House T&I Looks at Mobility on Demand

June 27, 2019

In preparation for the impending surface transportation reauthorization, the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a sparsely attended roundtable on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 to begin to familiarize members with new transportation options and their interaction with traditional public transportation services. The roundtable, entitled, “Examining the Role of Mobility on Demand (MOD) in Surface Transportation Policy,” covered some basic elements of various MOD modes and programs focusing mainly on transportation network company (TNC) services and public transit partnerships with references and demonstrations of shared dockless electric scooters. Witnesses at the roundtable included:

  • Scott Bogren, Executive Director, Community Transportation Association of America
  • Faye Dastgheib, Senior Policy Analyst, District Department of Transportation
  • Michael Hayes, Director of Government Affairs, Consumer Technology Association
  • Tim McHugh, Chief Information Officer, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet)
  • Brad Miller, Chief Executive Officer, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA)
  • Greg Regan, Secretary-Treasurer, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

The discussion spanned across many broad topics from mobility as a service (MaaS) elements such as integrated trip planning and payment, to policy considerations such as data management, service equity, and funding mechanisms to workforce and safety concerns.

In line with current USDOT priorities to emphasize transportation options in rural areas, participants stressed the specific use case of MOD where fixed route transit is limited and less cost effective. Traditional flexible route services utilize call centers and can have pre-scheduled 24-48 hour request windows, which is common in rural areas and for services for people with disabilities. New technology and new entrants into the MOD market have the potential to increase access, dramatically cut wait times, and improve mobility for areas not served well by traditional transit.

However, panelists emphasized that MOD is not a replacement for traditional public transportation services. Many of the participants discussed the importance of supporting public transit agencies and fixed route service through existing and increased funding, regulation on new mobility, and further studies and planning around urban and rural mobility for all people. The examples given by TriMet and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) show what the transit agencies see as successful utilizations of MOD to support public transportation.

TriMet has an FTA MOD Sandbox grant to provide MaaS through their existing integrated trip planner, OpenTripPlanner. By utilizing open data and incorporating private company MOD data, the agency’s app can suggest trips that utilize walking, personal and shared cycling, public transit, car sharing, and TNCs as modes of travel. PSTA’s program subsidizes trips for users for whom the existing public transit system does not accommodate well. The program focusses on providing TNC service for people who travel to and from work at off peak times or who need first-mile last-mile connection to transit. Further pilots and studies can help inform the best use of funds to avoid subsidizing private companies with public money without appropriate public gain.

The structure and definitions of MOD providers brought up workforce and safety issues centered around driver training. TNC services geared to provide access for people with disabilities or those accessing non-emergency healthcare, use untrained labor and could benefit from driver training on mobility and health issues. However, TNCs have organized themselves as tech companies that contract with independent drivers instead of transportation companies with hired drivers on payroll. This relationship makes it difficult to regulate wages or training, especially with New York City being the only US city with a minimum wage for drivers. Although drivers have attempted to organize, currently they have very little to no collective bargaining power.

Full T&I Committee chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) missed much of the hearing due to other commitments in the House but did briefly bring up questions related to the role of MOD in the larger transportation network and incentivizing modes with lower fossil fuel consumption. Options such as congestion pricing, fees for TNC deadheading, and investment in various types of bus and rail service were cited as topics that will likely play a large role in further FAST Act reauthorization conversations. With MOD and other new types of services relatively new, panelists stated the need for better data. Several recommended collecting and utilizing MOD data in the National Transit Database (NTD) and at a local level for planners, engineers and policy makers. This can be a step towards fully understanding the impact and potential of MOD in the transportation network and facilitate informed future policy decisions.

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