Shared transportation: mobility for everyone

Transportation networks are evolving quickly as key players like car manufacturers, public and private transportation providers, technology companies and others develop partnerships to provide new and more flexible combinations of services to move people and goods. Shared transportation is a prime example of the variety and speed of innovation that is changing how we travel in our cities.

What is shared transportation? As a category it covers a lot of ground. Also referred to as shared mobility, it includes public transit (such as buses and light rail), car sharing, bike sharing, carpooling, taxis, ride-sourcing services (such as Lyft and Uber) and flexible commercial delivery vehicles that carry a variety of products.

Trends in shared transportation
There are several trends related to shared transportation that city leaders and planners need to be aware of so they can re-evaluate their long-range transportation and comprehensive land use plans and better provide the level of service citizens and visitors expect. Some of the key trends are addressed here. Readers who would like additional information may want to review the Shared-Use Mobility Reference Guide from the Shared Use Mobility Center, a shared mobility advocacy group and resource.

Younger generations are shunning car ownership in favor of shared transportation because there are so many affordable options to choose from and online platforms that offer real-time information on which ones are available and where.

Paratransit typically serves people with disabilities and is considered supplementary to regular bus and rail service. It is not a new phenomenon but its popularity is growing in many countries. Paratransit vehicles are usually minibuses equipped with wheelchair lifts or ramps. The specific services provided can vary depending on location and demand.

Microtransit vehicles are equipped with dynamic route-generating technology and typically offer door-to-door service or, for a lower fare, will pick up passengers willing to walk a few blocks to a stop.

Because there are so many transport options, several cities have turned to developing mobility hubs. As the name suggests, mobility hubs are a concentration of several different transport modes in one location.

How shared transportation benefits cities
As city leaders and planners well know, not all transportation options are right for every city or every situation. But because there are so many options, they have more choices when faced with shifting population density and changes in their citizens' preferences for how they want to travel. While many cities try to keep population growth within defined boundaries, suburban developments are often necessary. And those areas may be underserved because the cost of providing regular bus or rail service may not be cost-efficient. Shared transportation may offer a solution, or a combination of solutions.

Other benefits include:

  • Reduced traffic congestion, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduced need for parking facilities, opening up land for other uses such as green spaces
  • Affordability (lower transportation costs)
  • An efficient, convenient transportation network when shared transportation and other options are integrated
  • More inclusive and flexible mobility options reduce the strain on typically tight city mass transit agency budgets