CRTP: Mobility on Demand – What Does That Mean?

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One of the biggest and most talked about trends in transportation in recent years is variously known as “mobility on demand” or “mobility as a service.” While you may not have heard these particular industry buzzwords, you’ve definitely heard about some of the manifestations of this phenomenon, which include everything from Uber and Lyft, to bike-share programs, to dockless scooters. The idea is that providers are moving toward an internet-era model of flexible, personalized transportation (as opposed to the “old-fashioned” approach of having to wait for a fixed-route bus or train, or trying to hail a taxi on the street, or even—gasp—walking somewhere).

Zagster bike rental station in Eureka. Photo: CRTP.
Zagster bike rental station in Eureka. Photo: CRTP.

The implications of this trend for our environment, our economy, and our health and safety are enormous, and too numerous to fully explore here. However, a quick skim of old editions of The Collector (CRTP’s weekly transportation news roundup) provides an interesting and revealing sample of headlines on
the subject:

“Research suggests Uber & Lyft are causing more driving, not less”

“Microtransit: the future of public transportation or revival of a bad idea?”

“Bringing Facebook’s business model to transportation”

“Uber & Lyft users are rich”

“Charging Lyft & Uber for curb access”

“Taxi co-ops offer an alternative to Uber & Lyft”

“Are e-bikes the breakthrough bikeshare
programs need?”

“E-scooters are the hot new transportation thing—but what to do about them?”

All of this can sometimes seem rather distant in a remote, rural area like ours, where public transportation has always been somewhat limited and ride-hailing companies have not yet achieved the dominance they have in major cities. But the trend is coming even here.

Thankfully, the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) had the foresight to begin a public planning process for mobility on demand, rather than letting it develop haphazardly as it has in many other places, and is currently working on a “Mobility on Demand Strategic Development Plan.” At the first public input session in December, the main takeaway from participants was that we shouldn’t get too caught up in developing new “on-demand” systems when there’s still a huge unmet demand for traditional public transportation in our region. CRTP agreed with this sentiment, but also commented that it would be far better to develop quality public on-demand options than to allow private profit-seeking companies to dominate the sector. A public system could have a positive impact by balancing important local priorities, such as improving access for those with limited mobility while reducing overall vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.

There will be more opportunities over the coming year to share your ideas about local mobility on demand with HCAOG, so stay tuned. Read more about mobility on demand in many editions of The Collector.

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