Mobility & The Sharing Economy: Opportunities for Growth & Multimodal Transportation in Southern California

Increasing traffic congestion and population growth in Southern California necessitate new ways of thinking about passenger transportation. Shared mobility—the shared use of a vehicle, bicycle, or other low-speed mode—is an innovative transport option that enables short-term access to transportation modes on an “as-needed” basis. It includes carsharing; personal vehicle sharing (peer-to-peer carsharing and fractional ownership); bikesharing; scooter sharing; shuttle services; microtransit; ridesharing; e-Hail (taxis); and ridesourcing/transportation network companies (TNCs) (also known as ride-hailing). It can also include courier network services (CNS) also referred to as flexible goods delivery) that provide for-hire delivery services using an online application or platform (such as a website or smartphone app) to connect couriers using their personal vehicles, bicycles, or scooters with freight (e.g., packages, food). With many new options for mobility emerging, so have the smartphone “apps” that aggregate these options and optimize routes for travelers. Trip planning apps can assist travelers in identifying their preferred travel route and mode based on cost, environmental impact, and time considerations.

Shared mobility has had a transformative impact on many global cities by enhancing transportation accessibility while reducing personal automobile ownership. Many studies have documented the impacts of shared mobility on numerous global cities (e.g., cost savings and convenience, reduced personal vehicle ownership, and vehicle miles traveled reductions). Nevertheless, more research is needed, particularly on a city and regional basis, as well as on the newer services including ridesourcing, microtransit, and CNS.

In recent years, shared mobility’s role in urban transportation has become a popular topic of discussion. In the context of carsharing and bikesharing, vehicles and bicycles are typically unattended, concentrated in a network of locations where the transaction of checking out a vehicle or bicycle is facilitated through information technology (IT) and other technological innovations. Usually, carsharing and bikesharing operators are responsible for the cost of maintenance, storage, parking, and insurance/fuel (if applicable). In ridesharing (carpooling and vanpooling) and ridesourcing, many providers employ IT to facilitate the matching of riders and drivers for trip making.

Shared Mobility in Southern California: The Present

Shared mobility providers and programs have been increasing in popularity and service range within the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) region. In 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission approved ridesourcing companies (e.g., Lyft, Sidecar, UberX) to be licensed to operate in California. They were later approved for licensing at select airports in 2014 and at the Los Angeles International Airport in 2015. Ridesourcing has grown dramatically since its introduction in Los Angeles in 2013, in lieu of the initial cease-and-desist orders and citations. Ridesourcing’s reach has expanded past the downtown core in Los Angeles into suburban Los Angeles and Orange County, as well as Ventura County and the Inland Empire. Ridesplitting is growing as well a special mode within ridesourcing apps. It allows strangers going in a similar direction to split a ride and the cost (examples include Lyft Line, Sidecar Shared Rides, and uberPOOL). E-Hail apps, which allow passengers to hail a taxi from their smartphone, are also available among seven of the largest taxi companies in Southern California. Bikesharing and carsharing show promise as well in Southern California. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) will launch a public bikesharing program in Spring 2016 with nearly 1,100 bikes at 65 stations in Downtown Los Angeles and plans to expand to 4,000 bikes throughout Los Angeles County. Metro has designed the bikesharing program to fill existing gaps in the public transportation network. The City of Santa Monica began a public bikesharing program, known as Breeze, in Summer 2015, with 35 bikes at seven stations. Breeze will expand to 500 bikes at 80 stations by November 2015. These bikesharing initatives are part of various plans to improve bicycle infrastructure in Southern California. Shared mobility also hopes to improve transportation for special populations. The California Air Resources Board has partnered with the City of Los Angeles to pilot a three-year carsharing program of 100 electric vehicles available to low-income residents. These vehicles will allow for first- and last-mile connections to public transit.

Looking to the Future and Shared Automated Vehicles

Automated vehicle (AV) research has received increased attention in California. AVs are vehicles that can operate themselves without needing human control. Automakers and technology companies, particularly in California, have increased interest and research into AV technology. For example, Google has devoted considerable resources toward the research and development of AVs and is already testing driverless cars on roadways throughout the state. By 2020, many transportation researchers predict that several automakers will have released “Level 3” automated vehicles (i.e., drivers can yield control to the vehicle but will still require them to either pay attention or retake control of the vehicle in certain circumstances). As automated vehicles play a greater role in the future of transportation, shared automated vehicles (SAVs) could emerge that increase accessibility in a range of land-use environments (e.g., suburban, rural), while increasing public transit connectivity, filling gaps in the transit network, and reducing auto ownership and total vehicle emissions. SAVs may also be coupled with electric vehicles—yielding even greater social and environmental benefits. To realize such a vision, however, further development, research, and understanding are needed.

Three Recommendations for Growing Multimodal and Sustainable Transportation by 2040

With the burgeoning popularity of shared mobility in Southern California, there are opportunities for growing the vision of multimodal and sustainable transportation by 2040. Three recommendations to support this vision include:

Partnerships Among Shared Mobility Providers and Public Agencies: The perspectives of public transit agencies on shared mobility are important. Many agencies are asking—does shared mobility complement or compete with public transit? Moreover, how will this relationship work depending on the urban, suburban, or rural context in which it is deployed? To better answer these questions, public-private partnerships should be fostered among shared mobility providers and public agencies: to support a framework that enhances public transit through planning and data-sharing efforts which do not compromise user privacy and proprietary data. Public bikesharing, for example, has been successful in fostering such partnerships. Cities across North America have partnered with bikesharing providers to create systems to address their goals in a wide range of land-use environments. Both Los Angeles and Santa Monica have benefited from the lessons learned of other bikesharing cities in planning their programs, and this understanding will enhance their longer-term success and sustainability.

Focusing on Accessibility in Shared Mobility Deployment: Most shared mobility services are primarily used by individuals in urban areas and often by individuals who have higher educational backgrounds and income levels. What public policies could be introduced to mainstream such services to other societal groups (e.g., low-income carsharing policy developments in California, older mobility)? Furthermore, how could these services spread to suburban and rural areas to meet the mobility needs of individuals living in these locations? In the future, areas that could limit shared mobility growth include the American Disability Act (ADA) Title II access and public transportation requirements, as well as Title VI requirements of the Civil Rights Act under the Federal Transit Administration. In this context, an important pilot program for Los Angeles is the low-income carsharing program led by the California Air Resources Board and the City of Los Angeles, mentioned earlier. Understanding from this initiative could be critical to growing such services in Southern California and other regions. In the future, ridesourcing companies might expand their services to supplement, or even replace, paratransit and dial-a-ride services—employing AV technologies. Depending on a range of factors, including public policy and technological advances, ridesourcing and AVs could become more efficient and cost-effective than existing paratransit services.

Dedicate Resources to Planning Issues and Shared Mobility: There are a number of issues in planning and implementing shared mobility services. For instance, modelers are struggling with behavioral impacts and how to forecast demand. State and federal agencies should consider leading discussions around performance metrics and model development to assist metropolitan planning organizations, such as SCAG, in planning efforts that reflect shared mobility. It will be important to develop models and common metrics (e.g., reduced greenhouse gas emissions) for measuring, monitoring, and forecasting growth of shared mobility services. Since technology is changing rapidly, it will also be important to consider how AVs will interface with shared mobility and what impacts could be expected on labor, the economy, land use, auto ownership, safety, insurance, cyber-terrorism, etc. in the short-, mid-, and longer-term. Thus, further investigation into planning tools for shared mobility and AVs is recommended.

As Southern California continues to experience growth and its related transportation impacts, shared mobility could be a notable tool for providing accessible mobility to SCAG’s diverse and growing population. Long-range planning efforts and policies tailored to these emerging modes could foster alternative transportation options, which could aid in shifting more travelers toward multimodal and more sustainable transportation options.

Author: Susan Shaheen 

Susan Shaheen is a co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley, where she is also an adjunct professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering. She was the first Honda Distinguished Scholar in Transportation at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis; she has also served as Policy and Behavioral Research Program Leader at California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways, and special assistant to the Director’s Office of the California Department of Transportation. Shaheen has a Ph.D. in ecology from UC Davis and an M.S. in public policy analysis from the University of Rochester. She has worked as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. She has authored 57 journal articles, over 100 reports and proceedings articles, four book chapters, and co-edited one book. She has twice received an “Excellence in Management” award from UC Berkeley. She serves on several national transportation research and advisory committees.