This week, civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics from around the country gathered in Chicago for the “Move Together” conference, hosted by the locally based think tank the Shared-Use Mobility Center. The organization was launched one year ago to brainstorm ways that bike-share, car-share, ride-share, and other new mobility tools can become a major force for increasing transportation access, fighting congestion, and improving air quality. On Monday, SUMC announced a new goal of taking one million cars off the road in the U.S. by scaling up shared mobility and transit in 15 regions, including ours.
“Chicago has historically been a hub for transportation innovation,” director Sharon Feigon told me. “We wanted to showcase the great things happening here and bring in innovators from across the country so they could see the potential of expanding here, too. At the same time, we also wanted to bring attention to the major issues that Chicago still faces regarding inequality in many of our communities, the difficulty of accessing jobs and how shared mobility can help meet these challenges.”
Feigon added that although Chicago has an extensive fixed-route transit system, travel patterns have changed over the years and there are service gaps to fill. “Shared mobility can help address these issues, reduce transportation costs and make it possible to live well without owning a car.”
During the panel “From the Trenches: What It Takes to Move Up,” reps from six different shared-mobility companies discussed how they were able to expand their business models to many different cities. Clayton Lane, board chair for SUMC moderated. One of the most interesting parts of the discussion was when Lane asked the panelists to talk about mistakes that their companies made that others could learn from.
Car2go, a one-way, point-to-point car rental service that exclusively uses two-seater Smart cars, was represented by business development manager Walter Rosenkranz. “With all start-ups, you go through growing pains and learn lessons,” he said. “Since we’re talking about scale, with a point-to-point system, you can’t really tiptoe into a market. You have to be able to provide services where people are and where they want to go.” He added that it’s necessary to offer enough vehicles within that area to make it convenient for customers to find them.
B-Cycle, a bike-share company partly owned by Trek, with systems in 29 U.S. cities and Santiago, Chile, was represented by company president Robert Burns. He said over the years he’s learned that strong support from politicians is key for setting up successful bike-share networks. “You need the mayor to say to the city workers, ‘This is coming, and I’m putting in, so give them the permits [for the stations].