Making New Mobility Services Adapt to Your City, Not the Other Way Around

Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington


Connecting state and local government leaders

Seattle has rolled out a new mobility playbook “anchored on understanding that we need to welcome this technology because it makes it easier for everyone to travel.”

About 70 cities worldwide have formed public-private partnerships to use new mobility services, which act as more convenient, flexible supplements to traditional private transport companies and public transit agencies within urban transportation networks.

Three in particular—dynamic trip-planning and ticketing services; on-demand minibuses; and ride sharing for first- and last-mile connections—generally require modest upfront investments and could curb fine-particulate and nitrogen oxide emissions by upwards of 80 percent per bus route in the case of San Francisco.

The findings come from a report released Wednesday by The New Climate Economy, an initiative of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. It highlights the need for cities to get ahead of and effectively manage disruptive technology in the transportation sector like ride-sharing apps and autonomous vehicles.

Seattle released a New Mobility Playbook in September to do just that.

“The whole thing is anchored on understanding that we need to welcome this technology because it makes it easier for everyone to travel,” Benjie de la Pena, Seattle Department of Transportation deputy director for policy, planning, mobility and right of way, told Route Fifty by phone. “But it should be rooted in: ‘What kind of city do we want?’”

The playbook consists of five plays: 1.) ensure fair and just transportation for all; 2.) enable safer, more active, people-first right of way uses; 3.) reorganize and retool SDOT to manage data and innovation; 4.) build new information and data infrastructure to “plug-and-play” new services; and 5.) anticipate, adapt and leverage disruptive tech.

Seattle is already a few months into a pilot project for dockless bikeshare services. The city had partnered on a more traditional, fixed-station bikeshare system called Pronto, but pulled the plug in March. Instead, the city has authorized privately operated dockless bikeshare systems. That’s a solution that’s piloted and permitted as opposed to procured.

The city is using a similar approach with electric vehicle charging stations, which is helping to cut implementation time down from years to months. The city already has 50 charging sites lined up.

The city of Los Angeles announced earlier this week its decision to go with INRIX Roadway Analytics for cloud-based urban mobility intelligence on traffic patterns, intended to maximize road and freeway improvements and minimize costs.

“Like many cities, traffic in and around Los Angeles has far-reaching impact—not only on commuters, but also to our economy and the environment,” Tim Fremaux, a Los Angeles Department of Transportation engineer, said in the announcement. “With INRIX Roadway Analytics, we’re taking the necessary steps to maximize our efforts to move people and goods through our city.”

Seattle is taking a more measured approach and engaging equity and social justice advocates, as well as engaging investors and startups.

De la Pena points to a recent University of California, Davis study that found use of Uber and Lyft reduced public transit ridership across the board, save for the commuter train. The fear is support for public transit will wane, even as those with low incomes rely on the services the most.

“A lot of the technology that’s emerging tends to exacerbate inequalities,” de la Pena said.

The New Mobility Playbook is meant to serve as a defense in this regard while encouraging mobility-as-a-service.

With respect to autonomous vehicles, transportation officials in Seattle are bracing for their arrival and have a lot of questions to consider, including: How will roving AVs be regulated? How will the data gathered by sensors be stored and used?

If there’s an expectation from AV makers that cars will get priority over pedestrians on roadways, Seattle is adamant streets, as part of the public realm, work for people first.

“What’s going to happen to parking, and how should we think about use of the curb?” de la Pena pondered. “In most cities a lot of revenue comes from parking, and it’s also our way of controlling right of way use.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: To Secure Critical State Networks, It’s Time to Follow the Lead of Military and Intel Agencies