Traditional planning has relied on historical data to inform future decision making. But innovation is changing the system in real time, and the ripple effects of technology affect conventional modeling. In order to prepare for an uncertain future, local governments must consider the diverse possibilities of technology, environmental and economic change. WSP recently launched a Scenario Planning Toolbox to help decision makers through the process of scenario planning, setting up various potential futures through analysis of qualitative and quantitative data, and identifying levers to use for influencing desired change.
Additionally, communities can examine existing policies to identify necessary changes for reaching their goals. Using the goal setting, public engagement and evaluation frameworks mentioned above, decision makers can identify needed services and actions right now that will help achieve better outcomes. This assessment of existing policies extends beyond enabling new mobility providers, such as changing regulations to allow cars without steering wheels for driverless technology. Planning documents, zoning codes and permitting processes can be updated in the short term, opening a path for new mobility to align with established objectives.
For example, cities across the country are changing parking requirements in urban centers, reducing or removing parking minimums for development in the city core. Chandler, Arizona, recently removed parking minimums citywide, and issued strong guidance for loading zones. These changes not only respond to shifts in travel behavior and decreased usage of privately owned vehicles, but they also align city goals such as efficient land use and increased housing development with existing policies and regulations.
Create partnerships and pilots
Private mobility providers create products and services based on perceived market opportunity. Rather than compete with one another, public agencies can start with their stated goals and collaborate with private providers to solve identified challenges, improve overall efficiency and provide increased access for users. Partnerships based on identified needs have led to Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platforms internationally, solving access issues while addressing additional goals such as decreased personal vehicle usage and economic growth.
The Whim app in Helsinki, for example, presents an integrated platform for trip planning, payment and booking, with multiple levels of bundled subscriptions to various private and public providers for users. In just two years of existence, Whim boasts 60,000 users monthly.
Even without a full MaaS system, first/last mile solutions for transit agencies present an ideal opportunity for partnership. Micro-mobility providers (bike share and scooter share), transportation network companies (TNC), such as Uber and Lyft, and eventually driverless cars, may increase access to destinations, increase transit ridership and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through reduced personal vehicle usage.
However, TNC’s and driverless cars may replace transit trips as well, increasing congestion, GHG emissions and stress on infrastructure. Pilot programs, with built-in metrics to evaluate progress towards goals, allow the flexibility to shift policies and plans as needed to address trade-offs. Pricing trips to incentivize shared travel, re-routing vehicles to optimize usage, and geofencing vehicles into (or out of) specific zones are just some levers available for public agencies to ensure all mobility in their region is working collaboratively to achieve desired outcomes.
Think systemically, and think big
Technology enabled transportation is already changing how we move people and goods. The landscape is shifting more dramatically than since the advent of cars and building of the National Highway System. With a focus on values, evaluation and partnership, communities have the opportunity to improve not only their mobility options, but the daily structure of their environment. Local governments can act now to set the foundation for change, and plan for a future that enhances land use, transportation, equity, environment, economics and health for everyone.