High Tech’s Higher Purpose January 15, 2024

How digital innovations are breaking barriers and opening space

Most of us are familiar with map apps, bike-share programs, and ride-share hailing, but the potential for digital mobility technology to reshape the way we navigate and design our cities and communities is much broader, the ramifications more profound.

To get a glimpse of what’s coming just over the horizon, we profiled four emerging mobility technologies and how they’re being used in cities around the world. What we discovered was their potential to not only enhance transit, parking, and micro-mobility, but also—and, somewhat counterintuitively—to shrink the digital divide for people without access to smartphones.

01. Subsidized Ride-sharing

In California, transit agencies are subsidizing ride-shares within specified geographical areas—a practice known as geofencing. These programs give agencies the ability to expand transit options, move people from stations to their doorsteps, and get people out of their cars without investing in large-scale infrastructure. In the city of Monrovia, northeast of Los Angeles, riders can hail a four-person Lyft to anywhere in town, or to the nearby Gold Line Metro Station, for only three dollars. The program is open to residents as well as visitors; once in the Lyft app, all you have to do is enter a promo code available on the GoMonrovia website. It’s also available to riders who don’t have smartphones through Lyft’s concierge service, where rides can be booked by email.

The popularity of the Monrovia program inspired the Livermore Admore Valley Transit Authority to launch a similar initiative called Go Tri Valley. It pays half the fare, up to $5 for all Uber and Lyft rides that begin and end in the Bay Area cities of Livermore, Dublin, and Pleasanton. The geofenced area includes two Bay Area Rapid Transit subway stations and three Altamont Corridor Express commuter rail stations, giving people affordable access to mass transit options that can connect them to the wider region.

The successes of these programs show that suburban residents will forgo using their cars when the transit solution is designed to reflect their local needs and concerns, reacting to the resident’s schedules and not the other way around.

"It’s about building a mobility network that makes it easy to access from any location,” says Beep CEO Joe Moye, who notes that, unlike other forms of public transit, autonomous shuttles cover the final stretch of a person’s commute—from the station to their doorsteps. 
Joe Moye. Beep CEO
02. Autonomous Shuttles

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority and mobility tech company Beep have teamed up to pilot driverless electric shuttles on Treasure Island, which stands at the midpoint of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Master planned to emphasize an active transportation, reduced car environment, the testing of these autonomous shuttles has begun along a pre-programmed, 3D-mapped route that follows a 2.3-mile loop starting at the ferry dock and passing through the community’s commercial area to the residential zones. As an added layer of passenger and passerby safety, a human attendant will be on board at all times, too. If the pilot is successful, the route will eventually be extended through a planned community of 8,000 new homes on the island. Already, the promise of autonomous shuttles is influencing the design of this development, helping to limit cars and reduce parking spaces in the community and making more room for parks, bike lanes, and walkable streets.

Beep has deployed similar systems in nine locations throughout the U.S., including on college and corporate campuses and for transit agencies.

03. Enhanced E-Bike Share

E-bike share programs have been around since 2017, but the very technology that enables them has put this micro-mobility solution out of reach for many people. To address this problem while expanding transit options generally, four towns—all in New York’s Hudson Valley—are in the process of implementing Project MOVER, an equitable and affordable e-bike share project. The project will be piloted in the Village of Ossining, and will expand to the Town of Ossining, Croton-on-Hudson, and Dobbs Ferry soon after.

The project will provide 1,000 e-bikes and charging infrastructure—plus locks and helmets—to transform the region’s transportation landscape. It will be particularly impactful for the region’s underserved populations, which includes the working class, immigrant families, low-income housing residents, and the formerly incarcerated. Project MOVER eliminates typical barriers like the need to own a smartphone or a credit card by providing options like the e-bike share (meant for short-term rentals), plus a long-term rental option (called an e-bike library), and a lease-to-own program with flexible payment options.

Project MOVER was awarded $7 million through the $85 million New York Clean Transportation Prizes, a program administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The project engages the community to align with their needs and can be easily replicated in other towns and regions.

“Nobody likes parking. If we can create more convenience and add more space for other uses that will add value to the community.”
Mariana Eichel, Bosch Project Manager
04. Automated Valet Parking

Global technology and service provider The Bosch Group’s Automated Valet Parking (AVP) technology could have significant ripple effects on the urban realm. Via AVP, the entire process of car drop-off and pickup is done by activating a phone app that connects the car with Bosch’s system in the garage. Cameras located throughout the structure recognize empty parking spaces and navigate the vehicle while avoiding obstacles. Tap the app again and the entire process reverses with the car returning to right where you left it.

Bosch has already implemented the AVP system in the Mercedes-Benz Museum parking garage in Stuttgart, Germany, as well as at the Stuttgart Airport, and is planning on expanding the system worldwide. Besides the obvious benefits for drivers, like convenience and safety, the technology can also help shrink the footprints of garages, where cars can be much more tightly packed, or even moved offsite after drivers drop them off. The ability to disengage parking from a building can reduce costs and improve efficiency. And the extra space this will free up in cities could lead to more generous buildings, more lively neighborhoods, better open spaces, and more affordable housing.