Navigant Research Blog

Using Open Data to Close Mobility Gaps

— April 13, 2016

Mass rapid transitCan the open data movement help create better access to high-quality transportation services not just for the urban elite but also for the underserved? That’s what the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is hoping will happen thanks to a new public transit data gathering initiative. In March, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the agency is seeking to create a national transit map using transit route data from operators across the country.

Many U.S. transit agencies have already joined the open data movement, driven in part by the opportunity to have Google Maps provide users with transit travel options. A 2015 report by the U.S. Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) on the state of open data in public transportation noted that between 2009 and 2012, many of the largest transit agencies in the United States created application programming interfaces (APIs) that third-party software developers can use to access real-time data feeds of bus and train location information. Many transit agencies have developed the GTFS (or General Transit Feed Specification) feeds that Google Maps uses to provide its transit directions.

National Snapshot

A new development is combining this data into a single map of transit in the United States. According to the DOT, its National Transit Map will provide a comprehensive, national snapshot of “where transit stops are, how frequent transit service is, and where transit routes go.” Note that this is all static information—this National Transit Map won’t take the place of real-time data used by smart phone app developers for individual transit systems. However, the DOT hopes that researchers and advocates will use the data to show where transit coverage is strong and where it is lacking. This is actually the kind of information that’s been available for years on U.S. roadways through the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA provides data on over 450,000 miles of U.S. highways that can be used to determine accessibility and usage rates.

The United States is joining just a handful of other countries that have open data on national public transportation services, rather than on a transit system level. The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to introduce a national public transportation database. The National Public Transport Data Repository captures every bus, train, and coach trip that occurs in the same week in October across the country. The repository has data from every year from 2004 to 2011, but has not been updated since 2011. When it was made public, the data was used for, among other things, an analysis of which parts of the country lagged in bus service. Sweden’s TrafikLab provides data on the country’s public transport systems. In Germany, transit data was pulled together by a group of activists, rather than the government.

Untapped Potential

There is still tremendous untapped potential in the data on transit services available to the wider public. The U.S. effort to collate this data and make it easy to access is an admirable step in this direction. While DOT secretary Foxx has expressly said his goal is to close the transit access gap, unstated is how this would occur. Presumably through encouraging additional investments in traditional public transit systems, but it would be an interesting exercise to overlay the transit coverage to data on shared mobility options. This data is largely held by private companies, however. There have been some initiatives to let cities access ride-hailing data, such as Uber’s partnership with Boston, but it is likely to be very difficult to access most of this information at a larger scale.

 

Ride-Hailing Is a New Tool in the City Planning Toolkit, but Can It Be Managed?

— April 6, 2016

CarsharingstandortWashington, D.C. underwent an accidental experiment in new mobility in March when the city’s subway system shut down for 24 hours for safety inspections. Usually the Metro only closes down in bad weather, but the D.C. system is in a rough state (a subject that could itself be the topic of a weekly series of blogs). Though service interruptions are now the norm with the Metro, shutting down the entire system for a day came as a shock and was only compounded by the short notice given to riders.

Riders had an array of alternatives, most of which are not new: private cars, buses, bikes, and telecommuting. But one thing the shutdown confirmed is that on-demand mobility services have to be seen now as an established modal option in a multi-modal city transportation plan. On-demand services reported significant increases in business on the Wednesday that the Metro shut down. Zipcar had a 50% increase in reservations compared to a typical Wednesday morning, and Lyft reported a 65% increase in ridership. Since carsharing has been around much longer than ride-hailing—and because setting up carshare services requires parking permission from the city—it is already integrated into many cities’ transportation planning. To some degree, working with public officials is built into the carsharing business model.

Flexibility Is Key

Ride-hailing businesses have grown astronomically in a short amount of time, and city officials and regulators have yet to catch up. In addition, ride-hailing’s DNA is that of a Silicon Valley startup that works outside the conventional government/industry nexus. This has fed these services’ rapid growth and helps make them dynamic and flexible. Indeed, Uber and Lyft responded to the shutdown in ways you’d expect from flexible, market-based transportation services. There was a surge in supply, with Uber saying it had 50% more drivers available for service during the morning rush hour than on a typical Wednesday morning. The expected spike in rates charged to riders was muted thanks to this increase.

This flexibility is something that city planning and transportation agencies should take into consideration when evaluating how to prepare cities for spikes in travel demand. Ride hailing will be an important new tool for cities in transportation planning. Of course, cities don’t control this tool, which leads to tension between city officials and the ride hailing companies.

Cities are also legitimately wary that ride-hailing simply shifts travel back to single-passenger vehicles, worsening traffic congestion. The D.C. Metro shutdown also illustrated how that might look, with reports of massive congestion outside Union Station due to taxis and pickup services. However, if ride-hailing affects traffic significantly, it will increase the cost of using the service for riders and make options like public transit and bikes more attractive. Carsharing will be affected by this as well, even though it’s less likely that carsharing could drive an exodus from transit. A hopeful sign of how increased demand may alter the ride hailing market: Uber reports that 1 in 4 customers used UberPool, the carpool version of its service, on the day of the Metro shutdown.

If ride-hailing is now a part of the city’s mobility landscape, it is not likely to remain outside the conventional regulatory system. In our upcoming Transportation Outlook: 2025 to 2050 report, Navigant Research predicts that ride-hailing will become a much more regulated industry over the next 10 years. This will make it less nimble and innovative but will help services grow by ensuring that companies act as good citizens in the cities where they operate.

 

Zipcar Adds One-Way Carshare Service

— March 4, 2016

CarsharingstandortZipcar is increasing the availability of one-way service in its carshare cities in North America, announcing last week that it would offer this option in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Denver. Zipcar, the most well-established and arguably best known carshare company in the world, has now embraced the model of one-way carshare service pioneered by Paris’s Autolib program.

Zipcar had been running a beta program in Boston for 2 years, with 200 vehicles available for one-way service. In Navigant Research’s 2015 Carsharing Programs report, I predicted that Zipcar would adopt this service model in more cities, as one-way service has been one of the biggest disruptive trends in carsharing over the last several years. The other major disruptor in the market is related to one-way service: the entry of automakers in earnest into carsharing programs. Daimler and BMW are the two biggest automotive players in carsharing, and since launching their respective programs, the two companies are capturing a significant portion of the total global carshare membership as of the end of 2015. Both of these programs, Daimler’s car2go and BMW’s DriveNow, are one-way services.

BMW and Daimler seem to have grown by expanding the carshare market, not necessarily by taking market share from incumbents. Zipcar is one of the biggest carshare companies globally, operating in over 400 metropolitan areas in North America and Western Europe, with approximately 900,000 members as of the end of 2015. The vast majority of these members are in North America, where Zipcar is the biggest player in carsharing. However, Daimler and BMW have made claims to having over 1 million and 300,000 members, respectively, even though they operate in only a fraction of the cities that Zipcar does.

Rapid Expansion

This rapid expansion reflects the new opportunity that one-way service presents for carsharing market growth. One-way opens up a different use case than the traditional carshare model of picking up and dropping off a car in the same parking spot. In some respects, one-way service looks more like an Uber or Lyft or other ridehailing type of mobility service. Users can make more spur-of-the-moment decisions to rent a car. These rentals become more attractive for short inner city trips which, due perhaps to weather or a lack of public transit or some other factor, are more conveniently done by car. One-way service also reflects the overall changes happening in the urban mobility market, where people in cities are accustomed to on-demand mobility in a range of flavors, including public transit, ridehailing, bikeshare, carsharing, and others.

Not that traditional carsharing operations will fade away. The Carsharing Programs report forecasts that global membership in carsharing services will rise from an estimated 4.8 million in 2015 to over 20 million in 2024, spread across several business models—the conventional model, the one-way model, and even some unique models like the Kandi Technologies vehicle vending machines in China. Traditional carsharing service will still have a role, as it is a comparatively less investment-intensive operation, and will still fill a need case among users to reserve cars for specific appointments and longer distance driving. One-way services do pose logistical challenges, most notably in securing parking, an issue that caused DriveNow to exit the San Francisco market. Nevertheless, one-way carsharing is expected to see faster growth as companies like BMW, Daimler, and Bollore expand their operations. And now Zipcar has joined the trend.

 

Surge of Growth for Southern California EV Charging

— February 4, 2016

Machine parkingThe Southern California electric vehicle (EV) charging market is about to get a surge of growth, as the first utility-led charging deployment programs have been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) each received the go-ahead for their proposals to deploy thousands of EV charging stations within their service territories.

This marks a major transition in the EV charging market in California, as utilities had previously been forced to sit on the sidelines while the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market launched and EV charging demand grew. This meant that utilities could not directly participate in a market that could provide a significant new revenue stream over the long term. The CPUC’s December 2014 decision to allow utility ownership of EV chargers has opened a new avenue for funding charging deployments via a stakeholder with (relatively) deep pockets and a stake in the growth of electricity as a transportation fuel.

California did have something of an EV charging gold rush when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded two major public charging deployment programs in 2009. The ChargePoint America and The EV Project programs resulted in over 6,300 public and private charging station installations (excluding residential). California got around a third of these; roughly 2,000 Level 2 and direct current (DC) fast charging stations were deployed in the state from 2011 to 2013. At the same time, California saw its DC fast charging installations grow thanks to the settlement between the CPUC and NRG Energy. The company, through its EV charging arm eVgo, committed to installing 200 fast chargers under this settlement from 2012 to 2014.

Charging Stations on the Rise

This new surge of stations will target a different segment of the market. The focus on public stations is waning somewhat, as utilization rates of public Level 2 stations have been mixed and as the market anticipates long-range battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that will have little need for short-term opportunity charging. What the PEV market does still need is charging at workplaces and at condos or apartment complexes. The DOE reports that there are 5,500 charging stations deployed at office facilities operated by its 250 partner companies in the DOE Workplace Charging Challenge. Navigant Research estimates that in total there may be around 9,000 charging stations in workplaces in the United States.

While this is a good start, workplace chargers need to expand beyond early adopters, as offices are going to be key to supporting PEV charging needs. SDG&E has said it will target multifamily communities, another critical next frontier to support increased PEV demand. SDG&E notes that 50% of its housing consists of multi-unit dwellings, representing a large and relatively untapped market for PEV drivers. Through all of this, utilities will need to manage the deployment process carefully to ensure that chargers are being placed in the best locations; that their charging company partners are secure, long-term partners; and that funds are optimized to buy charging stations that provide necessary data and management capability but are not over-equipped for the job they’re asked to do.

 

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