Planning for Shared Mobility: What cities can do now

Share mobility has the potential to reduce VMT and increase access and mobility for those lacking it, while reducing costs and their need to own cars.  Local governments can directly support shared mobility in their communities in many ways.  These are a few (Shaheen & Cohen, 2016).


Governments and public agencies can support shared mobility by providing marketing and administrative assistance. For example, municipalities can engage in joint marketing campaigns with shared mobility operators and ensure that programs have visibility on public agency websites and in newsletters, outreach materials, and press releases. They can also serve as partners by becoming business customers of shared mobility services. The US General Services Administration, for example, which manages one of the largest federal government vehicle fleets, announced in the fall of 2014 that it was beginning a one-year pilot program to replace its fleet vehicles with Enterprise CarShare in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC (Government Fleet 2014). Additionally, public agencies can support shared mobility providers, particularly nonprofits and startups, by offering administrative help, such as free or reduced-cost office space.


Grants and low-interest or interest-free loans from local municipalities and agencies to operators are another way to support shared mobility. These funds can provide the seed money for capital expenditures that may be unavailable through the private sector. This funding can also be used to finance feasibility studies and pilot programs. For example, $18 million in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program funds and $3 million in municipal funds were leveraged to launch the first phase of Chicago’s bikesharing program, Divvy (Chicago n.d.).


Another way public agencies can support shared mobility is through risk-sharing partnerships. Using the “subtraction model,” a shared mobility operator values the monthly operational cost of providing a service at a particular location and then subtracts the monthly revenue. If there is a shortfall, they can bill the partner. Under this model, the risk-sharing partner only pays the cost needed to maintain service availability.  This can also be a strategy to encourage service in new locations (e.g., low-income or lower-density areas) that may not otherwise be economically feasible for a shared mobility operator. For example, Montgomery County in Maryland launched a one-year carsharing pilot program with WeCar (now Enterprise CarShare) using a risk-sharing model. Under the pilot program, the county provided $1,100 per month in guaranteed revenue for 20 to 30 vehicles placed on county property (Suderman 2009).


Planning departments can implement policies aimed at easing zoning regulations and reducing parking minimums for the inclusion of shared mobility in new developments.  Some examples include parking reductions, parking substitutions, increased floor-to-area ratios, a greater number of dwelling units permitted per acre, and increased building heights. In other cases, shared mobility may be used as a mitigation measure by developers to ameliorate
concerns about neighborhood parking and traffic related to proposed development projects. For example, in Denver, private developer Avanti proposed a development
made up of eight shipping containers where local chefs and restaurateurs could test food concepts without the risk involved in opening their own establishments. The project was permitted to proceed through a partnership with BCycle to build a 30-dock on-site bikesharing station (Hendee 2015).


Access to public rights-of-way helps support shared mobility. This could include access to on-street parking for carsharing, curb or street space for bikesharing kiosks, and designated loading zones for shuttles and ridesourcing/transportation network company drivers. Access benefits to the rights-of-way are enhanced when they are offered for free or below market costs. Today the vast majority of carsharing and bikesharing operators have access to on-street parking, and many bikesharing kiosks are located on public land. While access to rights-of-way for ridesourcing companies may be more limited, a growing number of airport authorities are permitting their operations at airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC.


For numerous shared modes, particularly bikesharing and carsharing, local governments and public agencies can encourage startup operations in their communities by issuing requests for proposals (RFPs). In April 2016, for example,
the City of New Orleans issued an RFP for the private operation and financing of a comprehensive bikesharing system (New Orleans 2016). In many cases, an RFP process
allows public entities to be active advocates and partners of shared mobility, providing the agencies the ability to negotiate and regulate areas such as parking and institute
requirements for operations (e.g., requirements that shared mobility operators provide travel behavior data to local governments). Key elements that may be included in
an RFP process include the following:

  • Location: Identify the focus of shared mobility services, such as a redevelopment district or low-income community, by municipalities.
  • Accessibility compliance: Require that shared mobility operators provide equipment compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, such as vehicles
    with hand controls.
  • Maintenance: Request that operators take responsibility for maintaining shared mobility facilities and equipment, such as graffiti and snow removal and the relocation of equipment to allow street cleaning.
  • Public involvement: Ensure that shared mobility operators solicit public feedback before locating services at particular sites.
  • Reporting and evaluation: Require shared mobility operators to report data and/or calculate impacts on a quarterly, annual, or other time-interval basis.

When evaluating RFPs, public entities may want to consider the following evaluation criteria: economic and long-term program viability; history of successful implementation; emerging innovations not present in the marketplace; cost to
the public entity and users; locations of proposed services; environmental
impacts of proposed services; ADA compliance; services for special-needs populations (e.g., low-income, linguistically isolated, and elderly users); business model (e.g., for-profit, nonprofit, benefit corporation); and minority-, female-, or veteran-owned business status of providers.


Incorporating shared mobility into plans and planning processes at all levels can aid in understanding the current and future impacts of shared mobility on communities and allow local communities to leverage the positive impacts of shared mobility. The incorporation of shared mobility allows communities to establish a longer-term vision for shared mobility’s role in urban design, planning, and policy-making efforts.  For example, San Diego’s general plan identifies numerous transportation policies that support shared mobility, alternative modes and, more broadly, transportation demand management (TDM). Some of the policies specified in San Diego’s mobility element include the following (San Diego 2008 ME-37, ME-44):

ME-E.6. Require new developments to have site designations and on-site amenities that support alternative modes of transportation. Emphasize pedestrian and bicycle-friendly design, accessibility to transit, and provision of amenities that are supportive and conducive to implementing TDM strategies such as car sharing vehicles and
parking spaces, bike lockers, preferred rideshare parking, showers and lockers, on-site food service, and child care, where appropriate.

ME-G.2. Implement innovative and up-to-date parking regulations that address the vehicular and bicycle parking needs generated by development.

Adjust parking rates for development projects to take into consideration access to existing and funded transit with a base mid-day service frequency of ten to fifteen minutes, affordable housing parking needs, shared parking opportunities for mixed-use development, provision of on-site carsharing vehicles and parking spaces, and implementation of TDM plans.


Public policy can have a notable influence on the success or failure of shared mobility and other emerging transportation innovations. Public entities, based on their policy stance, can be instrumental in supporting or stifling innovation, improving
public safety, or adopting a more laissez-faire approach. Local municipalities can provide a supportive policy environment for shared mobility by minimizing regulation, addressing key areas of public safety concern, defining shared modes, and providing clarity to policy ambiguities.  Through public policy, public entities can help ensure
that shared mobility provides a range of social and environmental benefits by (1) developing equitable public policies that enhance accessibility, (2) encouraging competition and modal choice, (3) supporting multimodality, and (4) ensuring
fairness among operators and modes. Understanding the impacts of shared mobility can aid planners in achieving short and longer-term goals and policies by guiding transportation and development decisions. Planners and policy makers will also want to think ahead to policy issues that will emerge related to innovative on-demand ride services and automated vehicles, such as parking and insurance.


Shared mobility is an innovative transportation strategy that is continually evolving and reshaping urban mobility. Over the past 20 years, shared mobility services have continued to grow in the United States and around the world. Numerous studies have documented its environmental, social, and transportation-related impacts, such as the reduction in vehicle use, vehicle ownership, and miles traveled through roundtrip carsharing and bikesharing. Shared mobility has the potential to help planners and policy makers achieve greenhouse gas reductions, air quality mandates, and climate action goals. However, more study is needed to verify impacts based on mode and temporal and spatial scales.

Shared mobility has the potential to support multimodality, improve first-and-last mile access, and enhance mobility for populations with specific needs or barriers (e.g., zero-car households, disabled individuals, older adults, and children). As technology and service models continue to evolve, shared mobility modes could have a transformative impact on transportation access and options.

How planners manage rights-of-way will remain a topic of conversation. Over the past decade, a trend that has emerged is the growing need for access to parking and curb space. Planners and policy makers will have to develop policies that fairly manage demands for access to rights-of-way (e.g., automobile parking; parking for private shuttles, taxis, paratransit, microtransit, and carsharing; public transportation; ridesourcing; loading zones; bikesharing; bicycle infrastructure).

What is also clear is that urban transportation is on the verge of rapid transformation. The convergence of mobility services, shared modes, electrification, and automation will undoubtedly transform how people travel, how streets are designed, and the ways in which urban land uses are planned and zoned. The impacts of emerging technologies on auto ownership, parking, and travel behavior remain to be seen. However, as these technologies come online, planners and policy makers will need to rethink traditional notions of access, mobility, and auto mobility.

  • Planners may have to reconsider parking minimums and consider replacing existing parking with infill development and affordable housing.
  • Planners may be able to repurpose on-street parking for other uses (such as wider curbs, bicycle lanes, and loading zones for shared automated vehicles).

What is clear is that these innovative technologies will likely have a disruptive impact on traditional planning norms and urban form. Thoughtful planning, continued research, and a keen understanding of shared mobility’s impacts and role in the transportation landscape will be critical in order to balance public goals with commercial interests and to harness and maximize the social and environmental benefits of these developments.