RideScout and Toll Roads: Peanut Butter and Chocolate
Keep Our People Moving
This weekend, San Diego served as the scenic setting for The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association’s (IBTTA) eighth Summit on All-Electronic Tolling (AET), Managed Lanes & Interoperability—the perfect place to talk more about the importance of interoperability between traditional players in transportation, and new entrants like RideScout. I was honored when asked to be this year’s keynote innovation speaker, introducing new ideas coming from entrepreneurs in the private sector, specifically with regards to how we fit into the discussion. During previous meetings, members covered AET from operations, engineering, technology, and financing perspectives, and this weekend, IBTTA returned to discuss the results of those first meetings, and what changes still need to be made.
While hundreds of IBTTA members from more than 20 countries prepared for the summit, I was also thinking about the best way to explain how together we might address the critical infrastructure challenges our cities currently face.
An Imperfect System
Right now, our transportation infrastructure is fractured. We’re seeing too many single occupancy vehicles crowding traffic, adding to the waste and our over reliance on foreign fuel. Approximately 76% of cars on our roads have only one person in them. We’re seeing this inefficiency occur in some cities where public transportation doesn’t meet commuters’ needs, but also because commuters simply don’t know what the alternatives are to driving. It’s really amazing, like I told the audience, there are few places in America’s 6000 miles of Toll Roads that have traffic jams. All too often most American’s try to avoid a Toll Road.
It’s a shame our transportation ecosystem is not up to speed, but it impacts people in ways we don’t always think about. In today’s world, just to get a job people are often asked, “Do you have a reliable source of transportation?” Those without cars may not be considered if they answer, “no.” So are there any alternatives to driving alone? Well yes actually, and that’s where RideScout’s integrated platform comes in. We want to make sure people know what their options are so we can work together to be our traffic solution. Because when I refer to people, I don’t just mean “the people,” rather “our people:” RideScout, IBTTA, and our communities working together. Transportation is a shared community experience. The leaders in the IBTTA world know this, and have a shared responsibility to work with everyone in the transportation ecosystem; it’s a fight to keep our people moving. And with new innovation such as RideScout, Carma, and TNC’s such as Lyft and Sidecar, it’s transitioning into a new kind of discussion. There is hope for reduced congestion and improved quality of life as car ownership is dropping, highways are becoming smarter through automated electronic tolling and people are becoming more aware of their options.
So, why had I come to speak with Toll Agencies in what appears to be such a car-centric environment? First, the automobile will be here for decades. To improve our transportation ecosystem we have to account for the automobile and road traffic. Just as important, I wanted to tell them that managed lanes are the next step towards more efficient transportation, and the evolution of the toll industry. It is with improved precision that we are better able to manage, measure, and ultimately charge appropriately for the operation and maintenance of our roadways. In an ideal world, people only pay for what they use and we find better ways to spread costs that serve as a public good for all. Imagine a day when you are paying fractional amount for every foot you travel—- and only for what you use.
The Connection Between Tolling & RideScout
When we’re talking about keeping our people moving, slowing down traffic to collect the toll fee is the enemy. That’s what made the creation of the E-ZPass so revolutionary. With it, you could drive from Maine to North Carolina, and out to Illinois, all with the same account and often without stopping and holding up traffic. Similar to what E-ZPass did for our tolls, RideScout is doing the same for our entire ecosystem across transit, ride-for-hire, carshare, bikeshare and parking. We’re creating a seamless experience without different forms of payment where in real-time you can find different transportation options and see how much they cost.
The tolling industry in many ways represents what a public and private partnership should be. Years ago tolls were created by private companies who built the roads and then worked with the driver to pay for their maintenance. But in the U.S. we’ve gotten away from that concept, because we’ve spent so many tax dollars to build open interstates, freeways, highways, etc., and people don’t really appreciate what it costs to do maintenance on those roads and bridges. The same methodology applies for all modes of transportation—we’ve lost our way and it’s time to get back on course.
We’re bringing tolling together with RideScout in the app. When you look at the driving experience, we’re only capturing the 56 cents per mile for the route that you take, we’re not accurately reflecting the tolls and parking that are on there. So, what we envision going forward, is a combination where we have not only a completely transparent pricing system, but where we work with municipalities to do a more efficient dynamic tolling, preventing congestion by regulating the number of cars on the roads and helping prevent other problems.
All that is required of us, we the people, is to leave work a little earlier or later to connect with alternative modes of transportation versus giving-in to the illusion of convenience of driving your car. Because when you think about it, sitting in traffic for over an hour a day will cost you more time than that walk to the bus-stop will. I brought up the idea of Managed Lanes last December in The Democratization of Transportation where I showed how Enrique Pentalosa, the previous mayor of Bogota, Columbia, has already proposed the kind of city development plan that would create separate lanes for cars, buses, and bikes. I live in Austin, where they are realizing the cost and time savings this plan creates, the city has already begun creation of managed bus and bike lanes.
A Vision for the Future
Ultimately, it is our goal with RideScout to show people the fully burdened costs of their decisions—and not just the price of their “tolls” and parking, but instead what a trip means in terms of the trade-off between time, and money. When people learn to better value their time, then their decisions and behaviors begin to shift, as well.
This fall, RideScout wants to partner with companies like Carma, an app connecting people in Austin, D.C., and San Francisco to people with similar commutes. In Austin the government is doing an experiment with the toll where they will offset the fee for people using Carma to carpool, because what you’re doing when you carpool is you’re taking cars off the road. RideScout wants to connect you with services like Carma, Carpooling.com, and Spaceship app, so when you wake up in the morning you will see options of transit, friends, and another way to keep moving.
As I mentioned earlier, transportation is a shared experience, so in order to improve our mobility we need to support many innovations in conjunction with RideScout to improve our daily experience. That could be reducing the need for new infrastructure, greater use of connected vehicle cars, someday soon connected vehicles talking to each other and talking to the road, and someday the the autonomous vehicle. Imagine the possibilities of creating these: we can not only keep people moving, but increase efficiencies through better use of existing infrastructure.
Together we can move more quickly into the future of transportation.
You can get there from here: adding choice back into transportation
The tech shuttle debate in San Francisco is controversial and inspires strong feelings on both sides. We think it also sheds light on the lack of real choice for the average urban traveler, and leads to a flawed debate on the universally “right” way to get somewhere. At RideScout we believe that journeymaking is fundamentally personal, and our work reflects this: RideScout helps you figure out your best options for travel, right now, where you are.
Here at RideScout we like to keep our ears to the ground on transportation challenges around the country, and in particular we’ve been keeping tabs on the tech shuttle debate in San Francisco. The private shuttle services provided by major tech firms like Google and Yahoo to get their employees to and from San Francisco and far-flung suburban campuses, are coming into conflict with anti-gentrification campaigners and activists who decry the impact of well-paid tech workers on rents and the character of their neighborhoods. In turn, some operators defiantly post signs reading “this bus gets 120 cars off the road”, and others try to assuage the critics by providing donations to city services.
At root there’s a sensitive bundle of issues around affordability and diversity that we’re not qualified to adjudicate, but we do note how the debate tends to inspires comparisons of tech shuttles to other modes: driving alone, taking commuter rail, hitching a ride in a carpool, to pick a few. Most of these comparisons address the generic commuter, and assume that time savings and marginal costs are all that matters. On these terms alone, the best that our current transportation system can (usually) offer for reaching the Googleplex is driving alone. A casual observer of Highway 101 at 8.30 am will see this confirmed by commuter choice, and by this measure Google and Yahoo and the other tech firms are simply trying to replicate as closely as possible the single occupancy vehicle experience (with wifi, and more comfortable seats).
Yet there’s clearly more to all this. Caltrain is experiencing its highest ridership in 150 years, there are no seats to be found and precious little standing room at peak times, and bikes are being turned away from their otherwise large and spacious bike-only cars. Bay Area Bikeshare is expanding up and down the Peninsula. But there’s still the assumption by many that these are travelers denied their natural instinct to drive alone by congestion, cost or some other involuntary restriction.
We prefer to be agnostic about what is “naturally” the right choice, except to say that we believe most people just want the best journey according to their unique personal needs: these might include saving time, or minimizing cost, or reducing impact on the environment, or being able to get work done en route, but not necessarily uniquely, or in that order, and rarely in equal measure. Through this lens, the rush hour traffic on Caltrain will - for some - be the next best alternative to driving; for others, it’s less stressful, cheaper in the long run and allows them to get some work done. Likewise, rush hour traffic on 101 will be a choice for some, but for many it will be for lack of real choice or only faint awareness of the alternatives.
So for us, one aspect of the tech shuttle debate is to distill the fundamental challenge in modern urban mobility: how can we help people find the best transportation option, for them?
That’s why we built RideScout: our app breaks away from old, tired binary decision making - to drive or not to drive - and focuses on delivering what the system can provide you, right now, where you are. We want to infuse genuine choice back into our urban transportation system. To RideScout, the problem isn’t whether the shuttle, or driving alone, or taking Caltrain, is fundamentally the right way to get to Mountain View or Palo Alto or Menlo Park. We prefer instead to grapple with the issues around conveying complex routing information, reconciling schedules, and helping arrange bookings and payments, so that travelers can stitch together different travel modes into one seamless journey without really thinking about it. They should be able to use RideScout to select the best mix of modes that matches their particular needs.
For a few, that’s always going to be driving alone. Maybe they’ve got to drop a child off at school on the way; maybe they just like driving. That’s OK: we’ll help them figure out the real cost of their trip, and help them map a route. For some, it’s going to be a shuttle ride: maybe there’s a stop near their apartment. That’s OK too: RideScout integrates as many private and public services as possible. But for increasing numbers of other travelers, the best option might be biking down to the Caltrain terminus and riding a Bullet train to Mountain View; or carsharing with colleagues; or taking a rapid transit bus down El Camino Real. Here’s where RideScout really shines, because these trips are often delicate balancing acts where schedules have to be aligned, resources located, and tickets procured, and RideScout automagically removes that burden.
How does all this look in practice? Let’s set the RideScout engine to work and see, keeping things simple with a one-seat ride. For a trip from 4th and King in San Francisco, down to the Google Campus in Mountain View, here’s some options at precisely 2.27 pm (but it could be another time, and you could start from anywhere):
If it’s time and cost you care about, then drive your own car (but get going - it’s nearly rush hour). No car, don’t fancy driving yourself, and cost is no object? Try a taxi, through Flywheel or Sidecar. Don’t own a car but like to drive? Then there’s Zipcar. If you’d like to catch up on some work and watch the world go by, try Caltrain. Bear in mind these are only the options for a single-seat ride. If you like biking, or don’t mind taking a bus to a different transit terminal, the choices grow dramatically.
So, for the takeaway: there is no “perfect” commute to Mountain View, Sunnyvale or anywhere else. Driving alone is not necessarily better than taking a tech shuttle or biking to the Caltrain: it depends on who you ask and what they need. Ultimately, there is only what makes sense for you, right here, right now - as long as you’re actually empowered to choose and have options to choose from. So if there’s any deep transportation lesson to be extracted from the contentious tech shuttle debate, it’s that travelers need choice, and our current urban transportation systems do a poor job of enabling that. Here at RideScout we recognize we don’t hold all the cards: we can’t build new transit systems, or regulate tech shuttles, or add HOV lanes to highways (yet!). But we can help people understand their options and make better choices, and we think that’s powerful stuff.
RideScout Survey: Spend 5 Minutes & Enter to Win an iPad Mini
RideScout is moving fast—expanding into dozens of new cities and adding new product features. As we continue to grow, we want to know more about you, the transportations apps you use, and new features you’d like to see in RideScout.
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Deal Alert: $15 off your Hailo ride
RideScout Expands to 69 Cities on 6/9
The summer of 1969 was a time of great change.
Forty-five years ago, we perfected a whole new form of travel by walking on the moon. We also traveled together to one of the most historic music festivals of all time–Woodstock. But, today, I’m eager to usher in a new era. One of better transportation for all.
Welcome to the summer of 69…cities that is. Today, RideScout expanded app coverage to dozens of cities across the United States to Canada.
From Portland to Calgary, Detroit to New York City, now millions of people will be able to use RideScout for their summer travel. RideScout now brings together 337 transportation services in North America, enabling 186 million people to discover more ride options and explore dozens of cities.
Please check out RideScout’s blog for more details —> http://bit.ly/1rZeDEa.
RideScout’s Summer of 69 Cities—use the app across North America!
Here is how I would navigate the issue w/ Austin Taxis, @Lyft, @Uber, @Sidecar
On Thursday, 29 May, the peer-to-peer ride service, Lyft, will begin operations in Austin, Texas. The only hang-up is that Austin City Council has not yet ruled in favor of allowing this new category of ride-for-hire service. Lyft, along with Sidecar and UberX, are changing the transportation landscape all across the United States.
To celebrate the move into Austin, Lyft is hosting a launch party on Rainey Street Friday night. Though many Austinites are heralding the event, city officials are saying they will arrest people and impound vehicles of those found to be operating as a taxi without a license (that is code for the drivers who might receive more than the maximum allowable 56 cents per mile without a city authorized Taxi license).
As the CEO and Co-Founder of RideScout, living right here in Austin, I’ve been asked which side I come down on. And to the surprise perhaps of many, I tend to agree with both sides—- because the inevitable solution is somewhere in between. I think that Lyft, Sidecar and UberX can be a good thing for Austin but require smart regulations along with more transparency and dialogue may be necessary to make sure we get it right for each community. We’ve positioned RideScout to help cities make more efficient and effective use of their transportation, to help riders find the ride that best meets their preferences and circumstances, and to help ride providers reach their customers where and when they need them most; on the curb. I am certain that this issue will be resolved— neither side can ignore the increasing demand for new, innovative transit solutions. When it is resolved in Austin, we look forward to adding Sidecar, Lyft and UberX as options for all the citizens of Austin. Until then, here is my 2 cents for many of those concerned about Friday’s Lyft launch party:
1- Lyft Supporters: Go to the party and show your support for Lyft and innovation in transportation. Let your voice be heard among city leadership and tell them that Austin does not have enough transportation options to meet the needs of the whole community.
2- Austin Police: Show up and enforce the law if you must, but, most importantly, protect people and make sure they have a safe ride home.
3- Taxi Drivers: Show up and make sure you are there to take people home from the Lyft party. There will be more people in need of a ride from Rainey street than the Lyft drivers can supply on the first night.
4- City Government Officials: Go to the party and listen to the concerns of all involved— the Lyft supporters and the Taxi drivers. There is a common ground to make sure all are legal, insured and licensed.
5- Taxi Company Owners: Show up to support your drivers and then pledge to allow them to use nationally known e-hail Apps such as Hailo and Flywheel. Those apps allow your drivers to pick up more riders, especially from visitors, who are already well versed in the convenience of a nationally known, cashless, in-app payment, on-demand e-hail service.
The people of Austin need more and better transportation options. I encourage TNC’s and the city to work together to find a solution that provides great service and keeps people out of harm’s way.
Most of all, don’t get arrested. With a huge party like this tomorrow night, there is always a concern of drinking and driving…so don’t. Leave your car at home. Additionally, Austin police might be arresting or impounding vehicles. Don’t put yourself at risk if you don’t want to.
As an alternative to the old way of getting around, let me suggest using RideScout to get to Rainey street for the party. Here are all your options in RideScout: