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What did Arity learn? Highlights from our Fall conference attendance

Arity · December 11, 2018 · 10 min read
Lauren Haynes and Ryan Letcher take a moment to share what they've learned from conversations at recent conferences.

Throughout the Fall, several folks from Arity have presented or attended at several industry events and conferences across the country. It’s at these gatherings where we get to meet and connect with a wide range of folks including city leaders, data analytics professionals, urban planners, developers, and mobility providers to talk and learn more about data that will meet their common goals, today and in the future. We recently sat down with Lauren Haynes, from our Smart Cities squad, and Ryan Letcher, a key member of our crackerjack data science team to get the download on these conversations, their view on the role of data in shared mobility, and how it will help advance transportation.

How has shared mobility changed transportation in the last five years? How do emerging mobility forms continue to change transportation?

  • Lauren Haynes: When the last Census was collected in 2010, “shared mobility” was barely a phrase. For example, Lyft wasn’t founded until June of 2012! While it is true that cities are always thinking about how people move and how transportation fits into peoples’ lives, I think we can agree that the transportation ecosystem has changed faster than traditional tools for measuring demographics and travel patterns can quantify. There are a ton of questions about whether or not these changes, including ‘shared mobility,’ have increased traffic congestion and how it has actually impacted drivers. We do know that it has given riders more flexibility, but cities really don’t know how that has impacted public transit ridership. Overall, I think that our challenge in addressing these questions is that we don’t have a standardized way to measure success from city to city. As for emerging mobility, we have often seen a conflict between the mindset and pace of startups with that of governments and cities. This has led to shared mobility providers asking for forgiveness after instead of permission before launching, which has created a foundation of tension rather than cooperation between the two sides.
  • Ryan Letcher: Obviously, shared mobility has made an impact on personal transportation in so many ways. New services like rideshare and car share offer consumers continuous options to get around. This has made the possibility of replacing personal car ownership very real and that is a major trend that is driving a new generation of businesses that are creating all kinds of challenges for the economics of transportation in general. For example, new subscription models have enabled people to spread out how they spend money on transportation over time rather than paying a lot upfront to purchase or lease a vehicle. The way people value on-demand services, aka getting what you want when you want it, has changed the economics of the marketplace at large. It is imperative that shared mobility providers have the ability to move fast and stay competitive with changing consumer demands, but these emergent businesses move so much faster than cities can. Those cities can rely on their natural source of funding for decades, taxpayers. But the challenge for providers is that they have to innovate within these incumbent modes, while simultaneously meeting the fickle demands of consumers, as well as investors and markets.

What do you see as the pros and cons of shared mobility?

  • Lauren: Comparing shared rides or ride-hailing to taxis, you could theoretically argue that shared rides are more equitable because services will move to areas based on demand, theoretically those that are underserved by taxis. These providers have the capability to close the very important ‘last mile,’ as a shared ride can easily get people from the end of transit to their homes or final destinations. Looking at the other side of the coin, there is a range of regulatory and data sharing issues when it comes to shared mobility. Traditionally city and government regulations are driven by the question, “how do we ensure that every citizen has equitable access?” But this understandably doesn’t align with the interests of shared mobility companies to protect their proprietary data. It has created an interesting tension between the proprietary data that is powering mobility services, and data sharing that ensures equitable and fair transportation for everyone. The big challenge for new shared mobility providers is, ‘how do we provide cities with a view of the data so they can regulate in a fair and equitable way?’ If we’re not properly sharing data, then it prevents shared mobility from providing an equitable last mile solution.
  • Ryan: It’s apparent to all of us that shared mobility offers consumers much more flexibility than traditional transportation options. This includes new choices for both sides of the marketplace. For the person who needs to get from point A to B, they have more options to get where they need to as well as how they spend their money on transportation. Consumers no longer must buy a car, they now have multiple mobility options at their fingertips. It has also created additional earning opportunities for those on the seller side, like Uber drivers or P2P (peer to peer) car hosts. The cons of shared mobility include hard-to-analyze network cause and effects – what are the effects on equity, congestion, transportation, and economics on the whole? As with many technological advancements in their fledgling years, several questions remain about how to set up a business model that is simultaneously convenient for customers, sustainable for profits, and accepted by regulators. In order to survive, shared mobility providers need to move in that order, even if it means cities get what they won’t last.

What does shared mobility mean for equity? What does equitable transportation mean to you?

  • Lauren: For me, equitable transportation means that we can bring services to areas that have been previously underserved. It means people can get to where they need to go in a reasonable time and for a reasonable cost. Of course, what is defined as “reasonable” is different for every individual’s situation and needs a there are risks that shared mobility services are too expensive for certain demographics. But, as we look but at even newer micro-mobility modes such as bikes and scooters, there may be a lower barrier to entry based on cost alone for the average rider.
  • Ryan: Personally, I define equity as the promise of mobility on demand as the availability of reliable service options where and when you need it, that is offered at the right price. If you break that down, there are different challenges for each side. The motivations behind where, when, and for how much are very different for those who seek transportation and those who provide it. When we can find a balance that satisfies both sides questions about where they serve, when they operate, and how much they’re charging, then that is equitable transportation construct. Fulfilling the needs of underserved communities is important to providers, but they need the latitude to recoup profit where they earn less in those less advantaged areas. In my view, cities need to focus on the gives as well as the gets.

What’s one thing that would help shared mobility companies and cities work together?

  • Lauren: We need to find out how to share data in a way that is fair to shared mobility companies while meeting each cities’ requirements and questions. Over the last few months, there have been news reports with extreme headlines like “shared mobility is killing people” one day and then “shared mobility is going to save the world and give everyone jobs” the next. There is definitely tension in the relationship right now, and we need to move it from contention to cooperation. This will enable us to answer questions and create services that are equitable while also delivering on their promises to consumers. But the problem is that everyone is holding their data so close to their chest so that we cannot get a full and accurate reading of the situation.
  • Ryan: Finding a level of trust between both sides is the prerequisite for productive collaboration and we see the expression of trust, or lack thereof, in how they all share their data. Because we don’t have a standardized, objective way to share data, we can’t properly evaluate the transportation landscape. As a result, there are conflicting reports about the effects of shared mobility – how it does or does not affect congestion, or it is or is not performing to expectations. All of that is born from a lack of trust. Another unique dynamic for shared mobility companies is the trust of their customers and how their personal data is being shared. I believe that shared mobility companies value the perceptions of their own users over fostering relationships with cities, so they can maintain their proprietary data. That data is invaluable, it’s their competitive edge. What would really make an impact is if shared mobility companies and cities could work together better to create a standard non-biased way to establish metrics that answer cities’ questions and maintain confidentiality. That would go a long way to creating trust between both sides,

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