Home Connected Car Planning for shared mobility: Incorporating shared modes into the Public Rights-of-Way

Planning for shared mobility: Incorporating shared modes into the Public Rights-of-Way

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In recent years, a variety of social and economic forces coupled with advancements in technology have quickly given rise to shared mobility. Shared mobility—the shared use of a vehicle, bicycle, or other low-speed travel mode—is an innovative transportation strategy that enables users to have short-term access to a mode of transportation on an as-needed basis. Technological, mobility, and societal trends are having a transformative effect on cities. The growth of cloud computing, location-based services, mobile technologies, big data, and advanced algorithms are enabling the commodification of passenger mobility. The growth of shared mobility has become part of a trend that has pushed it from the fringe to the mainstream.

Rights-of-way is a term used to describe the legal passage of people (and their means of transportation) along public and sometimes private property (the latter typically through licenses and easements). Allocating parking and curb space for the inclusion of shared mobility—such as carsharing parking; space for bikesharing kiosks; and loading zones for ridesourcing/transportation network companies, microtransit, and shuttles—is the most common way local governments provide access to public rights-of-way. A number of local governments and public agencies have developed policies covering a number of issues, such as:

  • How a shared mode is defined;
  • How rights-of-way should be allocated (e.g., loading zones, parking, etc.);
  • How to fairly manage demand among multiple operators; and
  • Methodologies for valuing and monetizing public rights-of-way.

The availability of rights-of-ways can have a profound impact on the growth and potential success of shared mobility in a city. Here’s how two Smart Cities (Seattle and San Francisco) manage the rights-of-way of four different shared modes:

San Francisco’s Employer Shuttles:

In January 2014, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) established a program enabling employer shuttle services to pay for legal loading zone use, if certain program guidelines are met. This policy was enacted in response to legal and illegal passenger loading and shuttle impacts on public transit performance. Shuttles are required to pay a fee and comply with municipal regulations to minimize their impacts on bus transit and other roadway users. As part of this program, shuttle operators apply for a permit to use the network and pay a permit fee based on the number of stops made at authorized locations. The permit fee covers the city’s costs for administering and enforcing the program. In addition, the program requires that shuttle operators phase-in cleaner shuttle fleets and provide real-time GPS tracking of shuttle fleets.

San Francisco’s Roundtrip Carsharing Parking:

SFMTA’s on-street carsharing parking program offers up to 900 parking spaces for roundtrip and peer-to-peer carsharing vehicles (e.g., Zipcar and Getaround, respectively). Although the program cleared 900 parking spaces, only 200 spaces were permitted between 2014 and 2016. Each organization participating in the program was eligible for 150 parking spaces (0.05 percent of the city’s total on-street parking supply). Locations were approved through an application process that included an engineering review, community outreach, and approval by the SFMTA board of directors. Monthly pricing per space varied between $50 and $225 and was based on three demand zones established by the city. Operators paid a one-time installation fee of $400 per space. Each approved carsharing vehicle received a special parking permit that exempted it from street sweeping, time limits, and other parking restrictions. Analysis of the pilot program found that on average each carsharing vehicle was used six hours a day by more than ten members monthly. In late-September 2017, SFMTA issued another call for participation requiring that the operators place a vehicle in at least eight of 11 of the city’s supervisorial districts and share data for ongoing program evaluation.

Seattle’s One-Way (Free Floating) Carsharing Parking:

In Seattle, the Department of Transportation (SDOT), issues permits allowing one-way carsharing operators to park on city streets without time limits, payment at meters, or limits in Restricted Parking Zones. A portion of the permit fee paid by the carsharing operator is applied to their paid parking. At the end of the year, carsharing operators pay for any additional paid parking that was used but not included in the initial permit fee. When Seattle’s policy was initially approved, each free-floating carsharing operator was allowed up to 500 free-floating carsharing permits or up to 750 free-floating carsharing permits with the establishment of a service area covering the entire City of Seattle. At present, SDOT does not cap the number of operator permits, although caps could be implemented in the future based on the department’s annual data collection and analysis.



Seattle’s Free-Floating Bikesharing:

In June 2017, Seattle announced a pilot policy to regulate free-floating (or dockless) bikesharing systems. Key provisions of Seattle’s policy include:

1) A minimum fleet of 500 bicycles not exceeding 340 bikes per square mile;
2) Bicycles can only be parked in the landscape/furniture zone of a sidewalk or to a SDOT bicycle rack;
3) Bicycles cannot be parked in a way that impedes pedestrian or vehicular traffic flow; and
4) Operators must correct an incorrectly parked bicycle within two hours between 6AM and 6PM.

Additional requirements include data sharing with the city, indemnification from liability, $3 million minimum liability insurance, and paying an annual license fee per bicycle.




In the future, the management of public rights-of-way will likely remain a popular topic of conversation. The increasing number of modes and service providers seeking access to parking and curb space is a trend that will continue. Public agencies will need to develop policies that fairly manage the rights-of-way demands for a variety of uses including: private parking; parking for carsharing; loading zones for private shuttles, for-hire vehicle services (ridesourcing and taxis), paratransit, microtransit, and public transportation; and bikesharing and bicycle infrastructure.

This article was co-authored with Adam Cohen.

Cohen and Shaheen authored the American Planning Association report Planning for Shared Mobility.

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