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23 A variety of community-level benefits and impacts go along with the operation of shared private transit services. This discussion draws on existing literature, news stories, and interviews conducted for this research to discuss the patterns observed in each category. Private Transit Services Can Complement Public Transit and Help Reduce Solo Car Trips This section examines how private transit services interact with usage of public transit, private automobiles, and other modes. Given the wide variety of service types and operating environ- ments for different private transit services, the impacts vary greatly across services and locations. Private Transit Services Build on Existing Public Transit Private transit services, like public transit, generally thrive in urban areas and rarely exist in places areas where public transportation is entirely absent. The nature of the relationship ranges from complementary to substitutional, but the fact that the private services rarely exist without a nearby public system (either anchoring or parallel to the private service) suggests that pri- vate transit depends on the same fundamental conditionsâparticularly a density of usersâthat make for productive public transit. However, the extent to which private transit services complement public transit varies. Some- times private transit serves as a premium alternative, operating along the same routes at the same peak hours as public transit, but with shorter headways, faster travel times, guaranteed seats, or other amenities for which some riders are willing to pay more. Nearly all the private sponsors and operators interviewed viewed public trunk-line service as the backbone of a non-automobile transportation system, which private transit services can help to extend or supplement in specific use cases. Many private transit services, although by no means all, anchor their routes on high- capacity transit stations for this reason, helping to extend the public network to harder-to-serve employment and residential areas (American Coach Lines interview 2017, Prudential interview 2017, Goldwyn 2017, King interview 2017). Private transit interactions with public transporta- tion include last-mile services, radial shuttles, and cross-core of parallel routes. Last-Mile Services One end of the private trip is often anchored by a high-capacity public transit service such as a subway or commuter rail, with the private service providing the last-mile connection from train to (usually) workplace. This station-to-workplace model tends to serve a specific worksite or campus and exists both in suburban areas (from outlying rail stops to suburban job centers) S E C T I O N 3 Private Transit Services: Benefits and Impacts
24 Private Transit: Existing Services and Emerging Directions and dense urban cores (e.g., shuttles serving Chicagoâs downtown commuter rail terminuses or connecting DC-area rail commuters to Georgetown, which lacks a rail station). Public transit transfers can make certain trips more challengingâespecially those requiring trips on more than two vehicles, using inconvenient transfer points, and requiring payment on multiple fare media. These challenges can be exacerbated by long headways or little coordina- tion between buses. Some private transit services are specifically designed to address these issues. With smaller vehicle size, on-demand service or shorter headways, and real-time service infor- mation, they can reduce the wait times and uncertainty associated with some transfers, allowing more riders to take the bulk of their trip on public transit rather than driving alone. Service frequency, predictability, and travel time are among the most influential factors driving transit satisfaction, so public transit improvements such as real-time information and better transfer coordination can increase the attractiveness of public transit as compared to private services. In other cases, however, the private transit services provide access to specific workplaces or loca- tions that may not be large enough or dense enough for public transit service to be provided (Transit Center 2017a, Schaller 2017). Radial Shuttles Another service configuration directly connects dense areas of activity with outlying residential or employment locations, often between points for which continuous public transit routes are not available. Private transit services can provide no-transfer rides on trips that would otherwise require one or more transfers on public transit. These services may be limited to specific riders (such as the Silicon Valley commuter shuttles bringing in workers from San Francisco and else- where in the Bay Area) or available to the public (such as the system of jitney buses connecting Manhattan bus terminals with nearby New Jersey suburbs). Googleâs transportation team notes that jurisdictional complexity in the Bay Area and lack of transportation agency coordination makes reaching its Mountain View campus entirely by public transit impracticable, depending on where employees originate. According to the com- panyâs internal surveys, only about 15% of employees live within walking distance of the Caltrain commuter rail line that serves the campuses, which means that anyone else hoping to take public transit would need to make a minimum of two transfers and often more. Consequently, Google opted to fill gaps with shuttles centered on its Bay Area campuses to keep its workplace attractive in a very competitive job market and very tight housing market. The ridership response validated Googleâs decision to provide shuttles; as of early 2017, 35% of its employees took a shuttle to work (Google interview 2017). When SFMTA modeled the impacts of consolidating commuter shuttle stops to a few locations in downtown San Francisco, it found that users would be far more likely to switch to car trips than transit trips, given the distances between endpoints in the Bay Area (see Table 3) (SFMTA 2016b). Shuttles were not as necessary for Googleâs New York City or Boston-area offices, located where robust public transit systems are supported by far more density and commute distances Current (dispersed) Single-hub BART-oriented Freeway- adjacent Consolidated network Shuttle trips 8,200 4,500 6,020 5,930 6,230 Drive trips 0 3,330 1,960 2,050 1,780 Transit trips 0 370 220 220 190 Table 3. Modeled mode shift (number of trips) away from shuttles under four scenarios in SFMTA Commuter Shuttle Hub analysis. (From SFMTA 2016b, Table 5)
Private Transit Services: Benefits and Impacts 25 are shorter. Most Google employees at the New York and Boston offices commute on public transit (Google interview 2017). Cross-Core or Parallel Routes In still other cases, private services run entirely within urban corridors where public transit routes are not only available, but often saturated with riders at peak hours. In these casesâ including the dollar vans and jitneys around New York City and pooled TNC or microtransit services generallyâprivate transit can act as a premium service. By providing a more frequent, more direct, or more comfortable alternative to the public transit operating on that route, pri- vate services attract riders who are at times willing to pay more. These services are most fre- quently the type on which riders pay fares, which range from slightly less to several times more than the equivalent public transit fare. Dollar van rides in New York Cityâs outer boroughs cost $2, for instance, while peak-hour rides on Chariot in San Francisco or Via in Manhattan cost $5. Some Private Transit Services Divert Drive-Alone Trips and May Cause VMT Reductions Evidence that some private transit services substitute for private automobile trips is well estab- lished. Much of the evidence for drive-alone diversions comes from employer commuter shuttle programs, which are often offered as part of TDM programs implemented under local land-use or environmental regulations and require ongoing measurement of employee commute modes, as well as efforts to reduce drive-alone commutes over time. Commuter Shuttles On large suburban employment campuses that offer commuter shuttles, single-occupancy vehicle mode share is lower than average. The national drive-alone commute mode share was 77% in 2015. By comparison: â¢ Googleâs drive-alone rate to its Silicon Valley locations is under 50%. Based on employee surveys, the company estimates that two-thirds of its shuttle riders would drive alone without the shuttle option (Google interview 2017). â¢ Microsoftâs Seattle-area drive-alone rate is under 60%. According to the company, 60% of shuttle riders previously drove alone to work (Peterson 2012). â¢ Shuttle programs for these and other major employers in the technology sector and beyond are likely keeping thousands of cars off the road every day. That many shuttle riders represent diverted driving trips was supported by the travel model- ing in SFMTAâs Commuter Shuttle Hub Study in 2016. The Commuter Shuttle Hub Study mod- eled the impacts of requiring commuter shuttles to use a limited number of hubs for pick-ups instead of many stops dispersed around the city. Using the San Francisco County Transportation Authorityâs (SFCTAâs) commute mode choice model,5 the study examined four shuttle hub sce- narios. It found that as accessing the shuttles became more difficult, riders would be increasingly likely to choose car trips for journeys from the original stop locations to the shuttle destinations. The scenarios, in descending order of difficulty of access, were single-hub, Bay Area Rapid Tran- sit (BART)-oriented, freeway-adjacent, and consolidated, with shifts to drive trips ranging from 41% to 22% (see Table 3 for more information). The associated VMT, greenhouse gas, and safety impacts were greater in all the hub scenarios and convinced SFMTA of the value of preserving a widely dispersed system of stops (SFMTA 2016b). 5The study used the work trip mode choice component of the San Francisco Chained Activity Modeling Process (SF-CHAMP), the tool SFCTA uses to produce detailed travel-demand forecasts for planning in the county.
26 Private Transit: Existing Services and Emerging Directions On-Demand Commercial Services On-demand commercial services such as Via or pooled TNCs, which are so far only offered in the most densely populated service areas, may be less likely to divert drive-alone trips, since those areas see fewer such trips to begin with. To the degree that on-demand services result in rides actually being shared, on-demand services would appear likely to marginally reduce VMT compared to exclusive-ride taxi or TNC trips, although without more detailed data from the operators, itâs impossible to know what proportion of rides are shared. To date, New York City has been the only jurisdiction that has made public sufficient data to perform an analysis of the VMT impacts of TNCs. Bruce Schallerâs 2017 study of New Yorkâs for- hire-vehicle records suggests that TNCs in general may be increasing VMT and congestion in the city. The degree to which shared trips may be moderating these impacts is unclear, as is the broader applicability of experiences from a market as unique as New York City to the rest of the United States (Schaller 2017). The overall VMT and congestion impacts of all the TNC-based services, shared- or exclusive-ride, remain an open question and an important area for future research. Without Prudent Regulation, Private Transit Services Can Contribute to Conflicts Over Use of Street Space and Public Rights-of-Way Disputes over street space are unavoidable in environments where land is at a premium. At the same time, many cities are making changes to their streets to prioritize pedestrians, bicycles, and transit vehicles and to rationalize the use of limited rights-of-way to support goals beyond moving as many cars as possible. Many jurisdictions also recognize the benefit of people traveling in multi-passenger vehicles rather than driving alone, whether those multi- passenger vehicles are publicly or privately operated. While use of the public way has long been locally regulated and the rules are generally clear (on paper, at least), changes in the allocation of street space to various users, as well as changes in or inconsistent enforcement of existing rules, can heighten conflicts, especially in the areas of highest demand. Conflict in Dense Urban Environments Access to the right-of-way is at its most contentious on crowded urban streets, where, as Jarrett Walker wrote (2012), âspace is the ultimate currency.â Confusion can arise when private and public transit routes and loading zones overlap. Examples of such challenges can be seen in San Francisco and Chicago. San Francisco Perhaps the most widely known of these conflicts involved the Silicon Valley tech busesâ use of SFMTAâs bus stops and lanes. In a 2016 mid-term status report on their commuter shuttle program, the SFMTA summarized the issue: [Private commuter shuttles] operated throughout the City [and] loaded and unloaded passengers in a variety of places whether it was legal or not, including white loading zones, red Muni zones, and other vacant curb space. When curb space was unavailable, shuttles often would load or unload passengers in the travel lane. The lack of rules for where and when loading and unloading were permitted resulted in confusion for shuttle operators and neighborhood residents, inconsistent enforcement, and real and perceived conflicts with other transportation modes. (SFMTA 2016a, 3) SFMTAâs 2014 Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program worked with shuttle operators to create a network of shared-Muni stops and shuttle-only stops that the private shuttles could access legally, while paying a fee to underwrite the administration and enforcement of the new rules.
Private Transit Services: Benefits and Impacts 27 The pilot and its subsequent formalization as a permanent program were successful in address- ing the negative spatial impacts of private commuter shuttles, recognizing the shuttlesâ role in the regionâs transportation system while balancing these with the priorities of Muni and other street users. See Case Study I for more detail about the development of the program. The SFMTAâs cooperative approach might serve as a model for other jurisdictions trying to prioritize the needs of various road users while ensuring enforcement of key regulations for the use of the public right-of-way. Chicago Use of the Chicago Transit Authorityâs (CTAâs) Loop Link bus lanesâa set of red-painted travel lanes that are marked for bus-only use but not physically separated from the rest of the right-of-wayâhas generated disputes between private transit operators and city authorities. While the dedicated lanes have sped up CTA bus trips across the Loop, private bus operators complain that their own travel is now slowed, even though they carry comparable peak-hour passenger loads. These operators contend that they should be able to access the lanes. In fact, many private buses, as well as cars and taxis, have been observed using the lanes without autho- rization (and with little enforcement) since they opened in late 2015 (Greenfield 2016a). Private operators and shuttle sponsors say they have approached the city about getting permission to use the lanes, but have been unable to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution, even one involving payment of permit fees (Greenfield 2016b, JLL interview 2017). Suburban Environments: Finding Parking, Prioritizing Curb Access In suburban environments, the questions about public space are mostly related to parking and curb space, either for riders or for the transit vehicles themselves. Most passengers board- ing in dense urban locations walk or ride transit to their boarding locations, but accessing suburban locations for boarding often requires a nearby park-n-ride option for users who drive to the location. The park-n-ride options for private transit commuters are like those for public transit riders. Microsoft, for example, leases parking space from churches and retail sites that only need parking on weekends or during the evening hours. Google also leases space in suburban environments for park-n-rides and for nighttime storage of the vehicles for those routes. BART is developing a decision tree for prioritizing other entitiesâ access to curb space that the agency controls, which is limited within San Francisco but can be extensive at some suburban stations (BART 2017). While it has not yet been formally incorporated into agency policy, a draft of the tree shows it weighing several factors in the prioritization, including â¢ Level of curb space constraint at a station. â¢ Whether a use connects to BART or just wants access to the curb at that location (an example of the latter might be a commuter shuttle that uses the stop as a convenient centralized loading point but doesnât connect to BART service). â¢ Whether a service is open to all or restricted to specific groups of users. â¢ Nonprofit versus for-profit use. â¢ Ridership level of connecting/co-locating services. Private Transitâs Safety Benefits Stem from per Capita VMT Reductions Safety is one of the most common concerns raised regarding private transit services. While there are often anecdotes and headlines about safety problems, there is no clear evidence of safety impacts attributable one way or another to private transit services.
28 Private Transit: Existing Services and Emerging Directions Looking at passenger safety in general, the number of vehicle crashes is strongly correlated with increasing mileage, and the occupants of large trucks and buses have lower rates of crash injuries and fatalities than the occupants of smaller vehicles (National Center for Statistics and Analysis 2016). It follows that modes that (1) reduce VMT and (2) move people in larger vehicles would tend to provide more passenger safety than those that increase VMT and move people in smaller vehicles. As the SFMTAâs shuttle modeling has shown, commuter shuttles likely have a strongly beneficial safety impact by both reducing VMT and moving people in larger vehicles. As noted earlier in this report, it is an open question whether TNC-based private transit services are reducing VMT overall and thus what the VMT-related safety impacts might be. On the other hand, if TNCs resemble taxis in having fewer crashes per vehicle mile traveled than personal autos, and if they are causing the reduction in impaired driving that some observers have noted, it is possible that they offset increased VMT with greater safety overall (Schaller 2017, 21). This remains a critical area for future research. Private Transit Can Expand Transportation Access in Underserved or Hard-to-Serve Communities Private transit services have the potential to expand access to specific geographic areas or demographic communities. In some cases, this could mean adding to the options already available. In other cases, it could mean that private transit provides the only viable option for some trips. Where demand exists, private transit may serve as a gap-filler geographically and also run at hours of the day when public transit is less frequent. Jitney services on Flatbush and between New Jersey and Manhattan run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, often with 2 to 5 minutes between vehicles. This provides faster early-morning and late-night travel for late-shift and service jobs that are infrequently served by scheduled public transit (Garnett 2001). While these services do not have the inclusive service mandate carried by public agencies, jitneys have nonetheless improved access for immigrant and geographically isolated communities for decades (Cervero 1997). Sometimes as an amenity and sometimes as a necessity, private transit services expand mobil- ity options in many communities. Silicon Valley employers, for example, subsidize reverse- commute and suburb-to-suburb routes as a means of attracting and retaining employees, using route types that could not be served by public transit in the Bay Area in a cost- or time-effective manner (see Case Study I for more information on this). The camionetas of Southern California and jitneys of Miami fill accessibility gaps relating not only to geography, but also to culture and language (Valenzuela, Schweitzer, and Robles 2005).