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Region needs 'mobility partnerships'

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In order for people to fully access jobs and contribute to the economy, mobility is key. Yet, in many parts of the Chicago area people do not have convenient access to transit service. 

Despite the Chicago area’s extensive public transit system – the RTA reported 635 million CTA, Metra and Pace trips in 2015 – ridership has been flat or declining in recent years. 

Transit use is greatly affected by its availability and reliability, and our public transit services don’t reach everyone. So, partnerships are needed.

A recent study, “Increasing Mobility Through Enhanced Transit Connectivity,” reviewed successful mobility partnerships in other cities and identified several practical ways to give more reliable, affordable and convenient travel options to people in areas that are underserved by transit. Among the recommendations:

  • Aggressively pursue development of an integrated app that enables users to plan, book, and pay for all types of trips. Adoption of Ventra electronic fare technology has been a major positive step, and public transit riders now have real-time data on the arrival of a train or bus. But it is just a start. We need to build on Ventra to fill the gaps in transit so people throughout Chicagoland can easily access and use the full range of train, bus and ridehailing services. A few firms are developing this technology and our transit agencies should adopt it.
  • Strengthen partnerships between public transit and private bus, taxi and ridesharing services. A recent study by the Shared Use Mobility Center suggests that ridesharing services can help fill transit service gaps – the so-called “last mile” challenge – and could actually increase transit use as more people become able to live without owning a car. In Florida and elsewhere, public transit agencies are partnering with transportation network companies (“TNCs”) like Uber, Lyft and Via for trips where bus service is impractical. Chicago transit agencies are exploring partnerships, and should work creatively with private transportation firms to make it easier for people to get around.
  • Make mobility more affordable. Public transit offers a good value where it is available, but travel can be expensive where transit is lacking. Cost is especially a barrier for people with limited incomes. A first step is to make the Ventra fare system more affordable by eliminating the 50 cent fee on paper tickets and modernizing the bulk ordering process for social service agencies. Another step to consider – subsidizing some TNC trips where public transit is scarce, as some agencies in Florida are doing. It could make it more affordable and cost agencies less than providing bus service in some areas.
  • Redefine transportation agencies as “mobility agencies.” Several separate agencies now divide up transit services in the region and focus on running their own trains and buses. They need to become “mobility agencies” cooperating to create convenient, connected and affordable mobility options for everyone. Mobility agencies would address shared goals like reducing car trips and traffic congestion. A task force of transportation leaders should craft the planning, funding, organizational and legislative changes needed to transcend current divisions and create a well-coordinated collection of mobility services that enables everyone to easily and affordably get around.

This is an exciting time of transportation innovation and technological change. New services are attracting customers and disrupting traditional transit, and autonomous vehicles stand to transform the way people own and use cars. It is especially important now for the RTA, CTA, Metra, Pace, IDOT, CMAP, and local and state leaders to work together to consider how best to find opportunities amidst all of the changes. Working together, we can enable everyone to have integrated, ubiquitous and affordable mobility options, and fully participate in building the region’s economy.


This guest blog post was authored by Jim LaBelle, a senior research specialist affiliated with the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago