Busting Myths, Recognizing Opportunity
By Driving Futures
Last week’s SXSW Eco conference in Austin had one overriding message – change for the greater good. And amidst the sessions on water conservation, agriculture, clean tech, climate change and social impact, that message certainly came through loud and clear in our panel on urban mobility.
I joined a respected academic researcher, a peer-to-peer car sharing crusader and a well-known automotive reporter for a panel discussion on Urban Myths and Urban Mobility. The room was packed. The conversation was direct and provocative. And my takeaway from that conversation was this: We in the transportation industry have a big opportunity to leverage our disparate areas of expertise to make the world better by helping people get to work, school, home and play in the most environmentally and economically efficient ways possible.
Getaround’s Padden Murphy offered one of my favorite quotes of the session:
“One of the myths about urban mobility is that there can be one magic solution. Each option has its benefits and weaknesses. The way we need to look at them is as a portfolio of options for people that complement each other. And we need to be providing those options in the suburbs as well as major, complicated cities like Beijing and Bangalore – otherwise we aren’t applying the environmental research that’s been done and the technology that’s been developed in a way that will truly put a dent in the universe.”
I couldn’t agree more. At Enterprise, we strive to be a total transportation solution for our customers by providing our own range of options such as carsharing, ridesharing, car rental, car sales, fleet management and truck rental in locations around the world. But there are also public transportation solutions – buses, trains, subways – that are just as vital to our communities. Together, public transport, startups and established transport companies alike need to do a better job of supporting the needs of all. And the “portfolio” approach to transportation is how we’ll do that.
University of California-Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center Co-Director Susan Shaheen shared her latest research that indicates there are now 1.6 million North American car-sharing members, 24,000 car-sharing vehicles and 44 operators. The growth rate for the industry in just the past 12 months was 41 percentage points. Clearly, carsharing is one solution in the portfolio that is resonating with drivers.
But there are others. The rise of brands such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar – services Shaheen defines as ridesourcing – has captured considerable public interest. Shaheen noted, however, that in many cases innovation is getting ahead of regulation. She said, “Ridesourcing is one of the most disruptive forces in transportation in years. And cities are struggling with how best to respond. There is no best-practices model.”
We talked extensively about regulation. It’s vital to ensuring both public safety and fair business practices. But, it struggles to keep up with the pace of change. The possibilities for emerging transportation solutions will be limitless when regulators can focus on safety and fairness while allowing businesses to innovate and thrive.
Our audience – a mix of urban planners, students, transportation executives and other community change makers – challenged us with smart, thoughtful questions. For example, how can mid-size cities such as Austin best utilize available mobility options to reduce traffic congestion? And how can carsharing and similar technologies make transportation options more accessible in low income neighborhoods? These types of inquiries further reinforce the potential good we can do by simply helping people get from A to B. That’s the opportunity. And our team is up for the challenge.
We’ll explore more aspects of urban mobility on this blog in the near future. Stay tuned to learn more.
– Ryan Johnson is Vice President, Enterprise CarShare, Rideshare and Zimride