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Seven steps to make Cleveland a mobility app market winner

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/31/15 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Biking, Transit, Walking

Technology is doing more than shaking up old ways of doing business.

<br />Can Cleveland have a common ticketing system between transit and shared mobility operations like car and bike share?  <br />Zagster operates a small Cleveland bike share service including this station in University Circle.<br />A ZipCar rideshare car arrives at Cleveland Museum of Art.

Apps, crowdsourcing, and mobile devices are leading to “shared economy” services that expand mobility options in cities like Cleveland. Even in Ohio, where support for transit falls to the bottom among states, a new ranking of technology-enabled transportation services in 70 cities finds that cities like Columbus (#13), Cleveland (#25) and Cincinnati (#32) are benefitting from investments made by private industry.

The report from the Public Interest Research Group looked for the presence of the following tech-enabled services: Rideshare, Taxi Hailing, Bikeshare, Real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and Virtual Ticketing. It also counted how many companies are operating in this space.

How important are new technologies in supporting more car-free or car-lite lifestyles?

A strategic plan for a region that ties land-use strategies, i.e. bonuses for density, and investments in transit that are linked to a goal for reducing carbon emissions likely has more lasting impact.

PIRG admits to some flaws in its methodology. In particular, they only count the presence of these services, not the scale (which is important). For example, they count Cleveland’s very small bikeshare system of 40 bikes and six stations while the “lower ranking” Cincy has a bikeshare system with 300 bikes and 30 stations (and growing).

Also, there’s no measure of the impact of technology. For instance, should the metric be people served? In which case, Pittsburgh’s #28 ranking would probably be a lot higher since its transit agency and the Allegheny County Port Authority recently deployed a real-time transit information mobile app. (Cleveland doesn’t have an app that gives real-time bus and train arrivals. The app that Cleveland gets credit for is a static app, meaning, it serves up the posted schedule from the transit agency).

These questions impact on which strategies Cleveland should pursue. A real-time transit app would serve thousands of people, many who rely on transit to get to a job. It could also attract new riders who have experienced transit apps in other cities and expect this level of service.

Cleveland gets credit in the PIRG report for being a city with 7 technology services, but it is missing some pretty big ones. A real-time transit app is probably the most important missing technology that Cleveland could pursue at this time.

While it's nice that Cleveland has 11 service providers, like taxi hailing service, Curb, or carshare through Uber and Lyft—and to be included in their national roll out strategy—a real-time transit app would be responsible (at a much lower barrier to market entry) for moving more people. It could also help to make Greater Cleveland’s transit system more reliable. How? Exposing the real-time GPS coordinates of RTA’s buses and trains would lead to more transparency on the performance of the transit agency (reportedly, the bus driver’s union is opposed to the agency opening the data stream for this reason. It took some negotiation about ten years ago for transit agencies, but today real-time information is currently shared in 56 of the 70 cities evaluated in the report).

Further, a real-time transit app and RTA sharing its data stream with app developers could boost the effectiveness of multi-modal apps, like RideScout (available to Cleveland) which ties a bunch of related mobility options like transit, bike and car share together and which can be crucial in completing the first/last mile of a car-free trip.

PIRG has some really good recommendations for “Emerging” cities like Cleveland to move up to the top tier with cities like Austin. They include:

  1. Open up transit data. “By providing open data, rather than developing their own apps, agencies can allow for the creation of a variety of innovative apps at minimal cost.”
  2. Expand access to WiFi at transit station and in public spaces.
  3. Leverage the play. “When negotiating regulatory agreements with providers of new transportation services, public officials should insist on the sharing of service data, allowing the impact of the services to be better understood.” (Uber recently announced it would share data with local governments in the hopes to better understand traffic congestion or gaps in public transit.).
  4. Expose the stream. “Creating access to technology-enabled services in transportation “hubs” near transit stations can help users make “first mile/last mile” connections between transit stations and their homes or businesses.
  5. Sow the seam. “Allocating special parking for carshare and bikeshare services would give users confidence that these mobility tools will be a stable option for getting to and from transit stations.”
  6. Zones of success. “Local governments should adopt parking policies that support carsharing, such as reduced parking costs for carshare vehicles at curbsides and public garages, height- ened enforcement to prevent illegal parking of non-carshare vehicles in carsharing spaces, and policies that enable one-way carsharing. Cities and states should consider extending incentives —such as relaxation of minimum parking requirements—to developers who make available space for shared vehicles.

Because of the rapid deployment of technology services in the transportation sector, it behooves Cleveland, Cuyahoga, RTA, NOACA (and maybe, in the future, a bus riders' union) to devise a strategy that brings them all together in a cohesive, effective way.

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