Redefining Transportation (Again): Planning for an Uncertain Future

From horse-drawn carriages and automobiles, to transportation network companies (TNCs), to the surge of electric vehicles (EV) and the anticipated market introduction of autonomous vehicles, transportation has been redefined time and time again. How do we plan for the future when the lines between reality and hype are often blurred and predictions, fresh approaches, and new technologies are announced almost weekly?

Kimley-Horn’s Dennis Motiani organized and moderated a panel to discuss these issues and potential solutions at the 2018 Intelligent Transportation Society of America Annual Meeting in Detroit, MI, and Kimley-Horn’s Mike Harris joined the conversation. Dennis first had the idea for the panel when planning for a new, $10 billion Port Authority Bus Terminal connecting New York and New Jersey. Realizing infrastructure needs could shift if autonomous vehicles became ubiquitous and ridesharing services like Uber gained popularity, Dennis wondered how industry members should confront the unprecedented challenges. With input from Kimley-Horn’s Corey Hill, learn what to consider when moving projects forward in this time of transportation uncertainty.

Declining Ridership Rates

In the last five years, transit ridership rates have steadily declined. Transit planners point to a number of factors, though the overall influence of each one is hard to determine. One factor seen as a contributor to declining ridership is the popularity of TNCs. What are your thoughts on TNCs driving this trend? Corey Hill: Many transit planners agree that private mobility service providers impact the marketplace. With continued growth into new markets and the introduction of new types of services, transit providers are looking for answers as to whether these services should be viewed as a threat, an opportunity, or as a different market entirely. One thing is for sure, TNCs are highlighting the importance for all mobility providers to have a deeper understanding of their market and their labor force. Transit operators are beginning to reevaluate decades-old transit networks, implement customer focused communication tools, and use more sophisticated market assessments that help them better understand who they are serving and how best to address their needs. Internally, operators are beginning to examine if their workforce has the skillsets and tools to respond to customers’ needs. They are operating in an increasingly on-demand environment that requires active performance monitoring and rapid resolution of issues. Transit operators may not be able to adjust at the same pace as TNCs, but the ridership trend clearly signals that the market is expecting more. Mike Harris: APTA, FTA, TRB and other major institutions are involved in exploring an evolving marketplace of mobility choice. Travelers are utilizing a multitude of options including public transportation, private transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, bike share, car share, and scooter options. The effect of private mobility on public transit is not yet well defined. Despite this, we are seeing opportunities for learning and experimenting, and there are certainly more to come.

The Impact of Evolving Trends

As community ideals shift and new forms of mobility become more popular, how are the private and public sectors responding? Corey: Community ideals continue to evolve as community demographics change. Therefore, public and private operators must form relationships with community leaders and key stakeholders, and be aware of market shifts in time to adapt. Since many public transit service providers are funded by federal, state, and local sources and shepherded by elected community leaders, they are best positioned to witness changes in community values, while private operators can bring more comprehensive customer trend data to the table. To better respond to community ideals, both sectors have initiated numerous pilot programs to promote a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in a given community. Regardless of a pilot’s success or failure, improved communication between the public and private sectors is helping to shape partnerships that can effectively respond to the needs of each community. Mike: In this time of change, trends in mobility are quickly evolving. For instance, more partnerships are being formed between private companies like Uber and Lyft and the public sector. This collaboration often includes developing shared mobility strategic plans. Kimley-Horn is part of these efforts nationwide, providing services to support public-private partnerships and new technology such as centralized mobile ticketing platforms. Currently, we are working in Virginia to develop a statewide mobility plan that provides strategic direction to more than 20 transit operators in the area. We are now working to implement the strategy in Fairfax County, VA where we are helping to implement a shared mobility pilot program.

Moving Forward: Transit Agencies as Mobility Solution Providers

As transportation changes, some agencies are focusing less on a particular mode and more on facilitating the movement of people across a range of services, recognizing that some are better suited for a particular trip than others. Can you expand on ways public transit agencies are adapting? Corey: Some transit agencies have long been mobility solution providers by supporting Transportation Demand Management strategies (carpooling, vanpooling, bike sharing, etc.) and providing bus and rail services—but these services are often siloed within each organization. By expanding the scope of services to include private sector partnerships with TNCs and elevating the choice of options to an equal platform, the public can gain improved access to information and services that will allow them to consider options other than driving their personal vehicles. Services can also be better leveraged by coordinating multiple trips, such as a bus or rail trip with a TNC, to provide easy first/last mile services to complete a trip. Transit agencies that are willing to explore possible adaptations tend to be more successful because they give thought to areas of improvement and thoroughly look at their operations. This comprehensive understanding helps agencies recalibrate their services and improve efficiency and performance, increasing their contribution to local economies and value to the traveling public. Kimley-Horn recently guided OmniRide in Prince William County, VA through a strategic planning process that is better positioning the provider as a mobility expert in the region.

Key Takeaways

  1. TNCs are pushing transit to evolve into more performance-driven agencies
  2. Public and private sector providers must understand the values of leaders and the market in each community they serve
  3. With the right plan, many transit agencies can become mobility solution agencies that are recognized as the experts to turn to in their regions
  1. Transit agencies see TNCs as potential partners—not threats
  2. Transit systems are adapting to changing community mobility preferences
  3. Mobility solutions are evolving, and because the future is not defined, there are opportunities for new solutions and best practices to emerge