Quote By: Shane Farthing, Director of Economic and Community Development, Martinsburg, West Virginia
Shane Farthing is an urbanist working to create great cities and towns while protecting rural and natural places. He has previously led the Research-into- Practice Team at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, where he also served as Senior Director of Transportation Programs; taught in the graduate program in public policy at The George Washington University; led and advised community organizations focus on community advocacy, safety, and programs; and served in economic development and sustainability roles in local government in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and West Virginia.
The coming year is likely to bring the beginning of corporate-backed multimodalism. We can see a broad movement of companies interested in mobility— from the car manufacturing giants like Ford and GM to the TCOs like Uber and Lyft to the technology firms like Apple and Google—starting to vertically integrate a variety of modes. Uber started with its black cars. Now it's using your neighbor's car. And it has added ebikes. Lyft has electric scooters. Ford has bikeshare fleets. Several of these companies are exploring flexible-route van or bus systems. And they are all looking to make whatever mode maximally automated and, perhaps, shared.
Ultimately, each company wants to provide consumers with a suite of options to meet their needs within a single platform. Just like Apple wants you to use the iPhone on the go, the iPad for light computing tasks, and the Mac for heavier computing: each of these corporations wants you to have an in-brand option for short, medium, and long trips in areas of high, medium, and low density. (And they hope you'll delete all the apps of their competitors.)
To be successful in this changing environment, local government leaders need to protect public health and public space. First and foremost, protect human safety. Remember that while all this multi-modalism is good in that it will almost certainly increase spatial efficiency over a system dominated by single occupancy vehicles, people should have a fundamental right to walk or bike safely without paying fare to a corporation. Cities must be designed to allow for human-scale mobility, and corporations must be regulated to respect that. Additionally, cities must understand that their space is a coveted and valuable commodity to these corporations—especially the curbside space, where every trip begins and ends. As deep-pocketed corporations compete for access to customers on your roads and sidewalks, public space takes on an economic value that was difficult to monetize in the past. As the economics change, local leaders should be good stewards of this space and its value. A space that holds one car that moves one person could hold twelve scooters that move twenty people, or half a bus that moves dozens. As opportunities unfold, we can improve mobility and increase spatial efficiency on our streets. But we need to ensure it's done safely and responsibly, and that people's fundamental safety and autonomy of movement is respected and not sold.
Visit the Transportation topic area on the ICMA website for information and resources.