Momentum: Issue #44

April 27, 2020


Three questions were at the core of the Mobility on Demand Alliance’s recent webinar, MOD in the Time of Corona:

1 – Is MOD an integrated part of the transportation ecosystem?

2 – If yes, should MOD be considered an industry in the same way that transit, freight or the airlines might be?

3 – Does MOD survive COVID-19? Will the coronavirus accelerate public transportation’s shift towards mobility management?

Chris Pangilinan, Head of Uber’s Global Policy for Public Transportation, Lilly Shoup, Senior Director of Transportation Policy for Lyft and Brian No, Head of Spin’s Public Policy, shared how their significant partnerships with transit agencies, local non-profits, and cities are providing direct access to essential transportation, taking care of front-line workers, and delivering critical supplies. Whether it is extending services where transit has been reduced (Uber in Indianapolis) to partnering with nonprofits to offer free and discounted rides for people who can’t afford them (Lyft), to providing discounted or free scooter rides to health care workers and other everyday heroes (Spin), these approaches are only some of the ways mobility has evolved during this period.

MOD service providers aren’t the only ones moving quickly to adapt to new mobility. King County Metro is providing services that are moving COVID-infected patients to health care facilities and providing food bank deliveries, but transit is also considering how coronavirus accelerates a shift to mobility management models.

John Horner, MOD Practice Leader with Kapsch, noted that this period has been significant in offering a great lesson about the nimbleness and flexibility of providers to adapt mobility. Carol Cooper, Managing Director of Market Innovation for King County Metro, said MOD was on its way to becoming an integral and embedded part of the transportation ecosystem. This is a seminal moment where we should both recognize transit as an essential service but also think about how we build on the positives and how we use our infrastructure and resources (which will be impacted over the long term) to hone the ways in which we can provide the best mobility options.

Equally, considerations can be made about how different modes will adapt moving forward. No observed that one of the silver linings during this period is that cities are reallocating public spaces to people and not cars. Spin and other active transportation advocates are looking at how to create larger natural constituents and that this trend will outlive COVID-19 and have lasting effects for our streetscapes.

Does incorporating mobility management models mean that MOD has reached the point where it should be considered an industry that works holistically together? In many ways, people are starting to look past on-demand services in their integrated silos. Instead, MOD could be considered as a mesh network that sits in a city, with 2 – 5 minute access times – an underlying service,  like water, where you just tap into it for what and how you want to move. In some ways, this is happening as service providers, including transit, recalibrate to not just moving people but also moving things to people.

Similarly, Horner noted, as we emerge from COVID-19, it is important to think about how we approach resiliency within the entire transportation system. When you add new mobility modes, it is important to consider whether we are creating redundancy or adding new points of failure. For resiliency, it is important that everyone has a plan for when others fail (something more than just business continuity). COVID-19 has shown that resiliency is being built on the fly by tapping the individual offerings of different mobility providers.

Many questions remain about how we continue to balance services with an eye to equity and low-income riders. It is critical that we recognize existing inequities and address them in any return to normal. The same should be said for the commitment to shared rides and how to resist a rush to private cars while encouraging transit, shared rides, and micro mobility options.

Each of the webinar partners, as well as participants, shared that it is critical to look at the policies and barriers impacting innovation and how we emerge from COVID-19. This includes understanding that even as we start thinking of MOD as an industry, each must be regulated differently at state and city levels. In some cases, potential regulatory mismatches exist – for instance, how to balance equity issues with the fact that private sector actors do not have public subsidies. It is important to think about how we make sure it is a sustainable model as well as determine how MOD gets folded into the more traditional definition of public transportation.

Now is the time to answer those questions. The panelists and participants agreed that one way to create those answers is by continuing to build effective and collaborative public private partnerships. COVID-19 has only strengthened partnerships between the public, private and non-profit sectors, building resilience and redundancy on the ground. This model will be how we emerge stronger after COVID.

To see the webinar, click here. The MOD Alliance will continue to forward the policy discussions that support the necessary flexibility to enable a more integrated and holistic transportation system.