This evidence session began by focusing on the deployment of shared mobility in the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, as well as looking ahead.
Leeds, 14 May 2019
Institute for Transport Studies, Leeds
This evidence session began by focusing on the nature and scale of deployment of shared mobility in the West Midlands and West Yorkshire as well as looking ahead.
Both places have quite car oriented travel patterns, particularly when you move much beyond the central areas of the major towns and cities. It was suggested that the culture of sharing vehicles was something to be addressed with 86% of drivers in the West Midlands reporting that they would not share (TfWM, Transport Systems Catapult and Exploring Intelligent Mobility, Keep the West Midlands Moving, WP1 Segmentation Research Report, December 2017). The historic role of the motor industry in the region as well as today may contribute to this. However, behaviourally, much more needs to be understood about motivations to share and to not share and what these are contingent on.
It was suggested however that the message on sharing has not been clear and cannot exist in a vacuum. From an early age children are warned of stranger danger. It may be unrealistic to suddenly expect to see a switch in people’s willingness to share with strangers. There is a knowledge gap in knowing what attributes of services and what incentives or penalties will accelerate sharing and how this varies across groups.
The scale of shared mobility services is currently small. In West Yorkshire for example there are currently 93 car club vehicles. There are fewer in the West Midlands. Nextbike has just launched in WestMidlands as a docked bike share scheme with significant expansion planned to 5000 bikes. There is no scheme yet in West Yorkshire. There is a blindspot on how much, where and why people are using ridehailing services and very different attitudes to them amongst local licensing authorities within the areas. It was suggested that the inquiry explore what the data governance requirements might be to accelerate sharing of use data across modes without compromising commercial viability.
Most of the deployment of new mobility services has been in central areas which is enabling the accommodation of population growth. It appears that the existence of a good quality public transport offer is an important complement to new mobility services in order to render car ownership unnecessary, and this is a factor, for example, in the decisions as to where to site car club assets. Thinking in ‘package’ terms rather than individual solutions could be important. However, what the right bundle looks like to the consumer is still to emerge. The Whim package has been available in the West Midlands as an early Mobility as a Service deployment trial but there is not very strong uptake. The Swift payment card is though offering an increasing range of transport services and has been expanded out to other Council services in the West Midlands. It was suggested that every barrier to reducing the complexity of ‘non-car ownership’ needed to be in focus if this was to become more than an important niche.
The peri-urban and more rural areas have proven harder to serve. In the West Midlands, Ring & Ride went into administration. In West Yorkshire the Access Bus has been successful but is limited in terms of its ability to provide frequent coverage. There was felt to be the potential to combine various public provision of transport such as patient transport, social care and current subsidised services but, despite the total transport trials in England, this was yet to be exploited. In the current climate of budget cuts it may only enable maintenance rather than significant growth of provision.
If the new mobility services are clustering in areas of highest demand in the centre of cities then the need to consider whether there is some form of Universal Service Obligation to such providers to avoid undermining the viability of the public mobility system as a whole may be necessary. However, any such shift requires more of a fundamental look at how we manage the suite of mobility options rather than trying to fix one mode or option amongst many. Lessons could be learnt from other countries in what is made easier and more challenging in different regulatory approaches.
The Community Transport Association noted the importance of reflecting on sharing as an experience. This links to Liftshare’s presentation from Session 1. Sharing is not solely an instrumental cost-convenience trade off. However, within this there is also a need to consider the different positions of those who choose to share and those who are ‘provided to’ and have to share.
There is a tension between one size fits all commercial models of Demand Responsive Transport and more bottom up user-developed systems. One opportunity might be for more personalised services to be developed through the bigger platforms which could work to enhance the efficiency of running Community Transport (CT) services. However, there are risks of failing to pool existing CT schemes with new planned DRT operations and this is exacerbated by the classification of modes by the legislative labels and restrictions each operation is given. The tension between generic platform technologies and the desire for bespoke locally tailored solutions was also raised in the context of integrating ridehailing and pooling systems into the main stream public transport mix.
On several occasions across the session the broader social role of shared mobility was identified. In the context of an ageing population the role of shared transport in combating loneliness and isolation could be important. Concerns were expressed about the extent to which this wider public value role was overlooked in the design of systems for more tech savvy and able bodied users.
Beate Kubitz reflected on what makes for successful and difficult innovation deployment. The Cardiff bike scheme was a second implementation which is working well due to strong partnership, joint planning and funding across all actors in the area and a clear link to the cycling investment plan. This has achieved levels of usage of around 4 hires per day, around twice that seen in other prominent schemes.
One of the challenges faced by authorities and entrepreneurs is that government funding for trials is normally limited to three years and venture capital investments want a return in a similar time frame. This is really challenging to new transport innovations where they are part of an existing mix of options. They may require scale to deliver a step change in use and people also want to know it will be there next year if they decide to move house, job or give up a car based on the opportunities the innovation offers. This could be a challenge to growing the user base.
Overall, it is clear that there is a need to fully understand the cultural and social aspects to sharing. This will be a focus for Evidence Session 3. Beyond this, shared mobility services appear to be a potentially important part of the mobility mix. However, scaling up is difficult, integration across services is still not as smooth as it would need to be to really compete with the private car on convenience and there are some important regulatory divides which could also hinder packaging services. These aspects will be considered in Evidence Session 4.
Commission on Travel Demand Shared Mobility Inquiry Evidence Session 2
TfWM: Commission on Travel Demand Shared Mobility Inquiry Evidence Session
Shared Mobility – a West Yorkshire perspective
Driven from within
Community transport – the future, today?
- Professor Greg Marsden, ITS, University of Leeds – Commission Co-Chair
- Professor Jillian Anable, ITS, University of Leeds – Commission Co-Chair
- Jonathan Bray, Urban Transport Group – Commissioner
- Eric Manners, Jacobs
- Catherine Bowen, Senior Policy Advisor, British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association
- Beate Kubitz, Independent Consultant
- Mia Drake, Department for Transport
- Kate Gifford, West Yorkshire Combined Authority
- Helen Davies, Transport for West Midlands
- Bill Freeman, Community Transport Association
- Suzanne Lau, Community Transport Association
- Kate Pangbourne, ITS, University of Leeds
- Robert Schopen, Co-wheels
Banner photo credit: Christopher Burns on Unsplash