Chances are if you’re reading this, you or someone you know was affected directly by last Wednesday’s transportation nightmare in the D.C. area. Just months after being ranked the No. 1 transit system in the country, hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians were forced to find a new way to commute to work – be it via car, taxi, bike, bus or what have you – as an unprecedented 29-hour Metro shutdown ground the entire system to a halt. Many chose to telework or take off altogether. While it’s impossible to quantify, the loss in business productivity must be staggering. Imagine if this took place during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Fortunately, Metro has resumed normal service, but not before delivering a gut-check to those that rely on its services every day. The shutdown exposed flaws in the system and demonstrated a clear need for investing in our current infrastructure and supporting innovative and alternative modes of getting around, whether for everyday or emergency use. Merely maintaining our existing fixer-upper infrastructure isn’t likely to make the difference we seek. We need an all-of-the-above strategy.
To ease the literal gridlock on our roads, we need to look critically at all modes of transportation, including public transit and rail, as well as new and disruptive concepts such as ride-share and bike-share services.
We need to listen to voters, those clamoring for new solutions and sparking a transportation sea change with their life choices. And we need to emulate and encourage the cities and companies that have taken steps, collaboratively in some instances, to begin to meet that demand.
At the center of this new world of transit is an idea, two words, a mouthful: Multimodal transportation.
Some businesses in cities across the country are already doing this.
DART – the Dallas Area Rapid Transit authority – has partnered with ride-hailing company Uber to streamline commuting via its GoPass app. You can order an Uber ride and buy a train ticket all in one place, eliminating questions of how to get from point A to B if conventional transportation lacks flexibility — all through the convenient use of smartphones.
Advances in mobile technology are certainly driving innovation. GoogleMaps automatically updates with local transit information, helping you make an informed decision regarding whether you should hop on the train or a bus or hail a ride.
Carshare services like Zipcar and Car2Go stash their vehicles along public transit lines. Inside the Beltway, you can overlay a map of Zipcar’s inventory on a map and easily identify Metro stations by the concentrated clusters of cars.
With carshare on the scene, cities like Boston and Chicago have seen a significant uptick in public transit ridership, decreasing the number of private cars clogging the roads. Chicago in particular has embraced this, marrying the two modes with an all-in-one transit card that allows access to both Enterprise CarShare and the CTA.
Ride-hailing company Lyft has built an entire campaign around connecting you to transit systems, such as in Friends With Transit, with an eye toward filling the first mile/last mile void in your public transit itinerary.
Lyft rival Uber has taken ride-hailing to the next logical step by slashing its taxi-slaying rates still further with UberPool, a several-minute blind date that gets you to dinner 40 percent cheaper than the default UberX.
Americans are finding themselves, more than ever, engaging in multimodal transportation, even if they don’t know it. They’re walking to Metro stations, using ride-hailing services and arriving at airports in one smooth motion, dramatically changing the way we move about — and it’s never been easier.
So easy, in fact, that millions of Americans increasingly view car ownership as entirely optional; however, this is only possible with a robust transportation system. Convincing an increasingly mobile population to leave their cars at home takes significant coordination, but some of the country’s smartest cities, transit agencies and businesses are finding the benefits of that effort.
So, if you’re among the countless people frustrated by lengthy Metro delays or seemingly endless gridlock on our area’s roads, it’s in your – and all of ours – best interest to encourage development of some of these alternatives.
Fortunately, local organizations such as Voices for Public Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are helping our policymakers think about the next generation of transportation and the need for input from the community. If we can take any lesson from the gridlock on the roads and in Congress, it will take all of us to make a difference.
Michael Shue is a senior vice president and partner with DDC Public Affairs. He also serves as the global managing director for manufacturing and industrials for FleishmanHillard.