Over the last several decades, information and communication technologies have enhanced the operation and use of transportation networks across the United States, enabling innovations ranging from real-time traffic and transit information, to real-time data for system management, to new methods of transit fare payment. In recent years, information and communication technologies such as location data from global positioning systems (GPS) and smartphone apps have not only enhanced existing transportation services but also made possible innovative services that epitomize the new sharing economy. These services include carsharing; bikesharing; microtransit services; and, most notably, transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft.
These innovative services allow travelers to use their smartphones to arrange for trips by car, shuttle, and public transit and for short-term rental of cars and bikes. The near-instant availability of on-demand services accessible through a smartphone and easily paid for by debit or credit card makes it possible for an increasing number of people to leave their personal car at home for the day, or even reduce the number of household vehicles. Some people are beginning to rethink how they go about their daily travel, with potentially far-reaching implications for longer-term travel and development patterns. Notably, most of these innovative services are being deployed in the private sector, without public financial support, the exception being bikesharing, which typically is publicly subsidized.
To date, the most rapidly growing forms of shared mobility have remained within the traditional paradigm of exclusive use: motor
vehicles and bicycles are shared sequentially, with each user (or preformed group of users) having exclusive use of the vehicle. Potentially more far-reaching, but still in its infancy, is concurrent sharing of vehicles among strangers. To the extent that they increase vehicle occupancy, concurrently shared services may collectively have greater effects (in terms of personal mobility, vehicle use, energy consumption, traffic congestion, livability, and environmental impacts) than today’s most popular innovative mobility options.
Many of the new technology-enabled mobility services are widely welcomed additions to travelers’ slate of transportation options and—with some exceptions, such as insurance for many services, especially transportation network companies (TNCs), and helmet requirements for bikesharing services—pose few significant public policy concerns. The most controversial new services to date are clearly TNCs, which are disrupting the regulated for-hire taxi industry and pose a series of challenges to transportation policy makers and regulators. The challenge for policy makers and regulators at all levels is to encourage and facilitate innovations that meet the public’s mobility needs while ensuring greater public policy consistency between these new services and traditional taxi and livery services so as to protect the public interest in safety, driver pay and working conditions, and accessibility for people with disabilities. Addressing this challenge in such rapidly growing and evolving industries is itself challenging, requiring political will, more information about the scale and nature of the services being provided, and insightful public policy to guide the evolution of these innovative services so that they continue to enhance mobility and sustainability.
In the longer term, widespread use of services that involve concurrent vehicle sharing could have implications for location preferences and both automobile ownership and public transit patronage in ways that could affect, for better or worse, the goals of resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Although it is too early to make definitive statements, the potential benefits and risks of this type of shared mobility service are an important focus for future exploration.
This chapter summarizes the overall conclusions resulting from this study, and offers the study committee’s recommendations for policy makers and regulators1 as they seek to address the many issues detailed in this report. In addition, as emphasized throughout the preceding chapters, the information needed to inform policy and regulations for the new mobility services is lacking in a number of crucial areas. Therefore, this chapter also outlines areas in which research, as well as data to inform planning and policy making, is needed to provide the information necessary for effective implementation of the committee’s recommendations and the fair and equitable advancement of these new services.
Innovative mobility services are expanding travel choices and being widely embraced by millions of travelers.
The rapid growth in use of these new services is occurring amid an upswing in travel by taxis and public transit that began more than a decade ago. App-enabled transportation services are among the most remarkable urban transportation innovations in a generation; the technologies being deployed for these services are improving mobility in ways that have been proposed and discussed for decades but never before realized on a large scale. While TNCs have received the greatest media attention to date, car- and bikesharing, employee shuttles, microtransit services, and apps that aggregate all travel options are growing, evolving, and affecting travel behavior for many users in profound ways. Experience with U.S. car- and bikesharing programs implemented to date suggests that they reduce personal vehicle travel, emissions, and vehicle ownership. Although travel by innovative mobility services currently represents a small share of total trips, the effects of these programs on driving and a continued rapid expan-
1 Multiple actors are responsible for establishing policies and regulations for taxis, limousines, TNCs, and other mobility services because of the different jurisdictions (state, county, city) and various types of agencies that have and exercise these responsibilities nationwide.
sion of their reach and use may significantly affect personal travel in the years ahead.
On its current course, continued expansion of TNCs threatens to exacerbate the “digital divide,” although these services have the potential to enhance mobility for lowincome and older adults.
The lack of access to services by those without credit cards or Internet access is an economy-wide phenomenon and not unique to transportation, but innovative mobility services are bringing this issue to the fore. Most shared mobility services require users to have a credit card on file with the service provider and arrange service using a smartphone. Yet substantial numbers of Americans fail to meet one or both of these prerequisites. Roughly 8 percent of U.S. households, most of which are low-income, lack bank accounts that allow them to have credit cards. Moreover, 36 percent of Americans currently do not own smartphones, a percentage that is even higher among those earning less than $30,000 (50 percent) and adults over age 65 (73 percent). Although smartphone ownership rates have been rising rapidly in recent years, it is unclear where they will level off, particularly for those with low incomes, and current ownership rates leave substantial portions of the population without access to most innovative shared mobility services. This becomes an even greater concern if growth in the new services, such as TNCs, results in shrinkage in existing travel options, such as taxi services, that can be summoned with a landline or basic mobile phone and for which payment can be made by cash.
If private providers fail to address these access issues on a broad scale, public agencies and regulatory authorities may choose to address them through regulation, mandates, or incentives designed to make these services fully and equitably available. To the extent that shared mobility services are available to disadvantaged populations, they have the potential to enhance mobility among these groups. The emerging services frequently cost less than taxi services, and impose lower upfront costs (for vehicles) for travelers than owning a personal vehicle. Furthermore, if shared (concurrent) ride TNC services continue to expand and cost less per trip than most traditional door-to-door services, low-income travelers who can access them may benefit considerably. The expansion of the relatively new multiple-passenger
shared-ride options presents the opportunity for even lower-cost door-to-door service (albeit with stops).
Regulated taxis offer critical lifeline transportation services for people with disabilities. Absent some public policy response, a TNC-fueled decline in taxi services could affect the availability of vehicleforhire services to a substantial number of travelers with disabilities.
Roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population (30.6 million people) has a physical limitation of some kind; 3.6 million of them use a wheelchair, and another 11.6 million a cane, crutches, or a walker. Many cab companies operate wheelchair-accessible vehicles for the general public, sometimes supported through medical, social service, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)–mandated paratransit. Moreover, a number of jurisdictions, primarily large cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., mandate a specified number of wheelchair-accessible taxis, although the efficacy of these regulations in serving disadvantaged populations is unclear. Although they have introduced pilot programs, the more lightly regulated TNCs have not to date provided wheelchair-accessible services on an extensive or reliable basis. If competition from the increasingly popular TNCs reduces current taxi fleets, the near-term result may be fewer door-to-door transportation services for wheelchair users.
Although legal cases involving refusal of some TNCs to accept service dogs remain to be resolved, TNC services are seen as beneficial to those who are blind or visually impaired. TNC apps provide voice options, allowing easy vehicle requests from a smartphone without the need to see a passing taxi to hail it on the street. Cashless transactions eliminate the potential question of what change a taxi driver has provided, and the driver is not informed that the passenger is sight-impaired before accepting the ride.
Public safety is a central and to date not fully resolved public policy concern with the new shared mobility services.
Regulation has traditionally been employed to rectify market failures, such as a lack of information about the safety of vehicles and drivers
and the quality of services—particularly for taxi stand and street-hail services, where customers lack the opportunity to exercise informed choice among providers. Information and communication technologies may have reduced the need for some regulations aimed at service quality, as customers can choose among well-known global brands and obtain information about drivers and vehicles in advance of riding. Public safety, however, remains a central regulatory concern.
Appropriately, public entities at the municipal, regional, and state levels are implementing public safety regulations for TNCs and other shared mobility services, including regulations addressing helmet wearing among bikesharing users. These evolving regulatory processes, however, have illuminated a long-standing weakness in the formulation of such regulations: a paucity of systematic evaluations of the effectiveness or costs of the public safety regulations that exist and are being proposed. For example, procedures for driver background checks often are based on common practice but have not been evaluated in any rigorous way. Therefore, the current practices of regulators, the taxi industry, and TNC operators in this area may not represent best practices. Equally important, minimum limits of automobile liability insurance for taxis, TNCs, and other for-hire services, and in particular “tiered” insurance requirements for TNCs, vary across jurisdictions and do not appear to be based on a systematic analysis of the risks of for-hire operations. Similarly, although the use of technology to facilitate the production and sharing of driver ratings, operator and vehicle images, and electronic itineraries may mitigate requirements for certain service quality and safety regulations, the benefits of these enhancements have not yet been well documented. Finally, the potential for TNC drivers’ heavy reliance on smartphones to lead to distracted driving has not been systematically examined. In sum, the most effective ways to ensure safe operations of vehicles and by drivers, as well as appropriate allocation of the costs imposed by the risk of crashes, remain to be settled and are deserving of careful study.
TNC drivers, like most taxi drivers and workers in the shared economy generally, are classified by their companies as independent contractors rather than employees. This status limits their access to benefits that are currently tied to employment.
Independent contractors typically do not receive employer-provided health insurance or employer contributions to Social Security and Medicare, sick leave, workers’ compensation for injuries, disability insurance, and other benefits that come with employee status. Although many drivers report valuing the part-time and transitional employment opportunities the TNCs provide, some have sued their company, claiming that the degree of control it exerts over them indicates they are employees under federal law. The TNCs have responded that the drivers are contractors since the company exercises virtually no control over the time or place of trips and the drivers own the vehicles. Legal precedents under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, however, involve multiple tests, no one of which is determinative. This issue is likely to be decided in the legal system; absent state or federal legislation, however, classifying mobility service contractors as employees would have major ramifications for drivers, company finances, and consumer costs.
The vast differences in the scale of TNCs compared with taxi services raise new considerations for regulators.
The rise of multinational corporations providing taxilike services in cities around the world is in sharp contrast to the structure of the taxi and limousine industries. While a few taxi fleets are large, regional enterprises, most consist of local firms, fleets of widely varying sizes, and highly varied employment and contractual relationships between firms and drivers. In comparison, the TNCs are a few increasingly large entities that operate globally, which gives them multicity brand awareness and potential market power with respect to customers, drivers, and regulators. The scale and resources of TNCs provide opportunities to exert political as well as economic influence beyond that of existing livery service companies. In response, many taxi and limousine companies are adopting TNC-like technologies to better compete with TNCs. In heavily regulated taxi markets, state and local policy makers may need to consider reducing some constraints on taxi and limousine services so they can compete more effectively. Further, some aspects of regulation, such as labor standards and background checks, may lend
themselves more logically to national-scale rather than state or local regulation.
Innovations in shared mobility services have the potential to change longterm travel and land use patterns.
By affecting the cost, convenience, and flexibility of travel, technology-enabled mobility services may significantly alter travel behavior and potentially even land use patterns, particularly if these services continue to proliferate. Two major potential effects are particularly critical.
First, success in aggregating travel into a single vehicle for multiple travelers with similar origins and destinations will be important to producing lower travel costs for users and reduced negative impacts of vehicle travel. These new services have the potential to increase carpooling and ridesharing, which may in turn lead to increased average vehicle occupancies—ultimately reducing vehicle travel overall and ameliorating automotive externalities such as congestion, nonrenewable energy use, and emissions.
Second, by increasing convenient travel alternatives, the new services may encourage lower household vehicle ownership levels without sacrificing personal mobility, thus eliminating the bias toward high-fixed, low-variable costs in mode choice decisions implicit in vehicle ownership. This, in turn, could spur travel by public transit, walking, and biking and potentially favor urban over suburban residential location choices. These changes would have even more profound effects in the future if automated driving were to become widespread.
It should be noted, however, that less expensive and more convenient travel options, all things being equal, encourage more travel and may enhance mobility for dispersed (“sprawl”) locations, thus making such places more attractive to residents and businesses, although TNC and related services currently are concentrated in central, urban locations. In addition, to the extent that TNC drivers travel without passengers between customers, these services could increase total vehicle travel and contribute to increased congestion, energy consumption, and emissions. Finally, to the extent that lower fares draw travelers from public transportation to shared-ride services in large numbers, the effect could be to increase total vehicle miles traveled, emissions,
and energy consumption. It is too early to determine which of these competing forces will predominate, and effects are likely to play out in different ways depending on local circumstances.
Innovative mobility services are already enhancing mobility for millions and have the potential to yield even greater benefits while also serving other societal goals. If the potential of these services is to be realized, policy makers and regulators will need to address the issues discussed in this report. The committee offers the following recommendations in the spirit of expanding the promise of these services, and doing so with effective and appropriately scaled public oversight.
RECOMMENDATION 1. Policy makers and regulators should formulate public policies and regulations designed to steer the development of innovative services to improve mobility, safety, and sustainability.
Public officials have a responsibility to encourage transportation systems that promote access while minimizing environmental costs. Enhancing sustainable mobility may come in part through fewer trips, shorter trips, and more shared-ride trips, which may lead in turn to reduced congestion, energy consumption, and emissions. Crafting public policies that influence the development of innovative mobility services to advance societal goals is thus in the public interest. Such policies might include encouraging car-for-hire services, shared vehicles, and microtransit through economic incentives; easing barriers to market entry; and increasing coordination of private services with publicly provided services such as public transit.
RECOMMENDATION 1A. To the extent that technology features can accomplish the same customer service protections that previously required regulatory intervention, regulations should be adapted to embrace that opportunity. Local and state governments should reassess current taxi, limousine, and (where separately adopted) TNC regulations for market entry, geographic coverage, span of
service, and the like in light of these new services and the service quality information available to both passengers and drivers.
Regulation of taxi and limousine services has evolved and been refined for more than a century in many U.S. jurisdictions. The rise of technology-enabled mobility raises the question of whether both traditional and emerging mobility services should continue to be regulated as traditional services were in the past. Reassessment of current regulations is most pertinent to advance-reservation (non-street-hail) services, which allow customers to use technology to choose knowledgeably among competing providers and obtain information about their driver and his or her customer reviews. Importantly, the committee is not recommending that TNCs be regulated the same as traditional for-hire transportation services. TNCs offer many innovations that may mitigate the need for some regulations, and their ability to vary prices enhances service and overall efficiency. Nor is the committee recommending removal of entry controls to street-hail and taxi stand services, particularly in dense downtown business districts or airports. Instead, the committee urges local and state regulators to reassess existing regulations governing prearranged taxi and limousine services to determine the minimum necessary for them to provide quality service and be able to compete effectively with TNCs.
RECOMMENDATION 1B. These assessments should also examine public safety requirements covering drivers and vehicles, which should be applied in similar fashion across competing industry segments, ensuring consistency and a level playing field.
Examples of these requirements include driver background checks, vehicle inspections, and automobile liability insurance coverage. While the transparency enabled by new technologies can reduce the need for service quality–focused regulations, it may not reduce the need for these critical public safety requirements.
RECOMMENDATION 1C. Similarly, in consideration of both the multijurisdictional travel patterns in metropolitan areas and the large
scale of business operations, state and local governments should assess how the regulations governing the various industries relate to one another, particularly when multiple jurisdictions regulate different industry segments within the same geographic area. Policy makers and regulators should consider whether traditional forhire and shared mobility services are best monitored and regulated at the state, regional, or local level on the basis of market and service characteristics and regulatory capabilities.
A tension exists between considerations for uniformity and simplicity in the regulatory structure (which tend to argue for regional or even statewide regulatory authorities) and for responsiveness to local needs and concerns (which tend to argue for local regulation). Regardless of the level of regulatory authority, a critical issue is providing a local presence for regulatory enforcement.
RECOMMENDATION 1D. Policy makers and regulators at the state and federal levels should conduct systematic evaluations of safety requirements, examining the core issues of effectiveness and cost.
Whatever the locus of regulatory responsibility may be, it is difficult to make sense of the highly varied approaches to basic safety regulations applied to drivers and vehicles across various jurisdictions. Results of the systematic evaluations suggested in recommendation 1D could be used to set state-established safety parameters to guide the promulgation of local or regional regulations; create uniform statewide standards; or possibly establish cost-effective and consistent national-level driver and vehicle safety protocols and standards, including insurance requirements, based on best practices defined by research.
RECOMMENDATION 1E. Given the importance of accessibility for all users (which is frequently operationalized in terms of vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs), policy makers and regulators should address the potential disparity between access for people with various disabilities and other travelers as these new services expand.
The uneven regulatory playing field on this issue between taxi services and TNCs is pronounced, as taxis often are required to provide lift-equipped vehicles subsidized by fares charged to all passengers. Regulators should consider ways of ensuring access to TNC-like services for those with disabilities, perhaps by either using general public revenues (with the idea that subsidizing access to door-to-door for-hire transportation service should not necessarily be the sole responsibility of other taxi or TNC customers) or applying an across-the-board supplemental fee for all for-hire trips (as is done in the taxi industry in several major cities).
RECOMMENDATION 2. Policy makers, planners, and regulators should identify the information needed to set policies on, plan for, and regulate mobility services, and require this information from all regulated entities.
Among the many innovations by mobility service providers is widespread use of automated reporting systems and digital databases to measure and improve service. The information needed by policy makers, planners, and regulators—largely information about types and volumes of trips—can be culled from these databases and anonymized to protect proprietary interests and individual privacy without requiring private companies to collect new information. In determining information needs, policy makers, planners, and regulators should, of course, remain aware of issues of respondent burden and propriety and confidential information, as well as alternative means for securing needed information. There is also a public interest in gathering information necessary to understand the effects of these services so that public policy decisions can be made and plans formulated on the basis of accurate knowledge about all transportation services offered and consumed. Given the potential of these new business models to significantly influence transportation and land use systems, having this information is critical.
RECOMMENDATION 3. Policy makers and regulators should carefully examine and consider the pros and cons of alternative employment classifications for TNC and taxi drivers.
The new mobility services offer expanded opportunities for flexible, part-time employment for students, those seeking supplemental income from a second job, and those needing transitional income between careers. Nonetheless, the lack of the benefits (sick and vacation leave, retirement savings, and so on) frequently provided to employees in other sectors of the economy raises important public policy issues concerning employer-provided health care, workers’ compensation for injuries, and vacation and sick leave for those for whom such work is the sole source of income or a desired career. The shifting of the costs of these benefits to low-wage workers who may be unable to afford those costs (or health insurance provided under the Affordable Care Act) makes these workers vulnerable should they become, for example, injured and unable to work.
RECOMMENDATION 4. Policy makers and regulators should seek to integrate the features of TNCs and other innovative shared mobility services into existing transportation systems and services in ways that leverage the new services’ strengths and features.
With appropriate regulation, and perhaps even subsidization to meet specific public policy goals, these new services can and should be integrated into metropolitan transportation systems to improve accessibility and sustainability.
Research is needed in several areas to help realize the promise of the new mobility services and enable effective implementation of the committee’s recommendations to that end:
- Given the rapid proliferation of the new shared mobility services and the limited information on their scale and effects, research is needed to develop a richer understanding of their effects on (1) travel choices and behaviors, (2) personal mobility, (3) the environment, (4) the economy, (5) safety, (6) equity and civil rights, (7) transportation system capacity and performance, and (8) labor. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) could perform
a valuable service for transportation policy makers and researchers by supporting such a research initiative.
- As these new transportation modes and associated business models develop and mature, an information clearinghouse is needed to capture and disseminate information on these new services and their effects on transportation and land use systems, their legal issues and regulation, and emerging planning and regulatory strategies and models. Such a resource would be of particular value as multiple jurisdictions strive to adapt to these new services. The USDOT could fund an appropriate existing organization to provide these clearinghouse services.
- Transportation planning bodies need to develop methodologies for incorporating shared mobility services into transportation planning initiatives and promote collaboration between publicand privatesector transportation providers. Because most shared mobility services are privately funded and operated, most metropolitan planning organizations and other transportation planning entities, such as cities and states, do not systematically include the effects of these new services in transportation planning initiatives. Nor do most current planning activities consider how these services might be operated to complement substantial public investments in multimodal sustainable transportation systems. As these new services continue to expand, this general omission in transportation planning will become more glaring and problematic.
- There is a need to develop a consistent set of definitions and basic information requirements that regulatory entities can adopt to describe and evaluate both shared mobility services and established taxi and limousine services. The USDOT could fund an independent organization or panel to address this need for better-quality, comparable information, with input from stakeholders and drawing on best practices already in place. Given (1) the potentially substantial scale and influence of shared mobility services and (2) the importance of data in establishing cost-effective safety rules and regulations, policy makers and officials at all levels of government need to know more about these services. The federal government has successfully established consistent data definitions and reporting requirements for largely local phenomena
such as personal and property crime and public transit provision. These data are used at the local level by policy makers and planners and also can be aggregated to the national level to understand broader trends, evaluate program effectiveness, and plan for future services and infrastructure.
Innovative urban mobility services will continue to evolve, and the research and public policy communities will need to react quickly and in partnership. Use of these and yet-to-be-developed technology-enabled services is likely to continue transforming both passenger and freight travel, and the many stakeholders will need to cooperate to ensure that the outcomes of these developments are in the public interest. Collaboration among these various stakeholders may become precedent setting as connected and automated vehicles develop and become common. Addressing this report’s findings can provide a foundation for the technological evolution of the U.S. transportation system.