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.


Electric Scooter Sharing Programs Improving Mobility in Major Cities

— February 24, 2016

e-bike, settingThe iconic city of Paris, France will be implementing an electric scooter (e-scooter) sharing program in an effort to reduce the heavy traffic congestion and air pollution plaguing the city. Slated to begin in the summer of 2016, the rental program will consist of around 1,000 e-scooters from the German manufacturer GOVECS and will be managed by EV rental firm Cityscoot. The e-scooters have a top speed of 28 mph and an electric range of 65 miles. An interesting feature on the Cityscoot scooters is a keyless ignition; subscribers receive a text message with a code on their smartphone that unlocks the e-scooter.

Cities Looking For Alternatives

Paris is hoping that offering alternatives to personal vehicle use will result in fewer incidents similar to last summer, in which driving bans had to be instituted and pollution levels in the city of lights briefly surpassed those of Shanghai. Many other city governments in Europe are also looking for ways to improve mobility in their cities, as Barcelona, Spain was the first to introduce an e-scooter sharing program back in 2013. Should the Paris project prove successful, London, England is expected to be the next target for Cityscoot.

The trend is not limited to Europe, however. Slowly but surely e-scooters are becoming more popular in highly populated U.S. cities. Scoot Networks is a smartphone-activated e-scooter sharing company located in San Francisco, California. The company has been expanding its supply quickly due to high demand and now has close to 400 e-scooters for use in the Bay Area at over 35 locations. Each scooter has an electric range of 25 miles and a top speed of 30 mph.

According to Navigant Research, the global market for e-scooters is expected to grow from about 4.1 million annual unit sales to just under 4.5 million by 2024. If e-scooter sharing programs can prove to be successful in early adopter cities such as Barcelona, Paris, and San Francisco, other major cities are likely to follow suit and the market could grow more quickly than expected.

E-Scooter Sales by Region, China and Rest of World: 2015-2024

Ryan Scooter Blog

 (Source: Navigant Research)


E-Bikes Pave the Way for German Bicycle Highways

— January 5, 2016

Germany recently opened its first 5 km (3 mile) bicycle highway, with plans set to expand the highway to over 100 km (62 miles) of track. Bicycle-only highways are more expansive and favorable to cyclists than simple bike paths; the highways are 4 meters (13 feet) wide, have several bike lanes, and are well lit and cleared of snow in the winter. Gone are the days of bicyclists dealing with irregular speed bumps, cars driving into bike lanes, and the startling situation of a bike lane merging with a bus lane.

Safer and Better for the Environment

In addition to serving as a much safer way for cyclists to commute, the German regional development group RVR estimates that the new bicycle tracks will remove 50,000 cars from the road every day—drastically reducing traffic jams and urban air pollution. Overall, the bicycle highway will connect 10 cities and four universities, running largely along unused railroad tracks. Nearly two million people live within a mile of the bicycle highway and will be able to use it for their daily commutes.

E-Bikes are Key to the Infrastructure Expansion

While Germany undoubtedly has a rich history of traditional bicycling, it is also the largest electric bicycle (e-bike) market in Europe, with 480,000 e-bikes sold in 2014 according to the trade association BOVAG. Sales of e-bikes are growing steadily, accounting for roughly 12% of all bicycle sales in Germany—with the e-bike market achieving 17% year-over-year growth in 2014 compared to 2013.

E-bikes help commuters travel longer distances and easily conquer hilly terrain; advantages that are helping more and more German commuters make the switch from cars to cycling. The high adoption rate of e-bikes in the country is contributing to the need for all cyclists to have more safe and private roadways for commuting. As most cities around the world search for ways to reduce the number of cars on the road, they can look to Germany for some basic best practices. Bicycle highways both incentivize and create the necessary infrastructure in order for bicycles and e-bikes to play a major role in urban mobility. Keep an eye out for the upcoming update to Navigant Research’s Electric Bicycles report for more on this topic.


Uber vs. Everyone

— September 17, 2015

Ride hailing service Uber has continued on its tremendous growth trajectory in 2015, with the service now available in around 300 cities throughout 60 countries. That geographic spread easily eclipses any competitors in the space, which are more likely to be localized services, although it is likely that Uber’s success helps many competitors by increasing demand for ride hailing services overall.

But its enormous success has also made Uber an enormous target. Stories of Uber’s battles with city officials, taxi and livery companies, and regulators pop up daily in the news. It’s not surprising, given that ride hailing is so disruptive to the existing order of livery services and the long-established relationship these services have had with regulators. The biggest battle for ride hailing is over whether these companies must comply with regulations governing taxi services in each of the cities where they operate. Stories of regulators clashing with Uber are well-known, especially in cases where the company was banned outright. However, the impact that ride hailing has on traffic congestion and on the use of other mobility modes is a critical area of concern for cities. For example, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently accused Uber of exacerbating congestion in Manhattan, based on an analysis showing that traffic speeds had decreased between 2010 and 2014.

Increasing Costs

Right now, it seems unlikely that the ride hailing genie can be put back in the bottle. Too many people have come to rely on the service, and it’s not just the expected demographic of those 30 or younger. What seems more likely is not that Uber or other ride hailing services will disappear, but that it will face ever increasing costs doing business. This is especially true for Uber. Having so many geographic markets means grappling with different regulations in each one, as well as dealing with different business cultures. In Germany, for example, the company launched a new service with drivers who have commercial driver’s licenses after Germany banned Uber for using private, non-licensed drivers. In Philadelphia, the city’s parking authority imposed a $300,000 fine on Uber for operating illegally in the city, although the state’s public utility commission had earlier indicated the company was operating legally. These kinds of costs will only increase in cities where Uber already operates and as the company continues to expand.

More Data, Please

Another likely outcome will be a demand for more analysis of ride hailing’s impacts on vehicle miles traveled, on congestion, and on the use of alternative modes of transportation. For example, an analysis of New York City traffic speed data came to the conclusion that ride hailing apps were not correlated with lower traffic speeds. Ride hailing companies will be increasingly pressed to supply data to help generate high-quality, objective analysis. This analysis is crucial to understand how ride hailing apps fit in to the new urban mobility landscape, and whether they support policymakers’ goals to reduce congestion.


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