Ride-hailing apps, dockless bikes and scooters and autonomous vehicles are here to stay. That’s the message Metro Deputy Director Margi Bradway delivered to a warm and boisterous crowd inside of the Lucky Labrador Beer Hall in Northwest Portland.
“We know we have to grow and evolve,” she said. “Emerging technology is going to continue to disrupt and continue to push us thinking about transportation differently.”
Rain poured down outside as Bradway spoke to about 100 people representing cities, counties, colleges and universities, community organizations, engineering firms, and mobility and technology companies.
Metro invited them to this gathering on Oct. 5 to launch a new program, Partnerships and Innovative Learning Opportunities in Transportation.
The PILOT program, set up as a one-time grant opportunity, is designed to help create partnerships among governments, community organizations and transportation technology companies.
The PILOT program is the brainchild of Metro’s Eliot Rose. Rose developed the agency’s emerging technology strategy, which studies how Metro and its partners could tap into new and ever-developing technologies to meet the goals of the Regional Transportation Plan.
Rose said successful grant projects could address the needs of people with disabilities who use share cars, or help parents who need access to transportation with car seats. The goal is to think differently about the communities who need more options.
Some people who live and work in the central core of Portland have a plethora of ways to get around: scooters, Uber and Lyft rides, and car- and bike-sharing programs from which to choose.
Rose said the people who most use these services are whiter, younger, and wealthier than average. Also, most of these services are clustered in areas that already have a wealth of transportation options.
“I challenge you to think about partnering with an organization that focuses on equity so you can think about how to reach underserved groups within the population,” Rose said.
View a full size of the infographic.
For some organizations, that means helping their communities connect to public transit.
How people start and end their trips on public transit can be a challenge. Many people have to walk a distance to get to their transit stops. For some, these “first and last mile" gaps are short enough to walk. But longer trips make the walk difficult or impossible.
The first and last mile issue is especially pressing for immigrant populations. Daphne Auza, a community organizer with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, said immigrants tend to be more dependent on transit. She pointed to barriers for getting driver’s licenses for immigrants who do not have authorized immigration statuses.
“I think that a lot of our community members, especially on the east side, they struggle a lot with mobility,” Auza said. “There definitely is a need for expanded transportation options and educating our communities… that are other innovative technologies out there.”
Jay Higgins, a transportation planner with the City of Gresham, echoed Auza’s interest in bringing more modes of transportation to the east county. He said bike-shares and scooters could fill the gaps for people when their jobs or homes are located far from transit lines.
But many people in the region face additional barriers to these services - people who don’t have bank accounts or smartphone data plans.
“We have a high percentage of folks who are unbanked and an additional number of folks who don't have access to Wi-Fi,” said Jess Faunt, a communications specialist with the community organization Verde. “Being able to use ride shares like bikes or electric vehicles become difficult when you don't have access to those technologies.”
Car-sharing companies share that concern for different reasons.
“If somebody is unbanked, my insurance company has a hard time wanting to insure a person that's not banked,” said Tim Navarrete, the marketing manager for the northwest division of Reach Now, a car-sharing service. “So how do we solve that problem?”
In addition to having better access to bike-shares and scooters, communities could benefit from shuttle services, Faunt said, to run errands, such as taking kids to school or going to the grocery store.
In Beaverton, there is preliminary interest in autonomous vehicle shuttle that would make rounds to the Beaverton transit center, the Millikan Way MAX station, and the old town and downtown areas.
This shuttle would help connect workers to transit, said Todd Juhasz, the city’s transportation manager.
“It would hit some of the high tech businesses in Beaverton to help some of their shift workers, especially in inclement weather, to get back and forth from the MAX station,” Juhasz said.
Tech can make it easier to give people discounts for transportation services, according to Steve Gutmann at Moovel. The company was one of the partners that developed TriMet’s Hop Fastpass, a virtual transit card and phone app.
Gutmann said apps could help streamline applying for reduced-fare benefits. He said people often have to submit proof of eligibility to receive income-based discounts. Groups and agencies offering these low-income programs, such as TriMet, could partner with a government body to push benefits to eligible people through their phones.
“Technology cannot be for technology's sake, it has to fulfill a community need,” Bradway said. “We here at Metro want to intentionally and purposefully embrace and empower community voices… to make sure that our emerging technology partners are meeting those community needs.”
Metro is accepting letters of interest for PILOT funding through Friday, Oct. 26.
Learn more about the PILOT program.