I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where the rite of passage for every 13-year-old is being given a MetroCard by your parents and being sent on your way. I had been taking transit since I was a toddler, so by the time I was an adolescent, I was comfortable with riding the bus and subway without my parents. It put the ability to be independent — to see friends, play sports, and go to and from school — at my fingertips with a swipe of a magnetic card.
It wasn’t until I grew up and left New York that I discovered the very American idea that freedom for suburban and rural teenagers is usually interlaced with getting their driver’s license when they turn 16 – three years later than I got my MetroCard. That’s when I started to realize that having access to a car doesn’t have to be the be-all/end-all for freedom for young people. This dichotomy is part of what led me to a career in mobility.
Early in my career, I began to learn about the many benefits of transit – for individuals as well as the community – compared to cars. It’s not just that transit is less expensive and safer than driving, and it goes beyond reduced greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. (Although these things are true, and important.) Looking back, I could see that riding transit an hour and a half each way from Brooklyn to the Bronx for high school for four years taught me patience, resiliency, and perseverance. I want the same experience for my kids, here in Austin, Texas.
A public good
I started out working in the Office of the Mayor in Washington, D.C., at a time when the city was putting political and financial capital into bicycle infrastructure with a goal of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. The city was an early adopter of bike sharing and investment in bike lanes and other bike infrastructure. Residents and commuters were surprised to find that this was a municipal service for the public good. For all the benefits it had for the community in meeting the mayor’s goals, it was also fun. It allowed commuters to feel like kids again, riding bikes between meetings, enjoying some exercise and exhilaration.
While I eventually moved on to the private sector, my career remained focused on micromobility, including scooter and bike share, as well as carsharing. Coming to Genfare recently has brought me full circle, back to transit at a time when opportunities have never been greater to combine mass transit with microtransit for the benefit of transit agencies and the riders and communities they serve. It’s a nice bookend.
This brings us to the second pillar of equitable mobility: building multimodal end-to-end solutions. (See this blog post for more on the first pillar: knowing your community.) In the denser areas of our largest cities, transit can often move people as close to door-to-door as possible. For everyone else, we still need to get from our homes to the bus stop or rail station, or from the transit to work, school, or other destinations. A recent study found that 62% of jobs in large cities are within ½ mile of a transit stop. Even fewer homes are within a ½ mile of transit.
So where does that leave everyone who needs to fill the gaps in the first mile and last mile of their trips? Walking is an option for some, but harsh weather, disability, and safety concerns are limitations that many people face. Luckily, there are more choices than ever for end-to-end mobility, including bike share, scooter share, and carshare. There are also ride share and park and ride options. Today, in many places, a commuter can drive from their suburban home to a park-and-ride on the outskirts of the city, take the train downtown, then bike or scooter the last part of the trip.
But until we make this process of planning and paying for a multimodality trip seamless, easy, convenient, and affordable, making this kind of end-to-end journey won’t be attractive enough to people who have other options. This keeps cities from meeting their goals of taking more cars off the road and increasing multi-modal ridership.
Today’s technology can empower interoperability to allow riders to use one card or app across modalities to simplify every leg of their trip. It’s already common in Europe and Asia. But it’s only recently started being done in the U.S., such as in Pittsburgh, where public transit, bike share, scooters, mopeds, carshare, and carpool matching are facilitated by its Move PGH system, which uses its Transit App along with multimodal Mobility Hubs across the city. Yet, just about everywhere else in the U.S., adoption of multimodal transit networks, sometimes called mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), has been slow. This isn’t a technology problem – it’s a control issue and a disconnect between the mass transit and microtransit providers.
The carrot and the stick
Most of us are carrying around pocket computers that can serve as the foundation for this interoperability on the rider side. Open APIs allow multiple public agencies and private companies to make their backend infrastructure available to each other. Many transit agencies have systems in place that allow unbanked riders to digitize cash to a smart card or app, which could potentially be shared with micromobility providers. Open payment is becoming increasingly common – and expected by consumers. In short, we have what it takes to create one-stop-shop mobility platforms that all kinds of riders can use across modalities instead of signing up for and remembering passwords for a bunch of different apps or carrying a stack of cards.
What we don’t yet have enough of is the amount of trust between the public and private sector that it takes to share information with each other. There are questions about who will own the process, and who will be accountable for ensuring data security. There are worries about the other modalities cannibalizing their share of riders. There aren’t yet enough public policies providing incentives for the various players to work together.
It’s time to put these concerns to the side and understand the reality that interoperability is a win-win. We need providers of various modalities to work with each other instead of against each other. This is where government can play a role in nudging the transit agencies and microtransit companies to play nice with each other to provide seamless end-to-end transportation riders are enthusiastic about using.
For example, cities can incentivize private companies to coordinate with transit agencies by requiring interoperability as part of their expansion in or introduction to the city. Or, like in my hometown of Austin, the city can take over the bike share system to make it part of the core transit offering. This hurdle can be overcome.
On the flip side, communities can also shift the public policies that make it so easy for people to drive. Riders who have a choice need an incentive to consider public transportation. While a large part of this is providing better and more convenient service, creative pricing models can also play a significant role for both incentivizing transit and disincentivizing driving. For example, cities that introduce congestion pricing in their cores often see increases in transit usage. Other options include dynamic parking pricing that encourages drivers to switch to transit before they approach the city center, or bundling parking or micromobility modalities with transit fares to provide a discount to riders who use both in the same trip.
The future is mobile
I’m excited to have joined Genfare at a time of such great opportunity for the transit industry to take interoperability to the next level and make end-to-end journeys seamless for our riders. I’m looking forward to meeting many of you at APTA Expo next month to continue this conversation and share how Genfare’s mobile ticketing and open payment solutions can empower a simplified, empowered, and connected transit experience.
Josh Moskowitz is Business Development Director for the Western U.S. He recently joined Genfare after 15+ years of experience leading urban mobility operations and business development teams. His established record of success in public and private sector micromobility and commitment to relationship-building throughout the customer lifecycle and continuous improvement will be an asset to Genfare’s transit agency and OEM customers. Josh can be reached by email or at 847.757.1109.