Reimagining Mobility through Sharing 🗺️
How a shared mobility system can transform our communities 🚙🔑
Remember in the summer of 2018 when Bird scooters suddenly appeared in major US cities? I was interning at MDOT MTA then, and we described them as micromobility. I remember the first time I rode one with my manager to a conference, which we would have otherwise commuted via car or public transit. The point was that we had a choice. Since then, scooters have been denounced as everything from a nuisance to an infestation, with various cities enacting laws to limit or outright ban them. While their emergence and adoption could have been smoother, they provided a glimpse at what the future of mobility could look like: shared and multimodal. Today, we will continue our exploration of sustainable mobility systems with a discussion about Shared Mobility!
Image from: sae.org/shared-mobility/
In our sustainable future, mobility must be a shared experience. Our mobility systems, as they are today, reflect our culture of individualism, with a strong emphasis on personal car ownership. This often leads to solo trips for daily errands (usually within a 3-mile radius) or events such as sports, concerts, or even hiking. This culture – our preference for single-occupancy trips- leads to traffic congestion and prompts the search for parking spaces once we reach our destinations. These spaces, whether in the form of gigantic parking lots or streetside parking, command what our built environment looks like, taking up nearly 25% of city downtowns in the US.
As a result, our vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) and, subsequently, car fatalities are at extremely high levels. While vehicle fuel economy has improved, personal vehicles still represent the largest share of transportation emissions. This is not sustainable — in terms of safety, efficiency, and the environment.
The Shared Use Mobility Center defines shared mobility as “transportation services and resources shared among users, either concurrently or one after another.” The idea here is to build a mobility system that does not require us to own a car yet enables us complete freedom to move around whenever we need to.
So why does shared mobility matter?
Shared mobility systems can shift the way we think about mobility. The primary reason I want to highlight is the financial one. Let's face it, owning a car is a huge financial burden:
You have to pay for the car itself, which can be a hefty loan or lease.
You have to pay for insurance, which can vary depending on your age, driving record, and location.
You have to pay for gas, which can fluctuate depending on the market and your driving habits.
You have to pay for repairs and maintenance, which can be unpredictable and expensive.
And you often have to pay for parking, which can be limited and costly in urban areas.
All these expenses add up, with the average monthly cost of around $700. And for what? A car that sits parked 95% of the time takes up space and depreciates in value. With a shared mobility system, we can reduce these expenses! What frustrates me the most is that, at the moment, most people don’t have a choice but to pay these expenses, making it hard to live car-free. A truly sustainable and equitable system enables choice regardless of your income or location.
So, what are the different types of shared mobility?
You might already be familiar with some forms of shared mobility, like public transit. But there are many other options that can make your trips more convenient, affordable, and eco-friendly. Here are some examples:
🛴Micromobility, such as bike and scooter sharing, is a great way to move around your town without worrying about parking or maintenance. You can rent a bike (like Citibike in NYC) or a scooter (like Lime) from a station or an app and use it for short trips. Did you know that 52% of trips in the US are less than three miles long, and 28% are less than one mile? So, micromobility is a perfect option for short trips. Additionally, micromobility can help reduce traffic and pollution. According to the North American Bikeshare Association (NABSA), in areas with good public transit, micromobility can complement it (64% of people use micromobility in addition to transit) or even replace car rides (37% of people use micromobility instead of driving). This means less CO2 emissions and more fun for everyone!
🚙Automobile-based shared mobility, such as carsharing and rides-on-demand, are perfect for times when you need access to a car without the commitment of actually owning one. Carsharing lets you borrow a car from a service like Zipcar for a few hours or days. You can reserve it online or on your phone and pick it up nearby. Informal versions of this could involve sharing a car with your housemates, coworkers, or group of friends! Ride-on-demand are services like cabs or Uber and Lyft that let you order a ride from a driver with a tap of a button. While private services like Uber/Lyft can vary in pricing and have demonstrated exploitative practices, their concept is what we’re examining. A public version of this could be LA Metro Micro, which provides rides on demand like Uber/Lyft for the price of a train/bus ride. These shared mobility alternatives can save you money compared to owning a car. And according to a study in New York City, a ride-sharing pilot program reduced VMT and GHG by 7 and 6%, respectively (which is our goal!)
🗺️Commute-based modes are scenario-specific transportation such as car- and van-pooling. The simplest way to share mobility is to share a ride with someone else. Whether it's arranging carpools to work or school, this method can cut down the number of cars on the road. And that means less congestion, less pollution, and more socializing. A more advanced version of this is public transit, which you can read more about here.
The latter two modes, while not car-free, represent a step away from car-centric mobility, making us reflect on only using cars when we really need to. Zipcar services are incredible because you get the benefits of using a car, such as for a weekend trip, without the ownership worries. They also foster a sense of collective community (when one fills the tanks — or preferably charges the battery – and tidies the vehicle after each use).
In implementing these shared systems, it is paramount we prioritize equity and accessibility. This means removing geofenced barriers or dependence on touchless payment methods (better yet, making them free!) Research shows that such efforts make a huge difference in whether these systems get adopted and utilized!
Rethinking mobility systems means rethinking the design of our cities and activity spaces. First, we need to create higher-density, mixed-use communities. This will help to reduce VMT by making it easier to walk, bike, or take public transit to get to where we need to go. Second, we need infrastructure that supports shared and multimodal systems. This means building protected mobility lanes (commonly known as bike lanes but rephrased to include scooters and other micromobility options). It even means reimagining how we design curbsides, which have historically been used for parking private vehicles. In a world with more shared mobility options such as ride-hailing, zip car rentals, and bike/scooter sharing, we may need to reallocate curb spaces. Luckily, we have the ability to do this because we’ve done it before: think back to pandemic-era outdoor restaurant seating!
By designing a world for shared mobility, we design for everyone equitably. So where can we or should we start? First, practice sharing mobility whenever you can. The next time you’re going out, consider carpooling, and check to see if there’s a non-car way of commuting; there might be a bike or scooter share near you! In engaging in these practices, you’ll start to understand intrinsically the current barriers that exist near you, and you’ll be able to advocate for more bike and carsharing programs. If you’re feeling bold or are able, consider going car-free entirely! Second, get involved in your local planning processes. Find out who makes the decisions about transportation infrastructure in your area and let them know what you think – share your experience. Attend public meetings, sign petitions, write letters, join advocacy groups, and be loud! Your voice matters, and it can make a difference. Finally, spread the word about the benefits of shared mobility. Share your experiences with your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Tell them how much money you save, how much fun you have, how much healthier you feel, or how much you reduce your environmental impact by sharing mobility. You might inspire them to try it out, too!
By following these steps, you can help create a culture of shared mobility in your community. You can also enjoy the perks of having more options, more flexibility, and more freedom in how you move around. Shared mobility is not just a trend; it’s a way of life. And it can make our cities more livable, sustainable, and inclusive for everyone.
Next, we’ll be wrapping up Sustainable Mobility Systems with a discussion on transportation electrification ⚡🚃🚗⚡.
If you’ve missed it, Fostering Our Earth now has a podcast! Each month, I’ll post a conversation with a practitioner to break down how we can get to this sustainable future! The first three episodes are up, and you can listen to them here!
As always, if you have any questions or comments, submit them here or below!