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Sharing: the new public transportation

Image by Alfredo Mendez of a Lyft car

Image by Alfredo Mendez of a Lyft car

Ben Adler sings the praises of taxis as public transportation:

This means that cabs are not an alternative to New York’s public transit infrastructure but rather a part of it. They make it easier for you to leave your car at home for the day, or possibly get rid of your car altogether. King explained in a blog post about his study that cabs are an important component of good urbanism. “If we want to have transit oriented cities we have to plan for high quality, door-to-door services that allow spontaneous one-way travel,” King writes.

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We have only just begun to experience how location-based technology may free us from the yoke of owning, repairing, gassing up, and parking a car. As New York magazine pointed out last week, many cab riders are traveling the same route at the same time, and they could save money and reduce pollution through cab-sharing systems. But having easily available and accessible cabs is a necessary precondition.

Cabs are also part of what make city living an attractive option. They’re great for going home drunk.

Adler similarly praises car sharing and ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber.

I think the interesting area to explore here is not how these services work for places like New York and San Francisco (and DC to an extent) which already have abundant transportation options. I'm more interested to imagine how the new technologies can help change public transportation in smaller cities or those that are not very dense, but wanting to urbanize.

An interesting question would be, if we were starting from scratch with public transportation today, what would we do? Would we even create bus service much like is typical in so many cities, and which generally cannot operate without a large public subsidy?

In a world of on-demand ridership, would it be better to have much smaller vehicles, accessed through mobile technology instead of large buses running on fixed routes? Certainly that wouldn't work for the biggest cities that demand a robust level of service. But what about the vast majority of North American cities that just aren't very dense? Wouldn't it be better for all to have access to on-demand services that make living car-light or car-free attractive even for middle class customers? For those at the lowest end of the economic ladder, a city could still choose to provide relief for them in terms of the cost of the ride and even a mobile phone. How would that type of operation compare in terms of service, quality, revenue and expense to some of our typical bus services?

The future is going to demand we do more with less, and this new world of mobile, on-demand technology may provide just the solution for a lot of North American cities. Which city will be the first to ditch their bus service (which was probably just a poor replacement for a good streetcar system) with an innovative, modern solution?

Monday laugh

Examining the economics of park and ride

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