Transportation is an innovative industry, and the changes are accelerating faster than a Tesla goes from zero to 60. For anyone involved in fleet operations, the mantra is that now, like never before, operators need to be aware of what is just around the corner.
That is why the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) added Innovations, a new e-newsletter to its host of services for members. It is delivered bimonthly to member inboxes, offering a smart look at the trends and technologies shaping our industry. It is part of TLPA's vision that staying ahead of the curve is a daily process, punctuated by its landmark conventions and conferences.
And when TLPA members do gather for the association's signature annual events, they arrive already armed for conversations that dig even deeper into those trends and technologies. It is why TLPA is so excited about its 100th Annual Convention & Trade Show taking place October 27-29 in Las Vegas, where fleet operators and vendors from around the world will be talking about everything from artificial intelligence, to customer service shifts, to why operators are doubling down on the industry. To register and to reserve your space now, simply go to www.tlpa.org/Annual-Convention.
So, what are some of the trends shaping the discourse in the years to come? For one, public transportation is changing, and that can have an effect on for-hire fleet operations. For this reason, TLPA offered this analysis in its latest Innovations e-newsletter:
Public transportation is a staple in a multi-modal lifestyle, but it is unclear how advancements in transportation technology will change that. After all, the industry is still reeling from the disruption brought by TNCs. As the autonomous vehicle and its disrupting power looms, public transit agencies and regulators are asking: Should we fix our aging public transit or wait for the overhaul that readily available autonomous vehicle technology will bring?
It's a weighty question.
Regulators and opponents of major transit investments are suggesting that buses and trains will soon be outdated making investments now in those infrastructures incredibly wasteful. It's a conversation being folded into city council meetings throughout the country.
Officials are worried they will make the wrong choice, locking their cities into an obsolete system with taxpayers and voters footing the bill. Frank Chen, a partner with the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz told the New York Times he doesn't believe anyone should be building a light rail system now. "Please," he said four times over. "Don't."
Why? The self-driving car and the economic systems it will bring are a great big unknown. In the future, taxicab, limousine, Uber and Lyft rides could be as cheap as a bus if there's no driver, and the increased efficiency could make these rides as quick as a subway ride. Maybe.
Many officials are looking at the way public transit has operated for decades with printed timetables and legacy routes, most of which are incompatible with the current way riders use transportation. There are also concerns that robotic vehicles could cut into funding for public transit and encourage greater urban sprawl. That has economists and researchers worried this technology will only exacerbate inequality.
Does that mean public transportation is out? Well, no one really thinks that either.
Still, cities are responding by transforming their own public transportation options. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has introduced new iterations of its mobile ticketing called GoPass that features links to Zipcar, Uber and Lyft.
GoPass also has the ability to load cash into the app making it easier for people to buy passes. The next iteration of the app will more fully incorporate TNCs, along with bikesharing, carsharing and taxis.
But that's not all. DART has added a new, on-demand mode called GoLink. It's a new shuttle service that can be requested in certain neighborhoods in Dallas. These on-demand buses carry up to 15 passengers, and customers schedule their trips through an app.
There are plenty of ideas of what smarter public transportation systems will look like in the future, too. For instance, some anticipate something like this: A smartphone app allows users to plan the most efficient routes to their final destinations. It might suggest a rental bike, a train station, or a robo-taxi. Of course, that assumes that riders have access to smartphones.
Other ideas include deploying robo-taxis to underserved parts of cities with limited transportation options, and, perhaps, even subsidizing those rides. That creates opportunities for public-private partnerships.
But not everyone is buying the autonomous vehicle hype. Las Vegas is building its first light rail even though critics say it shouldn't. Tina Quickly, the general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada told the New York Times that because the benefits of driverless vehicles won't kick in until there's mass adoption, the city will continue to work towards a more spatially efficient city, and that requires a light rail. Even Andrew Salzberg, Uber's head of transportation policy and research, admits no system of autonomous vehicles could be more efficient than New York's subway.
There's one other word of caution to cities that choose to fixate on this technology as tomorrow's solutions: These new forms of transportation, often led by companies like Uber and Lyft, are heavily subsidized by venture capital. In order for these private services to replace public services, those subsidies would have to remain in place. This requires investors to stay on board with companies that are losing money—and doing so quickly—for as long as it takes for driverless cars to arrive.
Accessibility, costs and technology will continue to be the driving forces in the public transportation space. But we're not ready to say goodbye to traditional public transportation. Not just yet.
Are you ready to join the conversation? There is no better time to become a member of TLPA and take advantage of its one-of-a-kind educational opportunities, from enjoying access to products like the Innovations e-newsletter, to peer-to-peer learning from some of the most successful operators in the business. And signing up today for 2019 membership means TLPA will give you the rest of 2018 at no additional charge! Visit www.tlpa.org or call (301) 984-5700 for more information.