New Report Calls for More Consistent Policies for Mobile App Transportation and Taxi Services

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WASHINGTON – Innovative transportation services such as car sharing, bike sharing, and transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft are changing mobility for millions of people, yet regulation of these services often varies greatly across geographic areas and industry segments.  Policymakers and regulators should formulate consistent policies that encourage competition among new and traditional transportation services — such as taxis and limousines — in order to improve mobility, safety, and sustainability, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

California was the first state to establish statewide regulations for transportation network companies and as such UC researchers played a large role in the report. The report was authored by a diverse group of academics and practitioners, including Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. Taylor served as chair of the committee. Other notable members of the committee include Michael Manville, Cornell University and Jennifer Dill, Portland State University, both of whom are alumni of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The availability of on-demand transportation services through smartphone apps is increasing shared mobility. The growth in these services follows and amplifies a recent rebound in taxi and public transit use. As of June 2015, Uber provided more than 1 million rides daily worldwide, while Lyft operated in 60 U.S. cities with more than 100,000 drivers.

The rapidly expanding services provided by TNCs, however, raise policy and regulatory challenges with regard to passenger and driver security, public safety, insurance requirements, employment and labor issues, and accessibility and equity. Current regulation of taxis and other for-hire transportation varies considerably across and within jurisdictions, even when the services offered are similar. Most large cities with sizeable street-hail markets extensively regulate taxis, while smaller cities where dispatch service is the norm tend to have lighter regulation. This pattern raises public policy concerns when taxi regulation is more stringent than that of TNCs. Leveling the regulatory playing field requires a reassessment of existing regulations governing taxi, limousine, and TNC services to determine the minimum necessary to ensure quality service and allow effective competition.

“Smartphone applications and GPS data are making feasible transportation services that have never before been realized on a large scale, and these services have the potential to increase mobility while reducing congestion and emissions from surface transportation if regulated wisely to encourage concurrent ride sharing,” said Taylor, who is also a professor of urban planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. “A key hurdle for policymakers at all levels of government is to both promote and facilitate innovations that meet the public’s mobility needs while achieving greater policy consistency among these new services and between them and traditional taxi and limousine services.”

To address public safety concerns, regulations currently focus on background checks of drivers, vehicle inspections, and minimum standards for vehicle liability insurance. Procedures for driver background checks are based on common practice but their efficacy has not been rigorously evaluated; likewise, the safety benefits of viewing shared driver ratings and operator and vehicle images on mobile apps have not yet been well-documented. Therefore, regulators at the state and federal levels should evaluate these safety requirements for their effectiveness and cost, the report says.

Regulated taxis offer critical transportation for people with disabilities in many areas, and although TNCs have introduced pilot programs to provide such services, they do not currently provide wheelchair-accessible services on an extensive or reliable basis, the report says.  About 10 percent of the U.S. population has a physical limitation; 3.6 million people use a wheelchair and another 11.6 million use a cane, crutches, or a walker. A decline in taxi fleets due to the continued rapid rise in TNCs could decrease the availability of for-hire vehicles for a substantial number of these travelers unless the quantity of TNC services for those with disabilities expands.

Further, most shared mobility services require users to have a credit card on file with the provider and arrange the trip using a smartphone. However, roughly 8 percent of U.S. households lack bank accounts that allow them to have credit cards, and 50 percent of adults earning less than $30,000 and 73 percent of adults over age 65 do not own smartphones. The committee concluded that local officials should ensure that the mobility needs of low-income, older and disabled riders are met as these new services expand and evolve.

In addition, policymakers and regulators should examine the pros and cons of alternative employment classifications of both TNC and taxi drivers. While new mobility services offer expanded opportunities for flexible, part-time employment for students or those seeking transitional income between careers, TNC drivers and most taxi drivers are classified by their companies as independent contractors, which limits their access to benefits tied to employment. This lack of benefits raises policy issues concerning employer-provided health care, workers’ compensation for injuries, and vacation and sick leave for those for whom such work is their sole source of income.

Policymakers and regulators should also consider whether traditional for-hire and shared mobility services are best monitored and regulated at the state, regional, or local level on the basis of market and service characteristics and regulatory capabilities. In addition, transportation planning bodies should develop methods for incorporating shared mobility into transportation planning initiatives and promote collaboration between public- and private-sector transportation providers.

Other UC researchers contributing to the report were Susan Shaheen of UC Berkeley and Daniel Sperling of UC Davis. Sperling is chair of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), which initiated and funded the study.

The study was sponsored by the TRB, a program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit www.nationalacademies.org.

 

ITS Partners with Caltrans to Deliver California Transportation Planning Conference 200 attendees meet in Downtown Los Angeles to discuss the future of transportation planning in California

 

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The last time Caltrans hosted a statewide transportation planning conference, in 2008, transportation in California was very different. Fastforwarding a short seven years later, California is hosting the first cap-and-trade system in the U.S., all of the state’s regions have Sustainable Communities Strategies linking transportation and land use, and public health at the center of the conversation. These changes, among others, are what bring together over 200 transportation professionals to the 2015 California Transportation Planning Conference hosted in Downtown Los Angeles December 2 through 4.

The conference covers various topics. Wednesday begins with a discussion on how transportation planning must evolve in order to maintain an effective transportation system for everyone. Questions of funding and aging infrastructure are on the agenda, including a discussion of system preservation featuring speakers from the Federal Highway Administration, the City of Los Angeles, Southern California Association of Governments and Caltrans. A complete list of panels and topics can be found here.

“At the conference, transportation stakeholders and decision-makers will exchange ideas and learn about the latest developments in transportation planning from a national, state, and local perspective,” said UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) Associate Director Juan Matute. “We are grateful to have partnerships between research centers like UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies and state and local agencies. These are essential opportunities for knowledge transfer.”

Matute will be moderating the session titled “Planning for Accelerating Transportation Change” on Thursday morning. UCLA ITS Director Brian Taylor will present during the Friday morning panel about the future of transportation. Director Taylor is joined by LADOT General Manager and UCLA ITS advisory board member, Seleta Reynolds, as well as Daniel Witt, Manager at Tesla Motors and two notable consultants, Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson/Nygaard and Alan Clelland of Iteris.

UCLA ITS would like to thank the event co-presenters and sponsors: Caltrans, Southern California Association of Governments, Lyft, SoCalGas, Metro, Green Dot Transportation Solutions and Cambridge Systematics.

For live coverage of the event, follow tweets with the #2015ctpc hashtag.

 

 

Institute of Transportation Studies Contributes to New Sustainable Transport Program The Program for Sustainable Transport brings researchers together from more than 30 disciplines on six campuses to seed multi-disciplinary initiatives.

The University of California Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) Multi-campus Research Unit received a major grant to create a new Program for Sustainable Transport. The new program, supported by an initial 5-year award of $6.25 million from the UC Office of the President, was selected under the auspices of the Multi-campus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI.) Leveraging the substantial capabilities of ITS, The Program for Sustainable Transport designs tools, policies, and programs to reduce congestion, oil use, local air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, in ways that contribute to economic growth and social well being. The program focuses on three specific integrated activities: vehicles and fuels, infrastructure investment and system management, and land use and mobility planning.

The new Program for Sustainable Transport supports research, education, and outreach activities on six UC campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside, Santa Barbara, and UCLA. UCLA ITS director, Brian Taylor, and associate director, Allison Yoh, contributed to the creation of this program; Taylor will serve on the program’s executive committee.

The Program for Sustainable Transport brings researchers together from more than 30 disciplines on six campuses to seed multi-disciplinary initiatives, including collaborations between economists, geographers, ecologists, city and regional planners, public policy analysts, engineers from civil, environmental, electrical and mechanical engineering, computer scientists and experts in energy. In addition to cutting-edge research targeted at key societal needs and key state initiatives that are unfolding over the next few years, this new program supports the training of the next generation of experts and leaders. UCLA researchers in the Institute of Transportation Studies, which is housed in the School of Public Affairs, are slated to focus on infrastructure investment, system management, land use, and mobility planning in their work with the center.