Her wide-ranging and in-depth expertise is in several specialty areas including technology strategies for public agencies, public transit technology, traveler information strategies and systems, and systems engineering.

Ms. Schweiger has provided over 60 transportation agencies with technology technical assistance and serves as Co-Chair of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Emerging and Innovative Public Transport and Technologies, a member of the Program Committee of the ITS World Congress, TRB ITS Committee and TRB Forum on Preparing for Automated Vehicles and Shared Mobility, and a Charter Member of the Public Transportation Systems and Services (PTSS) Committee of ITS America.

If you missed our WiSM interviews last month, you can find them here. Want to have a look at all the of Women in Shared Mobility we have interviewed? View the entire category here.

Women in Shared Mobility: expected 2019 developments, social equity and maas adoption

The Interviewee:

carol schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting

women in shared mobility

1. What will be the biggest developments in shared mobility over the next 12 months?

I have 5 major developments that I think will be the focus in mobility over the next year. The first one is really focusing on the complete trip for an individual, in other words, from the moment that they start thinking about taking the trip, through the actual planning of that trip and actually taking that trip and then arriving at their destination. Several years ago we spoke about moving from discussing individual modes to mobility, we’ve done that, but now we have to speak about mobility in terms of a complete trip. Ensuring that that complete trip is accessible to all travelers. Whether they’re persons with disabilities or an able bodied person. I think one specific issue within that complete trip is that, especially for persons with disabilities, completing each trip stage can be a bit of a challenge. That’s why I feel over the next year we’re really going to be focusing on ensuring that mobility is provided for everyone and it covers that entire trip in all of the trips stages.

The second issue is one that has been coming up over the last year and I think there will be quite a bit of work done on it in 2019 – recognizing the value of the curb. Managing the curb – whether it’s managing it in a temporal way, where the curb would be used for different purposes depending on the time of day or pricing the curb differently at different times of day as well.

The third issue will be focusing a little bit more on equity and accessibility. A lot of discussions about mobility, obviously, are marrying mobility with technology. Then assumes that the travelers will all have access to that technology. I feel that this is going to be a big focus area over the next year. We need to ensure that we are collecting user needs so that we understand what is necessary for everyone to travel whether or not they have access to the technology.

The fourth item is doing a much better job understanding travel behaviour. One area that we don’t discuss a lot when we talk about shared mobility, in particular, is how people will change their behavior to either take advantage of shared mobility or to not take advantage of shared mobility. There are a number of different ways that we can examine traveler behavior, but to date we haven’t really studied that in detail, to understand how people make potentially change their behavior when shared mobility becomes more prevalent. One thing I always say to people is, we have the best example of the original shared mobility which is public transportation. We really need to understand how people change their behavior when it’s related to public transportation as well as some of the shared modes, particularly one automated vehicles are actually here and people are considering using them.

Finally, I think there will be a much bigger focus on data sharing. Data sharing is, I feel one of the most important elements of mobility. If you can’t tell the traveller in real time the conditions that are happening within the trip that they’ve planned, then it’s going to significantly disrupt their trip any may actually lead to changes in travel behavior, because they are not being given all the correct information at the right time. It’s easy for me to say the day just sharing and data exchanges is easy, however it’s very challenging in our current environment where we have the number of private firms that rely on their data for competition purposes, with the other similar modes. It has been quite challenging to legislate requiring data sharing with public agencies particularly with Ride sourcing companies, like Uber and Lyft. I think over the next year we’re going to find some other ways of either legislating or requiring that data is exchanged which I feel is so very important.

2. What about EV? Are we finally moving towards mass adoption? In shared mobility fleets at least? What about AV? Will we move beyond fixed-route shuttle buses

I think the ownership of electric vehicles is becoming more prevalent, however the price of the vehicles is somewhat of a deterrent. I think in terms of electric vehicles and fleets, I think that’s a given and I’m already seeing that happening. I think people are are adopting the use of those electric vehicles – in fleets – but I think the adoption from a private ownership perspective is lagging behind primarily because of the price. That leads me to the other part of the question which is about automated vehicles. Personally I feel that automated vehicles are is still a ways off but we do need to plan for them and I think in this case the ownership model probably will not work because of the price of the automated vehicles. Here I think will be adopting a different kind of model where you will be paying for your trip but you won’t actually own the vehicle itself.

3. what are the biggest developments that ensure shared mobility is accessible for all. are we not constantly targeting the same user group?

This is a real complex issue and one that certainly has been studied a lot recently, particularly in the United States through a couple of US department of transportation projects – I’ll mention those in a little a little bit. I think when you look at social equity and accessibility, we have to recognize that it’s not just physical accessibility  it’s also access to technology that is maybe assumed when we start talking about our future mobility. I’m going to quote from a particular United States department of transportation project, that’s specifically deals with accessible mobility,

‘The accessibility of the transportation system can be described in terms of the ability of individuals to go from home to a destination without breaks or in terms of a travel chain, with various is links such as; trip planning, travel to the station or the initial transit stop. Station or stop usage (for example accessing a platform). Boarding vehicles (which can be complex if you have a physical disability). Using the vehicles themselves (particularly when we’re thinking about automated vehicles). Leaving or disembarking from the vehicle. Using another stop or transferring to another service (perhaps a different mode) and then travel to the destination after leaving the station or stop. If one of those links is not accessible then access to a subsequent link in that trip is completely unattainable and the trip cannot be completed. Thus, the travel chain defines the scope of potential research and development in accessible transportation.’

That quote comes from the ATTRI project from the United States department of transportation which is the acronym ‘Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative’. This project has been active for several years already and they are now in the stages of actually piloting some of the technologies that are facilitating travel for persons with disabilities in particular.

One of the parts to this question was, ‘Are we over targeting particular user groups or groups of travelers?’ I feel like indeed there has been a tremendous amount of discussion about the millennial generation and perhaps the decisions that they make in terms of traveling. I don’t think we have focused on enough is social equity and accessibility for persons with disabilities. I think that’s an area that we we don’t tend to focus on sometimes until after we have already designed something. I feel that the focus on that is very important. One example that I think pretty well sums up why we need to think about equity in excess ability, in this sort of idea of a complete trip, is automated vehicles. If a person with a disability is going to utilize an automated vehicle, today when persons with disabilities access public transportation for example, they are often helped to board the vehicle by a person an individual – the driver or possibly a caregiver, or someone that’s going to be able to help them board the vehicle. Then if they are using some kind of accessibility device, like a wheelchair, someone typical helps to secure that wheelchair to the vehicle, so they are riding in that vehicle safely.

One of the issues that I think we need to look at while we are thinking about the potential use of automated vehicles for persons with disabilities, is how will those functions be performed if there is no one on board to help them? This idea of assistance boarding, potentially docking the wheelchair and these kinds of issues – are these functions going to be performed in an automated way? Many of these functions are actually being automated but are not actively being used yet because we really don’t have the automated vehicles you get to do large scale pilots. I think that’s very important.

4. Any lighthouse projects that try to give access to new user groups?

I think here, if we look to a project like the Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI), that’s being conducted by the US department of transportation, that is a Lighthouse project. They are currently piloting various technologies to facilitate mobility for persons with disabilities. I think the results of these pilots are going to inform us, going forward, as to how we are going to deal with accessibility.

One other issue I wanted to mention about equity, specifically is a project that is going on by the Los Angeles Metro right now and their app card which is their smart card for payment. They have actually connected that card with facilities where someone can pay with cash. Typically when you have a tap card, you might be adding value to it using a credit card but there are many people in the Los Angeles area that may not have a credit card, they may not even have a bank account and they need to be able to add value to their a tap card using cash. LA metro has actually made that possible. That’s one example of how the equity issues are being addressed in this technology facilitated mobility world, that we live in right now.

5. Europe is further ahead when it comes to MaaS, when will North America catch up?

Mobility as a Service is definitely taking hold here in the United States from a number of different perspectives and in a very positive way. I think a lot of the lessons learned that have come from Scandinavia have taught us a lot about the kinds of issues that we specifically need to address here in the US. Will the US catch up and when? I’m not sure that we will catch up but I think we are definitely making great strides deploying Mobility as a Service the way it was initially envisioned in the Scandinavian examples and in the development of it. There is one significant difference and I think this is where we may be lagging behind for a bit longer then the pilots and the actual deployments that are happening in Europe right now and that is because most of our environment in the United States is not urban. We have some very major urban areas in which there are a variety of mobility options for travelers, but the majority of our transportation in the United States are not in urban areas. That means that we need to define Mobility as a Service in a slightly different way.

The goal of Mobility as a Service may not be to reduce car ownership, which it tends to be in the major urban areas in Europe and Scandinavia. So I think we will be coming up with Mobility as a Service that will potentially look a little bit different. One example of this is the Mobility as a Service project that is under development in Tompkins county New York. A colleague of mine at the Department of Social Services in Tompkins county has envision a Mobility as a Service solution primarily to help those individuals who do not have access to a car, who live in a rural or a small urban area, where there are many last alternatives for transportation. I think that’s going to be our focus is in the United States. I’m not sure we will catch up to Europe in terms of the number of deployments by our way of conceiving Mobility as a Service might be a little bit different and consequently might take a little more time to actually deploy.

6. what are the biggest challenges for maas to be successful? what needs to be done so maas is a more attractive solution for people in north america?

What are the biggest challenges? In my mind we have a number of challenges in the United States and I sort of categorize them in 3 different ways. There are institutional challenges, there are technical challenges and there are also operational challenges that we have to look at. If we specifically look at Institutional challenges, I think one of our biggest challenges in the Mobility as a Service environment is that many of our mobility service providers – and here I am primarily talking about public transportation agencies – we have a situation where many of these agencies have never actually coordinated services before. We may be in a region where there are number of transportation alternatives but their services have never been coordinated. That’s an institutional issue that we need to address in this primary Mobility as a Service situation.

To add on to that, to may be complicated one more step. These agencies may provide services in a very different way and they may need to make some changes to that – the way that they operate in the future and that may take a while to take hold. The final institutional challenge that we have is what type of organization will actually operate the Mobility as a Service scheme? Will it be a public agency? Will it be a private company like a number of the private companies that are providing Mobility as a Service in Europe or Scandinavia for example? That’s going to be a significant institutional challenge, because if the Mobility as a Service scheme is provided by a public agency, it may have certain requirements that some of the mobility service providers are not yet ready to handle. An example here would be utilizing ride sourcing to provide first and last mile solutions for public transportation travel.

Here in the public arena there is legislation and regulations surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act, specifically as it relates to providing public transportation where the vehicles must be accessible and there are some others service criteria that must be met by the provider. We already have some partnerships in the United States, many of them between public transportation agencies and ride sourcing companies. We still haven’t fully addressed the issue of regulations on the public side. If the public agency is going to provide Mobility as a Service some of these service providers may have out help by making some changes to their services to comply with some federal regulations.

On the operational side, I’ll go back to something I’d mentioned a few minutes ago, which is perhaps not coordinating services from an operational perspective with all of the mobility service providers and I think one of our biggest issues in the operational area. Technically, I think we have some issues as well. These are actually current challenges that we have right now without Mobility as a Service, but given the technological nature of Mobility as a Service we really need to address these challenges before we go very far. One of them is having a lot of the old and aging technology infrastructure. How do we utilize some of our legacy technology along with brand new technology which is part of the hallmark of Mobility as a Service?

Another is, what happens if the technology fails? Is there a way to actually utilize Mobility as a Service without the technology? Can you do anything manually to actually utilize such a scheme without the technology? There are also equity issues, I mentioned a few minutes ago an example from Los Angeles, Department of Transportation where they are directly addressing the ‘unbanked’ traveler, so they indeed have access to mobility services even if they don’t have a bank account or credit card. For those travelers who do not have smartphones, how will they actually access Mobility as a Service and be able to utilize it?

Another issue from a technological perspective is if smaller agencies, for example health and human service agencies, like the council on aging, if they provide transportation services, typically there is not a lot of technology involved in that because of the person’s utilizing those services as well as the agencies providing those services. They may not have access to technology. So if they are going to participate in a Mobility as a Service scheme there are some technological challenges there that need to be overcome.

What will make Mobility as a Service attractive to people? I’m seeing a trend in the United States where public transport agencies are replacing their fare collection systems with the systems that involve technology, but they are utilizing that opportunity to then build Mobility is a service in to that fare collection technology. Los Angeles Metro, as I mentioned before, they are starting to build Mobility as a Service and you will access that through the fare payment mechanism – the tap card. Dallas Area Rapid Transit are doing the same thing, they’re building on their their payment system as are some smaller systems. I think those will go very far for folks wanting to adopt using Mobility as a Service.

What are your thoughts on the developments in shared mobility that occurred over 2018 and what is to be expected for next year’s developments? What about the future implementation of shared mobility within rural areas? If you would like to be interviewed or to nominate a woman working in Shared Mobility for our next series, get in touch with us here.

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