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How Ann Arbor public transit fits into the new shared-mobility network

Clean Energy Coalition executive director Sean Reed at an ArborBike station

Nancy Shore with some Zipcar's at the Library Lot

Annalisa Esposito Bluhm - Communications Manager for GM's Maven car sharing service

AAATA integrated marketing coordinator Don Kline

ArborBikes on North Campus

ArborBike locations

Clean Energy Coalition executive director Sean Reed at an ArborBike station

AAATA GetDowntown program director Nancy Shore

Don Kline with one of the AAATA's new buses

From Uber to Zipcar to bikesharing systems, the past decade has produced a remarkable variety of new shared-mobility alternatives for those uninterested in owning and operating their own vehicles. So where does that leave good old-fashioned public transportation?

Here in Ann Arbor, most of the newer shared-mobility services haven't put much of a dent in the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority's ([AAATA) ridership. In the case of the ArborBike bikeshare system, installed here in 2014, AAATA users are actually a huge driver for business. Sean Reed is founder and executive director of the Clean Energy Coalition, the nonprofit that owns and operates ArborBike. He says ArborBike rider surveys show that nearly half the system's members use it in conjunction with a bus ride.

"ArborBike represents more of a last-mile solution, where somebody may take the bus into the city as part of their regular commute, but then they can use ArborBike to get to their class or get to the farmers' market," Reed says. "It gets them that last distance."

Although ridesourcing services like Uber have generated huge business –and constant controversy– in recent years, they're having little effect on how much people ride AAATA buses. According to AAATA ridership data collected last year, 22 percent of riders say they would have found alternative transportation in the absence of AAATA's service. That's up just one percentage point from 2013's survey data, collected before Uber and Lyft launched here in 2014. In the new survey, just eight percent of those riders said they would consider Uber or Lyft as an alternative to AAATA. Twenty-five percent of riders overall said they'd used one of the ridesourcing services in the past 30 days.

"Carsharing has presence in the market and that's important," says AAATA integrated marketing coordinator Don Kline. "But [survey data] is showing that it's not eroding a significant piece of ridership on our services."

Nancy Shore oversees Ann Arbor's Zipcar carsharing system as director of AAATA's GetDowntown program. She says AAATA and the plethora of new shared-mobility services are working towards a common goal.

"Anytime you're getting somebody to not drive their own personal vehicle…they're going to be more likely to be open to using the bus," she says. "That's the mental leap that people have to make, and once they make that there's just a lot more flexibility in what people are willing to do."

A "critical element"

A similar mentality is coming into play at the national level, although the relationships between public transit providers and newer shared-mobility services are becoming much more synergistic than in Ann Arbor. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) recently released a study surveying the habits of 4,500 users of various shared-mobility systems, including traditional public transit, in seven major American cities. The study found that public buses and trains remained the most popular option for over 60 percent of respondents, dwarfing bikesharing, carsharing and ridesourcing.

Most interestingly, the study identified a class of shared-mobility users dubbed "supersharers"–those who said they'd used some combination of shared-mobility services for at least one commute, one errand and one recreational trip in the past three months. Nearly 10 percent of survey respondents fit that category–and that's significant to those working in both traditional public transportation and newer shared-mobility services.

When Concentrate attended a March 15 conference call announcing the APTA study, APTA president and CEO Michael Melaniphy noted that ridesourcing has become a "critical element" for the public transportation industry as a "last-mile" solution. That means that, like ArborBike, ridesourcing services are often used to get people from a transit stop to their actual final destination (or to get them to a transit stop in the first place). That's particularly important for those who live in more remote suburbs beyond a public transit system's boundaries of service.

Uber chief advisor and board member David Plouffe noted that Uber is busiest during public transit's off-hours, and in areas where public transit riders' "last-mile" solution is most complicated.

"They're using us in addition to taxis, in addition to biking, in addition to sharing a car with a friend," Plouffe says. "And certainly we think the most dominant use in that fashion is to augment public transportation."

Morgan Lyons, assistant vice president of communications and community engagement at Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), noted that Dallas has taken major steps to work hand in hand with Uber and Lyft. DART, Uber and Lyft partnered on a promotional campaign this year encouraging the 150,000 revelers who annually attend Dallas' St. Patrick's Day Parade to take an Uber or Lyft to their nearest DART station.

"We wanted to promote responsible ridership," Lyons says. "That was the marketing hook. But for us it was a way to explore the idea that we can work together to provide a first mile-last mile solution, and that we can make transit more relevant to folks who may not have considered us."

Integrating through technology

So what does that mean for the future relationship between public transit and newer shared-mobility services in Ann Arbor? Kline notes that our situation is somewhat different from a more "spread-out and suburban" area like Dallas. But robust early interest in GM's brand-new carsharing service, Maven, suggests that Ann Arborites are still seeking new ways to get around. Maven spokesperson Annalisa Esposito Bluhm notes that Maven, which launched exclusively in Ann Arbor just this year, has already signed up 700 users.

"When you look at areas like Ann Arbor, where public transportation really is limited to…prescriptive routes that really don't leave the campus or leave that enclave of Ann Arbor, we know transportation is more dynamic than that," Bluhm says. "When people want to get from point A to point B outside of that prescriptive world, it becomes very difficult. And that's where ridesharing and carsharing really are an ideal solution."

Kline notes that although the percentage of AAATA riders considering shared-mobility services as an alternative to AAATA's service is small, it still constitutes an "important market" that AAATA is keeping its eye on. As shared-mobility services grow in popularity, transportation agencies like AAATA may find themselves increasingly integrating them into public transit systems–and even incentivizing their use. DART recently added links to Uber, Lyft and Zipcar to its mobile ticketing app, and Florida's Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will pay up to $3 worth of any Uber ride that ends at one of its stops.

Down the road, it's easy to envision such advances fitting in locally with the universal transit fare card system envisioned by the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. However, that system isn't aimed at apps yet and AAATA doesn't have an official app. Reed notes that he'd particularly like to see more coordination between ArborBike and AAATA, raising the possibility of a single system that would allow users to access and pay for multiple transportation services.

"Moving forward, as the options proliferate, there is going to be a need for a bit of coordination amongst all the different types of options and oversight of some of that," he says.

Meanwhile in Dallas, DART is working on the next step of its collaboration with shared-mobility providers: a trip-planning tool that Uber and Lyft users could use through those apps, incorporating DART service options and linking directly to DART's mobile ticketing app.

"Our customers want to get around conveniently," Lyons says. "We sometimes make it so hard. We've got to get over that. It's a matter of using a mobile app. It's a matter of integrating technology where you can and making it convenient. Once you're able to do that–to put my marketing hat on–you have that brand relevance to folks, and you bring us into the consideration set about how people want to get around."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and a senior writer at Concentrate andMetromode.

All photos by Doug Coombe .

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