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Tolling Points

Growth of 'Micromobility' Shows Importance of MaaS

By: 
Bill Cramer

With “micromobility” entering the transportation planning lexicon, it’s a good thing tolling professionals are already looking to Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as a tool to connect all modes of transportation, particularly in urban areas.

It’s a reality that IBTTA member agencies have spent months and years preparing for. As technology delivers previously unimaginable levels of consumer choice, and demographic changes drive mobility demand, it isn’t so much that customer expectations are changing: they’re diversifying fast, with different groups of users looking for specific types of transportation experience.

In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen the latest sign that demand for passenger vehicles is on the rise, with Americans logging a mind-boggling 3.225 trillion miles, and cargo and delivery service setting records of their own. “Record-setting vehicle miles traveled reflects a robust economy, lower gas prices, and is another reason to ensure that America’s roads and bridges are well-maintained and modernized to improve safety,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a late March release.

Several weeks ago, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) reported that the number of “micromobility” trips on shared bikes and scooters has doubled in just the last year. The new trend is still tiny compared to conventional vehicles—the doubling brought total trip volume to 84 million. But everyone in every city has a few stories about the meteoric rise of electric scooters, and the shared mobility apps that enable them.

It all adds up to a consumer environment that has never been more complex, and is changing fast, requiring the transportation community to come up with the systems, the coordination, and the financing to serve a far more diverse clientele.

A New Mobility Management Challenge

The NACTO micromobility ridership report paints a picture of a rapidly-evolving landscape for a specialized, quintessentially urban transportation service. It shows dockless pedal bikes largely disappearing over the last year, with their providers changing out their fleets to focus on e-scooters, tens of thousands of which are now on the ground in U.S. cities.

“Cities are proactively thinking about how to harness the incredible potential of these shared services in the public right-of-way,” said NACTO Executive Director Corinne Kisner. “As stewards of the public realm, it is vital that cities retain authority over their streets. State legislators must ensure that cities have the ability to plan, regulate, and manage shared micromobility systems for safe, sustainable, and equitable outcomes.”

But with great opportunity comes great challenges, with cities calling for better data and broader collaboration.

“Managing the many new shared vehicle types on city streets is a challenge,” said NACTO Director of Strategy Kate Fillin-Yeh. “The data cities receive from vendors can be spotty, complicating efforts to regulate systems or make good policies. Much of the equipment is new and largely untested at scale, and the market is changing rapidly, with an uncertain financial outlook. The most successful shared micromobility systems have been planned hand-in-hand with cities.”

Putting More ‘Multi’ in ‘Multi-Modal’

Hand in hand with cities—and, we hasten to add, with the other transportation and tolling entities that have been working together to deliver safe, reliable mobility in some of the most congested corridors in the United States and around the world.

The NACTO release paints a picture of a new, emerging element in the wider mobility community, with its business model still taking shape but the clear potential to “be a game-changer for those without the means, ability, or desire to maintain a private vehicle,” in the words of NACTO Program Manager Nicole Payne.

It’s small but feisty, and growing fast. And like so many other segments of a modern transportation system, its success will depend on the ability to seamlessly integrate with other local services—and the systems that make it easy for customers to pay for the mobility the need.

The system integration piece of that puzzle was one of the biggest, most exciting topics of conversation at IBTTA’s Annual Technology Summit in Orlando, last month. How to build a diverse, complex, financially sustainable system to meet a multitude of customer demands is the focus of the Summit on Finance & Policy, May 19-21 in Philadelphia.

In the end, the takeaway from the NACTO release is that the potential is huge, the new mode is exciting for a great many users—and it just might work, as long as agencies and providers can sweat the details and work together. That’s what tolling agencies have been doing through a decade of transition, and the industry is ready to respond as new modes and opportunities emerge.

Every mode depends on effective finance and smart policy. Register before it’s too late for IBTTA’s Summit on Finance and Policy, May 19-21, 2019 in Philadelphia.

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