The Need for Choice in Transportation


The Need for Choice in Transportation

With very few exceptions, access to transportation is essential as most cities in the U.S. require some type of travel mode to access work, school, food and entertainment options. The socioeconomic status of a very diverse population requires options, and a more diverse transport system is more efficient and equitable, allowing travelers to choose the best option for each trip being made. In addition, customers are now demanding choice. Not all trips are the same, and not all trip takers have the same needs or abilities.

For the past 30 years, city planners have designed cities around the car. Over the past decade, concerns for the environment, pedestrian safety, and the viability and competitiveness among cities looking to attract economic development and retain or grow populations has led city planners to reconsider zoning practices. There are new definitions for best practices to create what is often referred to as “livable communities”. 

These practices highlight the need for mixed-use developments, which provide residential and commercial amenities in a mixed setting. The new focus designs the developments around specific transportation modes which include walking, biking, and mass transportation, but is often attempting to minimize personal vehicle use. Few communities have entirely gotten rid of the automobile, but a growing trend is to make driving (and parking) less accessible and therefore more difficult. 

Not only is choice increasingly important to best accommodate all types of journeys being made, but also a variety of price points and multiple types of payment methods are increasingly expected. Understanding that personal vehicle ownership, while still the predominant method of transportation, is not attainable for all, continuing to increase lower cost options such as mass transit, car, bike or scooter share, and even maintaining safe and walkable streets for those that have the ability and desire to utilize, are equally important. Consumers are demanding flexibility and options. 

One-size-fits-all is no longer accepted. There are new options for work, dining, shopping and learning. There is no longer a norm. Work and education can often be accomplished at home as well in the office/classroom, or even in a hybrid setting. Transportation options must adapt to accommodate the changing needs. 

Fee structures are also adapting. While it used to be commonplace to purchase monthly or annual permits for transit or parking, it is becoming necessary to offer daily or weekly permits to accommodate changing needs. Trends are moving towards choice even when it comes to how people pay for their flexible services. 

Take parking fees for example, an increasing number of entities are offering cash payments for permits in office, credit card payment for long term parking via web access, options to pay for services at physical hardware equipment, and even more recently, offering choice to the consumer of what mobile app they use and offering more than one. It is rare to find an entity these days that only allows for one type of payment or length of time to be used.

While there are different views and interpretations around climate change and sustainable practices, we have yet to meet anyone that does not agree that clean air and a healthy planet are valued to sustain ourselves and our families. There is also no doubt that cars and pedestrians do not get along well; however, moving to extremes and making it difficult to drive and/or find parking for someone still reliant on their automobile does not always result in incentivizing someone to mode-shift. It often just makes people angry. 

Compounding the problem is that people do not always make rational decisions. A study published in Transport Policy found that people will often choose to drive even when it is not in their best interest. So in the interest of providing options, and therefore choice, does that mean working to do away with what proves to be the most used method of transportation, the choice that most people use given the means and accessibility to do so? It does not, it simply means providing alternative means, making other transport methods accessible, while not taking away a choice that has been around for decades and may be an essential option for some customers.

Some media messages are also confusing. On one hand, the rhetoric sounds like cars will be eliminated in the very near future. Articles talk about the “war on drivers”, “traffic calming”, and “car free” communities (which, in most cases, are located on a physical island or are only small segments of a larger city).

 On the other hand, in the rush to provide smart livable cities, the focus (and money) is centered on the idealistic autonomous vehicle, which may indeed become an important piece of the transportation system in the future, but is still far from actuality. And interestingly, the reliance on autonomous vehicles seems to run counter to the concept of other modes as a primary and takes car dependency as a given. 

Successfully tackling congestion and making it possible for people to move easily and comfortably from place-to-place is not about pitting cars (and roads) against mass transport, micro transit, bicycles, or other modes of travel. Zero-sum thinking will entrench current stresses, not transcend them. A majority of city infrastructure clearly emphasizes which modes of travel are valued — and which are not. 

Funding for mass transit has declined steadily and is generally limited to capital projects rather than operations. Data provided by the Federal Highway Administration for 2019 notes that 93 percent of households in the U.S. have at least one vehicle at their disposal, which means that 7 percent percent do not. 

Technological advancements overlaid with the global pandemic have heightened the importance of personalized, on-demand information which helps commuters understand the best option for their own personal need. Choice coupled with convenience is no longer an enhancement – it is an expectation. 

Sarah Blouch is the CEO of CampusPark at The Ohio State University. Carmen Donnell is VP of Sales, North America, for PayByPhone. They are members of The Temecula Parking Group.

Article contributed by:
Sarah Blouch and Carmen Donnell
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