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Shared mobility: 8 guiding principles for public agencies

Category: Wider impact
Published: 26/08/2016

Earlier this year, we wrote about a seismic shift currently underway in urban mobility. Fundamentally, technology is changing the way we move, and we hypothesize that the likely convergence of on-demand mobility, electrification, and automation could reshape transportation as we know it.

In recent years, technological innovation in social networking, location-based services, the internet, and mobile devices, coupled with economic, environmental, and social forces, have given rise to numerous shared transportation options.

Emerging out of this is the idea of shared mobility, an innovative transportation strategy that enables users to gain short-term access to shareable modes of transport on an as-needed basis. This includes various forms of car-sharing; bike-sharing; ride-sharing; and on-demand ride services.

The opportunities associated with shared mobility are significant for all stakeholders, least of all public agencies and policymakers

Already, various studies have highlighted the social, environmental, and behavioural impacts of this transformative approach to movement. Several papers, focused on roundtrip and one-way car-sharing, for example, have documented sold or delayed vehicle purchases, reduced vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), increased access and mobility for formerly carless households, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and heightened environmental awareness.

Similarly, empirical studies of bike-sharing document increased mobility; lower greenhouse gas emissions; greater use of alternative modes (e.g. walking); economic development (particularly around bike-sharing kiosks); and health benefits (e.g. increased physical activity and calories burned).


Great for the planet and boosts your wellbeing – what’s not to like about bike-sharing?

The opportunities associated with shared mobility are significant for all stakeholders, least of all public agencies and policymakers who are well-positioned to leverage this technology and the talent needed to deliver on a variety of transportation, air quality, and climate action goals.

Below are eight guiding principles that the public sector should consider in the implementation of shared mobility services and infrastructure in a city or region:

1) Shared mobility impacts everyone, not just users. Because of the far-reaching impacts of shared mobility (e.g. public rights-of-way, transportation network, and the environment), it affects an entire community, locally and regionally.

2) Clear and consistent definitions are needed to help reduce confusion about modes and service models and to add clarity for the public and policymakers. This can include adding shared modes and service model definitions in local and nation legislation and ordinances.

3) Public agencies should embrace innovation and public-private partnerships. This can enhance modal options and contribute to a stronger, more robust, and multimodal transportation network that improves access and quality of life.

4) Public engagement is key. It is important to inform and involve the public in planning processes and to listen to the public’s concerns in implementing shared mobility services. Public participation is inclusive and helps ensure fair treatment, so no community or group bears a disproportionate share of negative impacts or the benefits.

5) Public agencies should consider collecting data on shared modes and implementing compulsory reporting requirements. Data are critical to understanding and evaluating the impacts of shared mobility on the transportation network.

6) Transportation planning should incorporate shared mobility modes. This allows public agencies to document the state of the transportation network and develop goals and policies to guide local and regional growth and development.

7) Transportation should be accessible and equitable. People are entitled to reasonable access to transportation services. Public agencies should ensure social, interregional, and intergenerational equity to meet the mobility needs of travellers.

8) It is important to track the growth, development, and impact of shared mobility as the marketplace continues to develop. Public agencies should monitor the market and evolve policies to aid in the management of the rights-of-way and the development of public-private partnerships.

In the future, the evolution of shared mobility, electric drive technologies, and automation could likely transform how people travel and how cities are designed. The long-term impacts of emerging technologies on vehicle ownership, parking, and travel behaviour, for now, remain to be seen.

However, as shared mobility continues to become mainstream and new technologies come online, public agencies will need to assess transportation planning, access, and mobility. Understanding these guiding principles will help public agencies and policymakers respond to mobility disruptions. Policy evolution, ongoing research, and a strong understanding of shared mobility’s impacts on the transportation network will be crucial to leveraging the positive social and environmental impacts of these innovations.

This article was co-authored with Susan Shaheen.

Shaheen and Cohen, along with Ismail Zohdy, are co-authors of the US Federal Highway Administration primer Shared Mobility: Current: Practices and Guiding Principles.