Coding the Curb

As Mobility Evolves, Cities Have to Evolve With It

As mobility changes, the ways that cities manage it have to change, too. In many cases, the government is still managing transportation by individual mode instead of the holistic rider journey.

While some municipalities have difficulty keeping pace with mobility technology, the private sector is innovating at an unprecedented speed. Seemingly without warning, scooters and dockless bikes have been dropped into city after city, while just a few years ago, ride-hailing services were introduced without collaborating with municipal leaders. While private companies push to expand and innovate rapidly, it’s vital for cities to figure out how to work alongside the private sector in order to offer quality, equitable transportation solutions to citizens.

This will require a major internal shift. At present, the government procures for transportation. When bus capacity overflows, cities purchase more buses. When additional routes are required for trains, they build more train tracks. Today’s transportation environment calls for the government to become a provider of transportation solutions, focusing on initiatives such as partnering with transportation network companies (TNCs) to offer first- and last-mile solutions or figuring out ways to distribute scooters equitably and safely throughout cities. The provision of transportation, rather than production, will make all the difference as technology continues to drive the evolution of mobility within cities.

The Proven Power of Data

With increasing frequency, new modes of transportation are being introduced, driven by the private sector. Consequently, the government needs to ensure it has access to the data necessary to create effective regulations.

Better access to data can help local governments make decisions that can positively impact city infrastructure, equity, and accessibility. But coordinating this exchange of information, which often requires collaboration with private companies, requires the city to play a new role. To ensure access without stalling innovation, municipalities have to start leveraging technology to centralize data across modes of transportation so they can make data-driven decisions about how to provide equitable transportation options.

In order to create more open systems, cities need standardized ways to collect data from various mobility providers. Various parties have started working on solutions; The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), for example, is laying the groundwork to determine what data cities should be collecting.

Using Data to Create Better Solutions

1. Solving Ride-hailing Inequity

  • Officials of New York City started requiring that all taxis provide GPS information to the city in order to provide more equitable access to transportation.
  • By gaining access to this data, city officials determined that yellow cabs weren’t serving all boroughs equitably. In fact, 97.5% of yellow taxi pick-ups were occurring in the southern part of Manhattan.
  • City leaders worked with New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to restructure its regulatory regime, introducing green “Boro Taxis” in 2013 that help expand access to cab rides in areas typically neglected by traditional taxis.

2. Increasing Workplace Productivity With Better Access to Transit and Commute Times3

  • South Bend, Indiana, received a Bloomberg grant to bridge the first and last miles through subsidized TNC rides to underserved communities in order to evaluate the effect of commutes on work productivity. The theory was that longer commutes lead to more turnover at work.
  • The city ran A/B tests and worked with TNCs to reduce the commute time in the test areas. As predicted, reduced commute time resulted in more people staying at their jobs, and by extension, this led to a healthier economy

3. Identifying Transit Deserts and Increasing Access to Jobs

  • Communities such as Los Angeles and Orlando have been able to map out “transit deserts” in their cities through access to data. These are places where it’s difficult for people to easily walk to and access public transit.
  • From there, city leaders mapped open jobs throughout the city and determined that eligible workers for those jobs resided in transit deserts. This made it challenging for workers to access those jobs, ultimately hurting individuals and the economy overall.
  • City leaders are considering options for solving this problem, including partnerships with ride-hailing TNCs such as Uber or Lyft, as well as bike-sharing or scooter companies, to enable more accessibility to jobs and retail.

4. Harnessing Waze Data for City Planning

  • States such as Ohio and Kentucky are using Waze accident data to optimize their operations.
  • Transportation administrators and city leaders receive data about accidents approximately 10 minutes prior to receiving state police reports.
  • Los Angeles uses Waze data to redirect ambulances to better routes in emergency situations.

Planning for the Future: Coding the Curb

As cities continue to make way for the future of mobility, it will be critical to consider autonomous vehicles and other innovations that will require digital systems for operations.

Today, cities have no simple ways of managing rules of the curbside, or even collecting the current rules. They often rely on legacy signage, which becomes outdated and leads to confusion for drivers and enforcement officers. It’s not unusual for officers to give out tickets that may not be valid due to outdated or confusing signage, leading to inefficiencies and citizen frustration.

As additional new modes of transportation utilize the curb, centralized digital management is becoming a necessity rather than a nice-to-have. Cities will have to use a platform that can facilitate smarter allocations of the curb and usage-based pricing to truly optimize mobility and create more equitable systems.

The onus is on the government to determine how to best work with public transportation systems and private enterprise systems simultaneously to create a system that enables appropriate pricing of the curb. This will ensure that cities receive the correct amount of funds from those that utilize the curb, and in turn, create systems that provide greater transportation access to all citizens and underserved communities. This puts more control in the government’s hands without adding significant regulation to private mobility providers, sidestepping barriers to innovation, and making room for the market to naturally balance supply and demand.

Managing Micro-mobility

As micro-mobility companies enter new markets without warning, cities are caught off guard and need to find ways to manage the new mobility options on their streets. For many cities, the reaction is to impose medallion-like systems intended to cap the number of scooters allowed on their streets. However, this has proven to be ineffective at solving the core problem of effectively managing and controlling who accesses the curb and how much they pay for it and reduces benefits to the city of micro-mobility deployments.

Cities already have a well-established system for charging cars to park on the curb and this same solution can be applied to other modes of transportation. By charging scooters to park on the curb, cities can more effectively manage scooters in their communities and naturally balance supply and demand through curbside pricing.

In order to achieve this, cities will need to establish a more open mobility platform that helps them centrally store and manage the rules, rates, and regulations of the curb, making them easily accessible to scooter companies through open application programming interfaces (APIs). City leaders would then be able to aggregate all data centrally to identify trends while managing rates in real-time.

The Government’s Role in the Future

As we move forward on the new path to mobility management, the government will have a new role to play. As technology is integrated into municipal operations with increasing frequency, the government will have to ensure that:

  • Systems operate honestly
  • Solutions can effectively scale
  • Information is secure and protected
  • Data is open and accessible
  • Flexible standards are in place

Mobility Management vs. Mode Management

Cities today have disparate departments managing different modes of transportation. The government has to find ways to flip the system and conceive of ways to manage comprehensive, end-to-end integrated mobility systems — putting the citizen first — rather than managing different modes of transportation in silos.

To do this, government structure should be reimagined to move toward central agencies that are in charge of the entire mobility experience. These agencies can be tasked with planning entire systems, not just individual bus or train systems. To be successful, there has to be one centralized system in place that digests data from both public and private modes of transportation. From there, cities will be empowered to make data-driven decisions in real-time about the ways people move about their cities.

Coding the curb plays an essential role in this transition, as does access to the right platform technology that centralizes data through APIs. As more digitally reliant technologies are introduced, such as autonomous vehicles, cities will need to begin integrating behavioral economics, real-time data, and pricing to naturally manage the supply and demand of mobility services, in order to achieve the goal of creating more livable, equitable communities. By managing all modes of transportation from a central control hub, including rules, rates, and regulations, cities will be able to become more agile and bring more innovative solutions to their constituents faster than ever.