Public transit agencies nationwide currently face major obstacles in serving the complete transportation needs of commuters — and many are exploring creative solutions to overcome these challenges. It’s increasingly apparent that even the most extensive public transit systems of trains, light rail and buses still fall short in providing end-to-end solutions that cover the complex transportation needs of residents in many American cities. To address this issue, city planners are turning to a mutually beneficial solution that helps cities, commuters and private businesses:
Shared electric bikes
Transportation agencies in major cities across the country are expanding their public transit offerings and reach through public/private partnerships with shared Light Electric Vehicle (LEV) operators — which include electric bicycles and scooters. The goal of electric bikeshare systems is delivering a true multimodal, door-to-door transportation solution that is low-cost and low-hassle for commuters, and helps cities reduce their environmental impact and carbon footprint.
Urban transportation planners needn’t worry about replacing their current arterial systems, either. Publicly-operated buses and trains will always be the most effective solution for helping commuters cover long distances, but these options are limited to specific routes, with bus stops or train stations. Shared LEV systems offer the ultimate in personal mobility, covering the “first mile and last mile” of a trip, between the bus or train station and a commuter’s residence or workplace. Shared e-Bikes and e-Scooters are also extremely efficient, low-cost, and accessible — expanding public transportation with minimal financial impact to the city, and requiring very few concessions for parking, charging stations or regulation.
Shared LEV systems have become so popular, many cities are experiencing early challenges with multiple shared vehicle systems — specifically those that are unpermitted and unregulated by the local transportation agency. However, shared e-Bike systems that are developed and permitted through joint partnerships with cities eliminate the public nuisance and lack of accountability in other unpermitted LEV systems, plus offer a level of seamless integration with existing public transit options.
In April 2018, bikeshare operator Motivate — who operate the popular CitiBike system in New York City — introduced Ford GoBike, an electric bikeshare program in San Francisco. Ford GoBike is the first and only docked e-Bikeshare permitted by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA), and fully-integrated with the city’s existing transportation network. The result was a completely seamless user experience. Commuters can now travel from the far reaches of the Bay Area Regional Transportation (BART) trains and buses to the San Francisco metro area, and quickly rent one of dozens of Ford GoBikes located near train stations. Since this e-Bike system partnered with SFMTA, commuters were able to apply the same “Clipper Card” used with BART trains and buses for renting the e-Bikes — eliminating the hurdle of registering for a separate system.
According to Motivate, the Ford GoBikes were incredibly successful from day one — totaling over 15,000 rides in the first week of operation, which only proved the immense public demand for user-friendly bikeshare programs that paired with existing public transit. Given San Francisco’s legendary steep hills — it’s no surprise that local commuters welcomed the added boost of shared e-Bikes, compared to conventional pedal bicycles.
The benefits of shared electric bikes and scooters aren’t limited to commuters, either. Through the innovative technology of many electric bikes and scooters, municipal transportation agencies can benefit from a level of sophisticated data collection that is unmatched by other public transit options. Many e-Bikeshare operators are actively tracking data from its users, including location and distance of each ride. Ford GoBike utilizes a fleet version of GenZe e-Bikes, which feature smartphone connected technology that can track miles ridden and total trips. Electric scooters only further expand data collection capabilities. The e-Scooter shared fleets operated by Scoot in San Francisco and recently-announced Scoobi in Pittsburgh (which both use GenZe scooters), feature advanced telematics that employ a built-in GPS system to track vehicle location, map exact travel areas and measure the frequency and timing of use.
The detailed data collection of these vehicles allows operators to adapt their use as needed, allocating resources where they are needed – plus give urban planners and local transportation agencies a better understanding of how residents actually travel within cities.
Innovative city planners already understand that a true multi-modal transportation system is the foundation of a ‘smart city,’ and the model for how urban developers are already planning American cities — and two-wheel electric vehicles are a big part of that concept.
We’re already seeing big changes in consumer behavior when it comes to commuting in densely-populated major cities throughout North America. Research has proven that residents in these major cities increasingly live, work and play within in a seven-mile radius, and this trend will continue in the future. Smart city planners are designing cities for people — not cars. This means increased bicycle infrastructure, decreased parking and driving lanes, and LEV systems that integrate with public transit.
It’s clear that the future of all transportation (both personal and public) is electric vehicles, both from an environmental and economic perspective. We’ve already seen that shift in vehicles ranging from cars to trains and beyond, and as technology continually improves and becomes increasingly efficient and cost-effective, this shift will only grow. Shared systems will continue to play a big role in electric vehicles and personal mobility. People still want the freedom of personal transportation, but don’t want the cost, hassle or responsibilities of owning a vehicle. Combining shared LEV for short local travel, with public transit for long-distance travel solves a number of challenges facing public transportation agencies — while providing city residents with a fun, eco-friendly and affordable way to get around town.
Vish Palekar is president/CEO of GenZe, a company located in Fremont, Calif. and Ann Arbor, Mich., working to transform sustainable personal transportation in urban areas.