Silicon Valley is in the middle of changing the way workers get to work. Then again, maybe not.
The Smart Mobility office of Joint Venture Silicon Valley (JVSV) seeks to implement several new transportation systems that will get people out of their cars, use public transit and bikes, and spew fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
This massive change relies in part on new technology developed by the growing autonomous driving industry.
The problem is that the Smart Mobility group doesn’t have the authority to force commuters to change. Further, the new technology is still being tested or has yet to find a large group of users to make it commercially viable.
SERIOUS TRAFFIC ISSUES
Instead, Smart Mobility must rely on employers and staff to make the effort to get off their butts and make a difference. Employers have to see savings, or even revenue generation, while employees must be rewarded in some way.
No doubt the Bay Area has some serious traffic issues.
Congestion around San Francisco is ranked by Inrix as second worst in the nation, behind only Los Angeles and tied with Washington, D.C. San Francisco commuters wasted 75 hours sitting in traffic in 2015.
Steve Raney, executive director of the mobility group, believes that the best way to cut congestion and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) travel from 75 percent of travel in the Bay to 50 percent of travel.
That would mean cutting 1 million car trips a day from the current 3 million. If that happened it would eliminate 1.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to a white paper from the mobility group.
Raney points to work done with Stanford University as one path to cutting SOV commutes.
Stanford began by charging its SOV commuters $3 a day to park at the school, a benefit it had previously offered for free. It then ‘feebated’ that revenue to its commuters that walked, biked, took a shuttle bus, used the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA), or CalTrans, or the ride.com on-demand rideshare.
(A feebate is a system of charges and rebates designed to reward or penalize energy-efficient practices.)
As a result, Stanford reduced its SOV numbers from 75 percent of commutes to 49 percent, according to Raney. The school then saved the $107 million it had planned to spend on new parking facilities, he says.
In essence, Stanford replaced free parking with a shared travel benefit.
“Free parking for employees is a tradition,” says Raney. “(Employers) can phase in a charge of $3 for driving alone, or make it free to bike or walk. Just shift the dollar around for vehicles.”
The feebate concept was the most viable way to implement change when compared to such proposals as increasing the gas tax or imposing road user charges or implementing workplace parking charges, according to Raney’s research.
Feebates is just one aspect of the ‘Reducing Bay Area Commuting by 25%’ white paper from the JVSV mobility group.
Its Fair Value Commuting solution includes another four components, much of it relying on new technology associated with the developing autonomous driving industry:
- The Enterprise Commute Trip Reduction (ECTR) is software from such firms as Luum and RideAmigos that allow employers to track staff commutes, and offer commute incents/de-cents.
- Mobility Aggregation (MobAg) apps track and display multiple travel options – public/private transit, rideshare, carshare, bikeshare, van pool, etc. Vendors include Moovit, Transit App, Urban Engines, TripGo, Swiftly, Moovel, and Siemens. (In a perfect world, MobAg apps will also offer payment capabilities and update the ECTR so the employer can track employee activity).
- Gap Filling is a catchall term for more transportation options and payment ideas, with a focus on first mile/last mile challenges. Gap fillers can range from low-income transit subsidies to Lyft/Uber peer-to-peer rideshare, escooters, public microtransit (VTA Flex3), private microtransit (Bridj, Chariot), private motorcoach (RidePal), telecommuting, and autonomous microtransit (EasyMile).
- Systemic Obstacles refers to developing uniform payment systems and integrated routes by multiple transit agencies; developing an interoperable mobility software system.
The white paper concedes that much of this infrastructure is not in place. The MobAg apps are still gestating, the ECTR software needs to add features, and the public is catching up with all the gapfillers.
For example, payment apps do not allow for interoperability between the two dozen transit systems in the Bay area alone.
The Daimler purchase of smartphone e-ticketing firm Globe Sherpa might address this when its capabilities are combined with Daimler-owned RideScout. Still, this is a work in progress.
And even the feebate concept gets pushback despite its proven benefits. One Joint Venture collaborator notes that many employers don’t do feebates even when it may be in their best interest.
Raney is moving forward, saying that in September he will get an answer on four grant proposals that would allow him to expand his research and membership.
Meanwhile, he has drafted a proposal for the California legislature that would put a cap on free parking benefits an employer could provide to staff that commute in Single Occupancy Vehicles. The employer starts paying a fee when the percent of its SOV commuters tops a defined threshold.
America’s SOV mode of commuting once sold cars and built the wide-open freeways that took us to suburbia. Today it means congested highways filled with greenhouse gas delivery devices. It could take decades for the nation to break its SOV habit.
Photo by Coolcaeser.