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FTA to Fund State, Local Mobility-on-Demand Projects for Transit

Far from acting as competition for public transit, on-demand mobility has the potential to help connect more people with vehicles such as buses and trains. The Federal Transit Administration is looking to fund demonstrations of that concept.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) plans on beginning a process in the next week to give millions of dollars in funding to state and local transportation agencies to launch mobility-on-demand demonstration projects.

Leslie Rogers, administrator of FTA Region IX, announced in mid-April at the Redefining Mobility Summit in Concord, Calif., that the administration is planning to offer money to groups to help integrate the concept of on-demand mobility into their transit schemes. The move, he said, signals a shift in public transportation from a fear of companies like Uber to a desire to work with them.

“Not only the taxi industry, but transit was also feeling the heat,” Rogers said during the conference. “Would people stop hopping on a bus when they could just press their finger for an app and have a vehicle appear? And the success of these startups, not to mention car sharing and bike sharing, had transit observers wondering if we would soon see the death of public transportation. So one could be forgiven for being surprised when about six weeks ago, the CEO of the American Public Transportation Association … announced that, ‘Together with companies like Lyft and Uber, we are integral to creating a dynamic, multi-modal lifestyle.’”

The program will be called the Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox. At the summit, Rogers said that $2 million will be available through the program, while the FTA’s website lists the funding level at $8 million. An FTA spokesperson declined to identify which number was correct.

Rogers said the administration will be specifically looking for projects where a lead agency has at least one partner involved — be they from the public sector, private sector or a research institution.

“The purpose of the program is to demonstrate and to evaluate innovative approaches to mobility-on-demand solutions within a public transportation framework,” Rogers said during the conference. “The program is intended to be a demonstration program that provides a platform where integrated MOD concepts and solutions are supported and demonstrated through … partnerships in a real-world setting. We hope that the projects we track through this initiative will be replicable in other communities throughout the country.”

He said several local transportation agencies have been working on such concepts in recent years. In St. Petersburg, Fla., one agency has been subsidizing ridesharing trips that take passengers to transit stations.

The concept has also found footing in Kansas City, Mo., which has partnered with Ford and Bridj to offer an on-demand shuttle. Finalists in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge have proposed self-driving shuttles that could help carry passengers in places such as downtown corridors and airports.

Others have found different models.

“The Dallas Area Rapid Transit system has incorporated ridesharing into its mobile ticketing app, and I think even here, most recently the MTC in the Bay Area has partnered with Lyft in the Lyft carpool to do pretty much same for travel down on the Peninsula," Rogers said. "And there in Dallas, a passenger checking schedules for the train can now click through to Uber, Lyft or even Zipcar to ultimately get to the station."

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.