Through new shared services state and local agencies and orgs can chip away at mobility needs and services, even in low-income, rural areas

Mayor Rey Leon of Huron California had the following point to add to shared mobility principles…
Shared Mobility Principle 11. WE SUPPORT COMMUNITY COST-EFFECTIVE INDIGENOUS MODELS OF VOLUNTEER-BASED TRANSPORT AND NOT A COLONIAL APPROACH OF IMPOSING A CAR-SHARING SERVICE WITH A FOCUS ON PROFITS. Rural communities in the Central California farmworker communities have been ride-sharing before it was sexy. Due to lack of resources they have never been able to scale up their services up until recently. The Green Raiteros, a program of The LEAP Institute, aims to do just that. Under the leadership of native Valley leader Rey León, who grew up in Huron, where the service of ‘raiteros’, a volunteer ride-share service, is particularly pronounced, is growing the model with the volunteer drivers and families. “it has been evolving organically and more like a cooperative. We hope we can bolster this model with those true shared community wealth ideals because we see transportation as a utility, not a luxury, but a necessary service that must exist to allow humans to have self determination to advance themselves with ability to maintain their relationships across landscapes to sustain social cohesion, to access opportunities such as education, workforce development, trainings, employment AND CERTAINLY, TO ACCESS QUALITY HEALTH CARE IN A TIMELY FASHION.”

More on what Green Raiteros has accomplished:

UC Davis researchers found that a 45-minute commute by car gave Central Valley workers access to nearly 90 times more blue-collar, health, retail, and service jobs than a 45-minute commute by bus. Ninety times! How do people get by? They collaborate. Last year, Eddy Reyes, one our fellows at LEAP, worked with scholars at UC Merced and UC Davis to survey 28 farmworkers in Huron, Hanford, and Fresno to learn how much money they spend on their cars. He discovered that half of them carpool to work—or to put it another way, they leverage their social capital for economic mobility. In this survey, Reyes uncovered an entire informal transportation system that is virtually invisible to outsiders and policymakers in Sacramento. One feature of this system is the raiteros—retired farmworkers who have the trust and respect of people in Huron and provide informal transportation to get people to hospitals, courts, and other critical appointments in Fresno for a cheap rate. – Caroline Rodier’s 2017 report

2020: A Before and After Evaluation of Shared Mobility Projects in the San Joaquin Valley, Rodier et al:

In rural areas, cost-effective transit service is challenging to provide due to greater distances, lower population densities, and longer travel times than in cities. Rural transit agencies often struggle to meet farebox recovery ratios. Per-trip costs, particularly for dial-a-ride services, can range from $50 to $100. The people who rely on public transit contend with infrequent and slow service. Access to a personal car is essential to the quality of life for most residents, from work to health care, education, healthy food, and other basic services. However, keeping two (or sometimes even one) car in reliable working order can consume a significant share of the household budget for low-income families.

New technology services may offer cost-effective and cleaner mobility options for residents of rural communities.

In the spring of 2018, California cap and trade revenues and local matching funds supported a set of pilot projects to provide affordable transportation options for residents of rural disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley:

EV Carsharing The first project is a battery electric vehicle (BEV) carsharing and ridesharing program. This pilot infrastructure for 24 BEVs, initially located in affordable housing complexes and, later in other strategic locations in three disadvantaged rural communities of Tulare and Kern counties. The goal is to provide a financially viable model of a low-cost, carbon-neutral alternative to private auto ownership and auto travel in rural communities.

Volunteer Ride-Hailing: The second project is a volunteer-ride hailing service that serves people in rural disadvantaged communities around Lathrop, Manteca, Escalon, and Riverbank who cannot get to essential destinations by available transit services or need access to a transit stop. The volunteer ride-hailing service uses a back-office system and a driver-routing application specifically designed to facilitate pooling of customer trips and lower operating costs for volunteer transportation organizations.

MaaS Application: The third project introduces mobility-as-a-service to San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. This project creates a smartphone application that aggregates the demand and supply of available services (i.e., transit, dial-a-ride, volunteer ride-hailing) to improve cost-effective mobility choices for all.

In this project, both stated and measured data will be used to evaluate the EV carsharing program, volunteer ride-hailing program and the MaaS application. The data will be collected via before and after surveys, trip surveys, and service use data. An anonymous identifier will link survey responses and service use data. The pilots will launch at the end of March 2019 and project funding for the evaluation will end March 30, 2020. This project, “A Before and After Evaluation of Shared Mobility Projects in the San Joaquin Valley,” will collect data up until the end of the currently funded evaluation periods to conduct a full pilot evaluation that integrates all stated and observed data using statistical methods to understand the following effects of the program on:

  • Change vehicle ownership (shed, deferred, postponed),
  • Change in the use of personal vehicles,
  • Change in frequency and use of mode, and
  • Unmet travel demand (transit, destinations, purpose).

By looking at pilot programs across the country that seek to increase mobility options for low-income residents in rural areas, the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis worked to understand if these programs were feasible for more widespread adoption.

BY RYAN MCCAULEY / JULY 5, 2017 Government Tech


DAVIS, Calif. — While new mobility options have proliferated rapidly, their effects have not spread evenly across the country. And at a recent workshop called Pooling and Pricing: Harnessing the 3 Revolutions to Solve Congestion, Climate Change, and Social Equity, officials discussed how to further shift toward shared mobility.

Though transportation networking companies (TNC) like Lyft and Uber have entered more than 500 regions across the United States — providing significantly more flexibility for travelers, commuters and students alike — these new transportation models, “typically work well in efficient, dense corridors,” said senior researcher Caroline Rodier, of the Future Mobility Initiative at the University of California, Davis. “However in rural areas, transit distances are long and densities are low.”

In a study on the “opportunities for shared use mobility services in rural disadvantaged areas,” she and her team found that while the ridesourcing model may never be as widespread and self-sufficient as ridehailing in urban cores, there is potential to reduce transit costs and reinvest the savings in shared mobility. TNCs often will not go into these communities on their own and would look for public partners to share some of the risk. For those looking to contract with ridesharing companies, they ought to think about how they can motivate drivers and change the traditional fare structure to be more beneficial.

The study was funded by a Caltrans’ Sustainable Communities Grant and conducted in California’s San Joaquin Valley, a largely agricultural region that covers vast swaths of central California. While the valley largely consists of low-population regions, it is unique in that more populated cities are also within its boundaries, including Fresno with its population of roughly 500,000, Stockton with a population of 290,000, and Modesto at population 200,000. The population used for the study, however, was drawn from census tracts that fit the rural and disadvantaged descriptions.

Suffering from low wages, painstaking manual labor and some of the worst air quality in the nation, residents often need reliable transportation to hospitals, but can’t afford personally owning vehicles.

“Transit service is expensive and all too often infrequent, and hard to access by walking,” said Rodier. Other options include “dial-a-ride” services which must be booked in advance and can be too expensive for residents.

By looking at several pilots conducted elsewhere in the country that either serve low-income users or provide services during non-peak hours, Rodier studied the applicability of four options for shared-use mobility options:

  • Ridesourcing — summoning a vehicle for a single passenger ride. E.g., Uber, Lyft, Via
  • Ridesplitting — getting paired with a fellow passenger with a similar destination. E.g., Lyftline, Uberpool, Waze Carpool
  • Carsharing — short-term personal vehicle rental. E.g., Zipcar, Enterprise CarShare
  • Split carsharing — two or more people sharing a rental car.

In order to understand where opportunities lie, Rodier looked across the country to understand the feasibility of these new mobility programs. One initiative that began a year ago looked at how to serve riders when demand is low. A partnership between Florida’s Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Uber and a local taxi company began providing subsidized late-night rides for low-income users between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., when buses aren’t available. The service expanded to include “Direct Connect,” a service that allowed all passengers catch an Uber or taxi ride for just $1 to the bus stop, for the first or last mile of a trip.

“This is what the future of transportation in Pinellas County looks like,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller in a release. “It’s multimodal, high-tech, and on-demand.”

Lessons for other areas with low ridership demand can be drawn from the PTSA public-private partnership. By specifying specific needs and providing public support for more transit options for rural areas, ridesourcing can work. Simply put, “traditional fare models don’t work,” in disadvantaged and rural areas, Rodier explained, but changing payment structures and incentives provide more leverage.

Another sometimes viable option is building out carsharing networks. In Needles, Calif., a partnership between the regional Victor Valley Transit Authority (VVTA) and Enterprise has shown that carsharing in rural areas is possible. The program offers micro-rentals as brief as one or two hours for licensed drivers ages 21 or older. To keep the program affordable and allow as many people access as possible, VVTA is offsetting other costs, like the usual membership fee and not requiring users to return vehicles with a full tank of gas.

One strategy that has been used by the Denver Housing Authority and Boulder Housing Partners has been to build carsharing stations around public housing complexes. By placing the vehicles in easy-to-access locations for lower-income residents, the programs should be viable option for trips to hospital appointments, grocery shopping or job interviews. Sacramento, Calif., also launched a similar program funded by the city, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

While introducing new mobility options is possible within the San Joaquin Valley and other low-income rural regions, partnerships between municipal agencies is often necessary to entice both companies and drivers to the area. For agencies looking to improve services for residents, Rodier suggests to first aim for the “low-hanging fruit.”

Start out with improving transit to town centers and build out from there. She also advises conducting a thorough analysis of what transit services are already operating and look at the suite of options available. There is not a one-size-fits-all service that can be introduced to solve mobility challenges. But through new shared services, municipalities can begin chipping away at the greater problem.

Ryan McCauley

Ryan McCauley Former Staff Writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication’s editorial assistant.