The Federal Transit Administration (FTA)'s Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox program issued over $16 million of funding in 2016 to agencies across the country to implement innovative research and demonstration projects involving intelligent transportation system (ITS) deployments related to public transit that expanded mobility for travelers. The City of Palo Alto was one of these recipients, and launched a Fair Value Commuting (FVC) project that sought to reduce traffic congestion and increase uptake of commuting modes other than personal vehicles.
The FVC project, which consisted of a 10-member public/private consortium that included local cities and counties, transit agencies, nonprofit organizations, employers, and planning agencies, sought to incorporate a five-step framework: Enterprise Commute Trip Reduction (ECTR) Software, a commuter wallet with transit benefits, a cash-out that subsidized non-single-occupant-vehicle (SOV) travel, first- and last-mile gap-filling, and reduction of systemic obstacles such as equity and accessibility.
The FVC project delivered four city employer pilot demonstrations to explore the five different components. The project team found that a high-touch approach with tailored training materials and close cooperation with the pilot employers was successful in fostering flexible, responsive, and innovative deployments.
During the evaluation process, the project team developed a set of recommendations and best practices.
- Use direct incentives and commute benefits to encourage alternative trip-making. The FVC project found that employers were generally unlikely to give up parking benefits due to existing policies and common practice. However, modest investments in the form of direct incentives--$5,000 or less--per pilot site spread out over six months, proved effective at encouraging mode shift.
- Provide funding to get started. The FVC project found that even funding small amounts for sites to build and run their pilot programs acted as a catalyst to get partners to join on.
- Consider whether existing software solutions are sufficient to address project needs. The FVC project determined that they were not comprehensive enough to meet the range of MOD functions needed by commuters, for example because they did not include information on commute benefits. However, other deployments may have different needs and requirements. Engage in multi-sector partnerships. Though they are difficult to bring together, they are important to public policy, and the time spent building trust within the project team was considered worth the effort. Making a business case requires substantial adaptations in messaging, setup, and execution based on the needs and culture of different organizations.
- Consider a regional baseline parking charge. This may "level the playing field" for employers and provide a powerful tool to lower SOV commuting rates.
- Take the first step. The FVC project provides an example of how government and nonprofit employers can lead the way to invest in benefits for their own employees that are related to community goals.
- Procure big. Large-scale investment in software can reduce the effort and cost of procuring licenses and promote regional interoperability. Because it purchased large licenses, the FVC project was able to provide software for free to its partners, which removed multiple procurement obstacles.
- Consider micromobility solutions. A gap analysis performed by the project team underlined the potential of micromobility for connecting commuters to transit. However, accessibility solutions for those who are unable to use micromobility must continue to be a priority.