If the highest market capitalization lodging company doesn’t own hotels, then does it follow that transit agencies will always need to own buses? In the above interview, filmed at the 2018 SmartDrivingCar Summit at Princeton, Bern Grush, co-author of The End of Driving, discusses how technology is allowing transits agencies to examine how to best achieve their goals associated with providing mobility for the citizens they serve.
Grush, who is also a founder of Grush Niles Strategic, suggests transit agencies work with TNCs (Transportation Network Companies), such as Lyft, Uber, Waymo and the many others in the offing (e.g. GM, Ford, etc.) to create a richer transit network than is possible through public spending alone. He points to this as an opportunity for the public to benefit by having private entities purchase, operate and maintain transportation assets. Implicit in his comments is that these private entities are able to anticipate and react faster to market conditions and technology changes than public agencies can (e.g. it can take years for a public agency to change a fixed-bus route).
The kind of scenario Grush describes is one where the public transit agency sets mobility goals and works with TNCs to help achieve those goals. For some, this may mean focusing their bus routes as frequent feeder lines, while TNCs provide last-mile, on-demand connectivity to suburban neighborhoods not traditionally well served by public transit (e.g. see A Transition Step to an Autonomous Transport Future).
For smaller towns, such as Innisfil, Ontario (population 36,000), the upfront capital and operational expenses make a traditional transit approach cost-prohibitive. Innisfil, Ontario chose the route that Grush suggests and partnered with TNC Uber to provide a 24-hour, on-demand transit alternative. According to the CBC, 3,400 users completed 26,700 trips in the first eight months of the program. Innisfil reportedly spent $150,000 subsidizes rides, which compares favorably to the estimated $439,000 in upfront capital and $541,000 in operating costs had they chosen a traditional ownership approach.
To be able to serve their mobility goals in the most cost-efficient way, Grush advocates for a middleware layer, which they call Harmonize Mobility, that allows transit agencies to add and remove private entities to keep up with dynamic conditions (e.g. introduction of autonomous shuttles/robotaxis); an open approach that gives the consumer options, while maximizing the value from the public dollars spent on public transportation.
Bern Grush was a guest on Alain Kornhauser and Fred Fishkin’s most recent SmartDrivingCar podcast and his presentation from the SmartDrivingCar Summit is below: