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Pittsburgh Mobility Pilot Builds on Transportation Equity Goals

The Move PGH pilot project in Pittsburgh has provided some 1 million scooter trips, with about a third of those replacing a trip by car. The pilot uses "equity zones" to make these trips more accessible to all residents.

Kim Lucas, assistant director for the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure in Pittsburgh, addresses attendees of the Urbanism Next Conference April 28 in Portland, Ore.
Skip Descant/ Government Technology
“Does anybody here work for Transit app? Raise your hand. Anytime I meet someone from Transit app, I give them grief,” Kim Lucas, assistant director for the Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, remarked toward the end of her presentation about the Move PGH mobility-as-a-service experiment in Pittsburgh.

Lucas was addressing attendees of the Urbanism Next Conference on April 28 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

A centerpiece of Pittsburgh's two-year pilot project is its ability to bring together public- and private-sector transportation providers — public transit, shareable bikes, scooters and cars, as well as carpooling — into one integrated and affordable transportation ecosystem.

The Transit app serves as the overall technology platform integrating the city's public transit system with the city’s bike-share operations. Users can trip-plan and pay for both modes through this one app. However, e-scooters, operated by Spin, cannot be accessed via the Transit app — the source of Lucas’ grief with the popular mobility app.

“As we look at the future of the program, we’ll consider all options that are going to get us to the vision that we want. And that’s that it’s easy, and streamlined, and is going to get people out of their cars,” said Lucas.

Affordable and accessible transportation has become a policy goal at all levels of government, as officials concede it is essential to ensure access to jobs, health care, education and offers a path to upward mobility that lifts people from poverty. Transportation policy is reaching well beyond building more roads for more cars, but is about providing options. In Pittsburgh where some 20 percent of households do not have access to a car, the Move PGH program knew it would focus heavily on nonmotorized options.

“Equity zones” were drawn — areas where bikes or scooters operated at a 30 percent discount — against metrics like income, racial makeup and other criteria.

“We made it easy. You don’t have to sign up. You don’t have to qualify in some special way. Just by being there, you’re trip is 30 percent cheaper than if you started in a higher-income neighborhood next door,” said Lucas.

The program also includes an income-qualified component which provides an 80 percent discount on any of the mobility options serving Move PGH. Nearly 400 people are part of this discount program.

So far, nearly one million trips have been taken on about 1,000 scooters in Pittsburgh, with about 200,000 people signing up to use the Spin scooters. Based on survey data, more than a third of those million trips would have been taken in a car, were the scooters not available.

“So, 300,000 times someone didn’t take a car. That’s really important for safety,” said Lucas.

Efforts to expand transportation options, whether to meet equity or sustainability goals — or both — do not just happen, said Gabe Klein, who heads the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, which is managing the many projects funded by the federal infrastructure law.

“If you want Car-to-Go in your city, don’t charge $400 to $500 a month for the [parking] space. If you want scooters in your city, don’t charge an outlandish permit fee per year and expect that they are going to be there. Transportation is a utility. It gives people mobility. And it gives lower-income people upward mobility,” said Klein in some of his comments at the conference. “We’ve got to start thinking about that at the city level, and at the federal level, to be honest with you. What do we want? And how do we want to fund it? What are the social outcomes that we want?”

Move PGH is a pilot which city officials would like to see evolve into a more permanent fixture in Pittsburgh. That will require some action at the state level to allow e-scooters. The devices are allowed to only operate in Pittsburgh, and only as part of the pilot.

“Even if scooters as a form factor have to go away, Move PGH will still be here,” said Lucas. “We’ll still have transit. We’ll still have bike-share. We’ll still have car-share. And it’s still making sure that access to those services is as seamless as possible.

“It’s about having that menu of options,” she added. “It’s about enabling people to get around. It’s about making sure that the narrative isn’t controlled by people who have a limited perspective.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.