Why and how should public authorities support shared mobility?

Shared mobility has the potential to substantially reduce congestion and polluting, if embedded in appropriate policies. Authorities need to encourage shared solutions such as “Mobility as a Service” that bridge the last and the first mile in a transport chain, but should also admit that shared mobility is sometimes superior to transit. Public authorities should also provide the necessary infrastructure for shared solutions in the neighbourhood of public transport hubs and set up public-private partnerships for data sharing. Due to network efficiencies from scale, shared modes are most likely to be successful if the authorities enable a ‘big bang’ introduction.

• Public authorities should provide infrastructure for shared solutions nearby public transport hubs.

• Shared modes are most likely to be successful if the authorities enable a ‘big bang’ introduction.

• Authorities should encourage shared solutions that bridge the last and the first mile in transport.

• Shared mobility has the potential to substantially reduce congestion and polluting.

Thus, when discussing how authorities can promote shared mobility, we also need to keep in mind what type of shared mobility we wish to promote.

For instance, shared mobility can be both a complement and a substitute to transport modes. From a policy perspective, we need to encourage shared solutions that bridge the last and the first mile in a transport chain, and to discourage solutions that would lead to a vicious circle of decreased transit patronage and decreased service levels. In other words, we need policies that harness the strengths of shared mobility solutions (such as the high door-to-door flexibility) to promote alternatives to unimodal car mobility. For instance, some authorities subsidise rides taken with ridesourcing companies to or from a transit stations. In order not to exclude riders without smartphones or credit cards, some are working with taxi companies .

The concept of Mobility as a Service (or MaaS) also fits within this pattern. In such systems, people “can buy mobility services that are provided by the same or different operators by using just one platform and a single payment” (Kamargianni et al., 2015). Even if one does not go as far as the implementation of “complete” MaaS, partial measures (such as integrated ticketing and the provision of real-time multi-modal travel information) already go a long way.

Public authorities can also reinforce this complementarity by providing the necessary infrastructure of bike-, ride- and car-sharing in the neighbourhood of important public transport hubs (Hallock and Inglis, 2015).

Data sharing by shared mobility platforms is another example of public-private cooperation that can lead to mutually beneficial exchanges between the transport authorities and the providers of on-demand services.

Indeed, the platforms that “match” services and clients have huge amounts of data available, for instance on accidents, driving patterns, real-time trip data and driver availability to name a few. If these data would be shared with city authorities, they could lead to improvements in the transportation network, to the development of apps showing all available transportation options, and the identification of areas that are currently poorly served by transport services in general (Rainwater et al., 2015).

Requesting the platforms to make the data publicly available could be seen as a compensation for their free use of the road infrastructure constructed and maintained with public money. On the other hand, in exchange for anonymised data, the transport authority could include the shared modes in its official route planning apps .

It is still possible that shared mobility will lead to a decrease in transit use in some areas without negative side-effects. For instance, there are definitely some niches where micro-transit is likely to outperform traditional transit services. This is for instance the case with commutes to employment centres in areas with low density.

Moreover, the rise of AVs will reduce the opportunity cost of travel time and the time spent in congestion, and this will further undermine the competitive position of some transit services. The correct pricing of all transport modes according to their social costs will ensure that society will be able to capture the benefits of these innovations, while avoiding some of the possible disadvantages.

As a result, we can reasonably expect that, in the future, transit will increasingly concentrate on the task it is best at: moving huge quantities of people from one transport hub to the other. Whether this can only be implemented by metro, light rail, or BRT systems, or whether traditional bus services still have a role to play in such a landscape, remains an open question.

Finally, shared modes are prone to network efficiencies from scale: a higher supply of shared solutions will decrease the waiting times for customers, and thus make the service more attractive, and generate additional demand. Therefore, shared modes are most likely to be successful if the authorities enable a ‘big bang’ introduction of new services.

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