S2E2: The promise of private, on-demand transportation mobility, with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley
Guests: Susan Shaheen, Ph.D., UCB civil and environmental engineer and professor; Wesley Darling, student researcher; Clarissa Cabansagan, former director of programs at TransForm
Host: Amanda Cairo, Director of Communications at the Institute of Transporation Studies, Berkeley
USF Host: Wayne Garcia
Producers: Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia: [00:00:00] Welcome to a special episode of Out of My Lane. I'm your host, Wayne Garcia. We're featuring an episode from our partners at the University of California Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies, one of five universities that comprise the National Institute for Congestion Reduction. The topic is transportation, network companies, or TNCs. These non-governmental businesses provide on-demand transportation mobility that can add to public transit and personal vehicles. TNCs have the potential to provide more mobility equity. Enjoy this episode from UC Berkeley.
Amanda Cairo: Hello and welcome to the National Institute of [00:01:00] Congestion Reduction podcast. The research discussed in this episode is part of the National Center for Congestion Reduction funded by the United States Department of Transportation through the University Transportation Center program. Learn more about the program www.nicr.usf.edu.
Today, we are featuring researchers from the University of California Berkeley's Institute of Transportation. ITS Berkeley develops leading edge innovations, influencing movement of people and goods, and advancing sustainability, economic health, and quality of life. It also serves at the nucleus for multi-disciplinary transportation research, student engagement and outreach at UC Berkeley. [00:02:00] We welcome civil and environmental engineer professor Susan Shaheen and doctoral student, Wesley Darling and Clarissa Cabansagan, director of Programs at Transform in Oakland, California. I'm your Berkeley host, Amanda Cairo. This episode will be talking about how transportation network companies are changing the way people travel by providing on demand mobility that can supplement public transit.
Professor Shaheen's project formulating innovative mobility policies to reduce congestion, explores opportunities and barriers to the widespread adoption of pooling, as well as potential challenges more users could create. We'll start with Clarissa introducing us to Transform and their work.
Clarrissa Cabansagan: So transform is [00:03:00] a nonprofit we work in policy advocacy in both the transportation and housing spaces at that climate, that nexus of both climate and equity. A lot of our work over the past, 20 years has been making sure that there is transportation resources, especially for alternative, modes of transportation like transit biking and walking.
And over the past, I would say decade or so, we've been honing in on, on transportation equity or mobility justice work and this is partially because we're starting to see the industry actually moved towards recognizing that a lot of our funding is dedicated to, and we'll likely get into this later, a lot of our funding is dedicated to the nine to five commute. And so as a, a woman of color who comes from an immigrant community, a [00:04:00] lot of what I studied in planning often was absent of the experience of my people. And so a lot of us at Transform who come from disadvantaged communities and represent,communities of color are often trying to insert ourselves in the process and the stories of , our families, our friends who are often left out of the data. So a lot of what I do has been to uncover that disconnect with how we plan and how we resource, all of the various transportation alternatives and yet figure out ways to center the needs of black and brown residents in the process and to ensure that they lead when it comes to determining community success, when we're trying to get folks to think about climate change as well as, move away from solo driving.
Amanda Cairo: [00:05:00] Today we're going to talk a little bit about how transportation network companies are changing the way people travel by providing dynamic on demand mobility that can supplement public transit and personal use vehicles. So the study explores current opportunities and barriers to the widespread adoption of pooling, as well as the potential challenges that an increase in pooling could create for stakeholders and users in those pooled to mobility services. As a result of expert interviews with key pooling stakeholders, like transform,potential policy changes and actionable strategies that can be implemented to increase the use of pooling while mitigating future challenges to pooling as it continues to grow as a transportation option were identified. First off, we talk a lot about pooling. So how do you guys define pooling in [00:06:00] terms of this study and talk a little bit about the direct versus indirect?
Susan Shaheen: So in this study, we talk about pooling, which is what I would call concurrent sharing. So not sequential sharing. So one ride after another inside a vehicle, but a ride that is actually shared, most likely by strangers.
And we, focus on a couple different subtleties as we, we work through this project. , one is. defining heavy users,and contrast to more occasional users. And what you'll find in this study is that there are differences in terms of their behaviors. So heavy users use it, , more than three times a week, and occasional users not as much.
And so that's a really important distinction when we're looking at the user base. And then Amanda, you asked me about direct and indirect. So a direct [00:07:00] pooled or TNC trip that isn't shared is one in which you go from point A to point B, whatever your point A to point B is. And an indirect pooled ride functions more like the classic taxi stand where you collectively go to a location to reduce in inefficiencies of picking people up and wait in that location for a pickup.
So that's an indirect, TNC trip or pool, TNC trip.
Clarrissa Cabansagan: So, let's talk a little bit about the project. How did you identify this as an important area that needed more explanation?
Susan Shaheen: So this project came out of another project that I led for the state of California. And what we did is we looked in four cities at why people pool and why people don't [00:08:00] pool.
And we did that in four locations throughout California, in which pooling options were available through companies like Lyft and Uber. And what we discovered was that there were differences, distinct differences between heavy users and occasional users. And from that is where we started to come up with sort of this bifurcation in the population.
But something else that we discovered, which was really interesting, is that people, for example, in the Bay Area were more likely to link a TNC trip to public transit, and they were more likely to be willing to walk to pool. But in other locations like Sacramento, we saw less of a desire to walk to pool and also less linkages to public transit. So I started to think about, "Wow, I wonder how much of this might have to do with the [00:09:00] built environment and methodologically what would be the right tool and approach to do a study that really looks at the role of the built environment?" And so that's where we came up with this idea to apply the photo voice method, which allows us to have users take photographs from their individual viewpoints and perspectives and share them with us as a way of, of really taking us into their world when they're about to take a, a TNC trip or a pool TNC trip, and how they're perceiving the built environment.
Amanda Cairo: And Wesley, how did you jump in into this research?
Wesley Darling: Yeah, that's a good question…so I guess I didn't necessarily know what I was signing up for, but when I was applying to, the master's program at UC Berkeley, [00:10:00] I knew I wanted to work with Susan. I was familiar with her research and I've been very interested in shared mobility and especially, transportation network companies, and so I would say that was more of the dominant factor was I knew I wanted to work with Susan. And this was the project thatsort of developed out of that. But I found the project to be a great experience and has really kind of provided a lot of like background for me moving forward as a researcher in the transportation network company space. Just because prior to this, I really knew nothing. I still only know a little bit, but that little bit I've learned through this experience.
Amanda Cairo: And Clarissa, so you were brought in as a community partner for this project. What was your initial [00:11:00] reaction when someone was researching this area?
Clarrissa Cabansagan:So, I'm always trying to see what Susan's up to. She's usually at the cutting edge of examining the things, the questions that I've also thought of as we're in the community. So, generally speaking, Transforms very fascinated by the transportation network company phenomena. Mostly be from the bent of, how do TNCs help reduce auto ownership? Two of the facts that I love to say are thatone of the first things a low income household goes and purchases after obtaining steady income is the automobile. That's about, , AAA says that's almost $10,000 a year for an extremely low income family in the Bay Area that's a big chunk of [00:12:00] change that we're expecting and people, people do. Our systems are set up subsidizing the automobile. And yet as TNCs came online a few years ago, we started seeing even extremely low-income folks pop into an Uber and a Lyft. And it was in stark contrast to a lot of what the media portrayal of TNCs was, which is only for affluent techies trying to get to bars and restaurants, right?
So we started investigating this a few years ago, from our community engagement side of the shop. And so I was particularly interested in this because we know that low-income folks, because of their limited incomes, will likely pool. So I wanted to see, I understand how they pool from a car, a personal car perspective, but how do they pool, how do they decide when [00:13:00] to pool or not in the TNC environment. And just to give you a sense of what we're looking at in affordable housing complexes throughout the Bay Area, we’re working on a mobility hubs project with our regional agency and a number of these housing developers. And when we go and ask the residents “What mobility options do you want?”, giving them what we're contracted do, which is the EV car share, they're saying, “Actually we want credit on transit on our Clipper cards. We want cash on our Clipper cards and we want credit discounted or free credit on Uber and Lyft.” So that's already telling of folks, seeing the combo of the two in order to say, "Actually, I don't need that car, or I could delay the purchase of the, that car or the second vehicle." So really digging into what role do TNCs play for,families of [00:14:00] limited incomes to say no to the automobile and then like, , live those car-free car light lifestyles that they may not have access to because they're quickly being displaced from transit rich areas. So just in general, we're curious, well, what does that look like? As Susan mentioned in places like Sacramento versus Oakland where you have likely more transit, how do we encourage what we see that's going on in their urban areas where people can say, " what, I'm gonna keep that 10k feed my family, pay for the necessary things." And yet, we don't see that ability so much in places like, , the further reaches of our region. So hope that helps round out why Transform who works in a disadvantaged communities and is interested in knowing from the rider perspective, , how they make their choices.[00:15:00]
Amanda Cairo: Thank you. Let's talk a little bit more about the structure of the study. And Susan, you had mentioned photo, the photo voice method, and getting the user's perspective from their point of view.
Susan Shaheen: Yeah. This is a new method for us and I think Wesley and I and the rest of the team really enjoyed working with it. Wesley did a lot of work because we were in a COVID research environment of developing an instructional video to help people understand how they needed to go out and take these photos.
Because the original method and the original proposal, which was pre COVID, would've had me and Wesley walking around with these groups of participants while they took their photos and talked to us live about what they were doing. So we had to convert this method and between [00:16:00] March of 2021 and May, we recruited 15 TNC users.
So those are people who are already using it to participate in this study who live in the San Francisco Bay area. And each of the participants visited TNC pickup locations that they chose and took a minimum of five photographs of the built environment and features that stood out to them at each location. Then they came back to us through some Zoom sessions with small groups and told us about why they had selected these locations and featured these photos. And what we found through these small group discussions was a lot of reflection on commonalities and differences. And from this, the research was really speaking to us, and, and I'll let Wesley talk to you [00:17:00] about some of the things that spoke out to us as we, we heard these stories and looked at these photographs.
Wesley Darling: We found people had a lot of preferences related to the built environment. People preferred waiting in areas that were well lit. They preferred waiting in areas that had wide sidewalk and where there were people around, but not so many people that it would either be difficult to find the pooled ride or that someone could, , grab phone or something like that.
But also, they didn't like waiting in areas where there was no one around. I think one thing that really jumped out to us was people really liked waiting either in or near retail areas or areas that sort of, mimic retail areas. And so what I mean by that, so when you're waiting in a store, some people, for example, took [00:18:00] pictures of like a CVS or a Whole Foods or something like that.
And I think some of the key features about these retail locations were there's shelter, there's lighting, there's people around, there's sometimes security personnel. There's also a very clearly defined landmark for thepooled TNC driver to identify. I think that really jumped out to us as people that are taking pooled rides, doesn't necessarily have to beretail, but something that kind of captures some of those features in that experience, that's what people really preferred. As opposed to, , waiting on the side of like a dark highway or something like that.which someone did send in a picture of... and no one, in the discussion group wanted to wait there because the, , there's no lighting or anything like that.
I think some of the key, gender differences that [00:19:00] we noticed were… we noticed male users generally had I guess fewer preferences related to built environment. Their preferences were mostly, they wanted to wait in a location where they knew their phone wouldn't get stolen. So this is where they didn't wanna wait in locations where there were a ton of people around where someone could maybe grab their phone or something like that.
But really outside of having a place where they could look at their phone, they didn't have a whole lot of preferences. The female users, we noticed had a lot more preferences and took a lot more precautions with identifying waiting locations and choosing whether to select. That direct pooled trip or the indirect, again, the direct is the sort of door to door, where the indirect is more of a corner to corner. The TNC user would walk [00:20:00] to a location female users were less interested in taking the indirect mode, particularly at night or neighborhoods that they were less familiar with. They often preferred waiting, selecting the direct option or waiting in retail areas, or they took additional precautions, many of which involved. I guess having a male involved. So like a male friend or a partner or something like that waiting with them at the pickup location until they got in the Uber or waiting near like a security personnel or something like that.
And we really didn't see that with the male TNC users. And I think that's like a really important difference moving forward that that needs to be addressed. To kind of make pooling available to everybody and so everybody feels safe [00:21:00] using pooling.
Amanda Cairo: So safe safety and security seemed like a really big issue, but it was just how different people defined safety and security then.
Wesley Darling: Yes.
Susan Shaheen: I was just gonna add that I think personal safety is one of the top reasons why TNC users may not decide to pool, in addition to those increased travel times and wait times. So what we took away from this is safety is very important and there's appears to be pretty strong gender differences in terms of comfort waiting for it, waiting for that ride to come particularly between the, the female identifying and male identifying users. So another, finding that I think is really interesting and relates to something Clarissa said that I'd love to follow up on was [00:22:00] in terms of the study, we also investigated the role of incentives. And Clarissa talked about the importance of incentives for, underserved populations that she's particularly interested in.
And this research revealed that TNC users were incentivized to make decisions based on cost and time savings and their trip purposes, which makes a lot of sense. So, for example, riders often selected pooled services as the more affordable but potentially longer modal option for urgent trip needs. And so what we think is really important is, to also examine in the application of an incentive is whether or not this user is a heavy TNC user versus a more occasional one.
What we found was that the heavy TNC users preferred indirect and multimodal discounts, Clarissa, [00:23:00] because those options minimize their per trip costs, while the more occasional TNC users preferred discounts to take direct pool trips. So they were less interested in those indirect taxi stand type trips.
They wanted that point A to point B. So I think there's a lot of overlap in the incentive policy findings, Clarissa, with some of your research that you're doing.
Amanda Cairo: Okay, so we've identified incentives and we've identified safety as two of the factors that impacted a user's decision to pool. Are there any other big findings that you found that would affect a user?
Susan Shaheen: I'll jump in on that. So another motivation this research was to look at the first mile, last mile connection. And what we found was that [00:24:00] users that did not use TNCs to connect to public transit, mostly chose not to do this because it was easier to stay in one mode for the entire trip, which I think is a really interesting finding.
It's pretty intuitive, but that once you get into one vehicle, going from one vehicle to the next is less desirable because of those time penalties. And I think what's really interesting is talking about how to reduce those transfer times, how to make it more seamless, and this is this whole area that many of us refer to as mobility as a service or mobility on demand.
And essentially using a platform on a mobile device, which can have equity considerations, right? Because not everybody has access to that. But to try to simplify the connectivity between modes and make it seamless and apply those, [00:25:00] discounts along the, the, the way. So if you pooled in the TNC, get a discount if you take public transit to connect to a TNC, get a discount. So adding up and applying those incentives as you go. So those were some other, I think, really important findings, but I think we have some work to do if we really want to deliver on this first mile, last mile connection to public transit. And I think we have to work on this guys because transit is having a hard time coming back from COVID.
Amanda Cairo: So Clarissa, did, did any of the findings surprise you or were you figuring that was about what you were going to find?
Clarrissa Cabansagan: It wasn't surprising. I think as someone who was more invited to observe what folks were saying, I was more interested in this different type of research that I would [00:26:00] say a lot of times when I'm thinking about user experience and the TNC or micro mobility environment, I like to see the other, the parallel to transit I would transit ought to be doing or is not doing.
So when Susan mentions those pain points between transfers, it's one of the main reasons why people decide not to take transit. So looking, digging into some of the research that Wesley mentioned for women especially, I think we don't highlight enough the differing needs of various, , populations.
And so women who often still bear the brunt of things like household, , tours are rear child rearing for example, like that still falls predominantly on women. And yet the one thing that helps, [00:27:00] , a mother taking care of the household and doing all those things, and I'm looking at Susan as she's reacting to me saying this, because what I'm talking about, that is the car; that is the environment that helps you do the trip chaining and all that sort of thing. Lugging around things that the kids need or, , doing grocery shopping. I find it really interesting to throw folks in a room and then have them realize the gender dynamic of their comfort and what's afforded to men versus women in, in these environments.
I don't know if people think too much about that, right? Like, people don't second guess why they're hopping in their car. It's just what's working for them. And so as transportation professionals, I think a lot of our duty is to point [00:28:00] these service providers, both transit and TNCs to some of these issues, right?
That the default is that you're serving the white male, perhaps. And if that's the case, and if that's what the research is finding out, how do you default to the person who needs the most, I guess, attention when we're trying to get the change to happen? If I, and I don't know the numbers off the top of my head, but I'm like thinking about the thing that I just said, that if women bear the brunt of household duties and then end up getting the minivan or like the larger vehicle, how does that, how do we take that into research that Susan's digging into here because it means we ought to be changing who and how we plan, who we plan for, and how we plan, especially in the TNC environment.
I wonder, are these [00:29:00] companies digging into the different user populations the way that this research is uncovering. As somewhat of a researcher, I'm also looking at are people aware? Are they aware of the why they're making that choice or not? or is it just they're moving around their day and they're given options, they're given choices, they are consumers in their own right and they're consuming the thing that's in front of them. Do they have the ability to opine on what choices that they have made available to them? So my main questions are how are how are these services, both transit and TNCs, looking into user experience? I think the TNC environment does so, but does it do so in as much as some of this research is uncovering for transit, I feel like there's even less user experience factored into that service delivery [00:30:00] equation. And if we can get the two right, maybe we can start to serve those that need more help getting out of, , pillow driving or, or driving period.
Susan Shaheen: So I wanted to just follow up and thread a needle for everyone. So Clarissa participated in our research as a, as a key stakeholder. So after we did all of this work on photovoice with our 15 participants, we invited five pooling stakeholders. So the city of Oakland and, some of the TNC companies and Clarissa representing Transform to a two hour Zoom workshop. And during that we had 12 of those photo voice research participants share their photos and talk about their photos so that our transportation [00:31:00] stakeholders could hear from them. So, I just wanted to get Clarissa's reaction to what it felt like to be in that dialogue and to be looking at those photos and, and what you thought about this method, because you said you were curious about it.
Clarrissa Cabansagan: Yeah. I think that one, because we're living in the era of the smartphone, and people are just used to taking photos and such I think it's a fun way to get people engaged on the, on the thing that they don't quite think about unless, which is transportation, right?
Like it's a hard sell to get people to care about transportation when there are other more important needs that they have priorities such as housing or jobs, right? So as a transportation advocate, I'm always trying to figure out how do I get people more excited about transit or biking or walking or shared mobility, if [00:32:00] they're not already thinking about it. So the photo voice method was fun for me to see and try to incorporate it into our own work, because it is that, not everyone has a smartphone, but like, I think that got people a little bit more excited than some of the traditional ways that we try to get people's opinions via surveys online or other boring methods. Not boring, but like other methods that don't get folks as engaged. And so there's that, the, the photo aspect of it, and it reminds me of when we've worked with designers, like at one point we worked with Gail and Ideo. These are design firms that really tackle problems differently, right? And design think, and I'm still learning what that means or how to get [00:33:00] into, how to incorporate that into the work that we do. It's a very different world and I think it does focus on individual user experience. And if you haven't heard me say it already today, it's how do we incorporate that into what we're actually offering folks. If we thought about user experience more, we might have more people riding transit or more people or more people doing this multimodal kind of trip chaining. So I think, so there's that and then the environment of a focus group, which we were kind of listening in on and I wanted to interject and ask more questions, but I'm like, “Wait, let me let them talk and hear what they think they are seeing.” Right. Which is different than the transportation experts saying like, “Oh, I think you really mean this, or I think you mean that...” [00:34:00] but that environment of the, the participants talking to one another and thinking about things is always one that I love to try to do more in our work because you want to in get people excited to think more about these things. So, if anything, I feel like it sparked more interest in thinking intently about transportation and it's something that folks don't normally do. It's kind of a given, like “transit sometimes sucks” or “I'm stuck in traffic.” Like those are the two things that most people think about. Or I'm on my bike and I'm almost getting hit every other corner.
Right? So if we can get people to understand that their opinions can actually equate to the change that folks like those at Oak Dot, Susan and her research, us at Transform, like we actually need these [00:35:00] perspectives. There 's a lot of these perspectives in our industry and we don't do enough talking to people who actually ride as much as we should be.
Amanda Cairo: So, looking at what came out of these discussions, maybe Susan and Wesley, it sounds like there was a lot of user experience and a lot of people who could possibly do something about improving the user experience. Did you have any policy recommendations that come out of it?
And who does this fall on? Does it fall on the user? Like, well, if you don't feel safe in a well-lit area, you should move to a well-lit area. Or is there, is there broader possibilities that solutions that could come out of this?
Wesley Darling: Yeah, so we came up with a bunch of different ideas and that was one of the parts of the final workshop that we had [00:36:00]with the TNC users and the stakeholders.
We presented some of these ideas and solicited feedback and were able to sort of reincorporate that into hopefully make them better. And some of those ideas are like, I guess the first sort of big chunk is like improving safety. So, both in app and the out of app experience. So for in app, improving the amount of upfront information that riders have. I know previously, pool TNCs, you could be in a ride and then it was sort of a gamble as to whether you would be with someone or not. And I remember from some of our discussions, people kind of liked that aspect of it, but they only liked it when they won the [00:37:00] gamble when they ended up in a pool with no other riders, which is totally opposite of what we're looking for. And I think a big part of that is because it comes as like a shock when you're matched with another rider in that pool. And by removing that shock and by providing upfront information about how many other riders you'll be matched with, what detours you'll take, and then also giving the riders the opportunity to share that information with like an emergency contact or something like that. To be able to show like if they have safety concerns, to be able to share that with emergency contact and show where they're taking these detours to. I think that helps put would help put a lot of user minds at ease. Other things would be sort of the out-of-app -experience. So one idea that was [00:38:00] formulated was sort of forming a safe waiting location almost partnership program where retailers or stores could work with TNC companies to have their locations sort of listed in the app as a safe waiting location, which, as I mentioned earlier, takes a bunch of boxes that TNC users were looking for.
The lighting, the shelter, the recognizable landmark. Having that sort of safe waiting location program and then also just more clearly the thing, areas pick up areas in like popular destinations, so using curb markings and signage and lighting. So these may be like less formal than like a retail, like a Walmart or something like waiting inside of a CVS or something like that.
That may not be totally doable, but creating [00:39:00] the sort of designated pickup zones with clearly marked curbs and a sign and lighting and putting it in an area where there are other things around that would help a lot too. Yeah, those are two things we came up with. I think you keep going or...
Susan Shaheen: No, I think it's great. And another one of the recommendations that came out of this. Maybe aimed more at the private sector, Amanda, because you asked… who are we making these recommendations to? Some of them are for partnerships such as transportation network companies working with local retailers. Some are aimed more at our friends and local government in terms of built environment changes at the curb and then others, right? Could be done by the companies themselves in app. And one of the recommendations, Wesley, that I [00:40:00] thought was really creative was to feature more in-app safety features. And that gets to some of the, the gender related findings that we had. And so some of the recommendations were for the companies to consider incorporating some features to provide rider with more upfront trip information about, about the trip itself, particularly when it's pooled, because it's going to most likely include a longer wait time.
And options to share their trip information with emergency contacts, so their friends and family, and the location of nearby security personnel who they may be able to access. So I thought those were some really creative recommendations. We also came up with a number of pricing policy and incentive focused recommendations.
So not surprisingly, people are more likely to pool if they're encouraged through a discount, [00:41:00] and that could be for regular and consistent trips. For example, work trips. It could be for non-urgent trips, ones where you're less pressed in time, such as recreational activities, and then trips to and from popular destinations such as airports.
We also heard a lot about the need for integrated fair payment. We've talked about that. We also talked about leveraging nearfield communication technologies to essentially enable fair payments for users with their smartphones or some type of a device to make one payment for the entire trip. And in a more equity context, we could possibly do that through a kiosk, so that you don't have to have a device.
And then finally, in terms of encouraging public transit connections, facilitating those connections by incorporating public transit trip [00:42:00] schedules, real-time traveler information in terms of those arrival times, stop and station locations, and then wayfinding. So providing directions in the apps to those transit locations to and from.
So I think those are some really great recommendations, and what you can see is that some of them are more directed to the public sector and some to the private sector, and some to a partnership overall.
Amanda Cairo: I heard you talk a lot about gender equity and talking about the kiosk, but what are some of the other equity issues that you noticed in this study?
Wesley Darling: Well, I'm not sure what the…
Amanda Cairo: In this study or just in your experiences out there in the fields doing this, just talk a little bit about some of the equity issues because we talked to about not everyone has a smartphone with the [00:43:00] kiosks and, as Clarissa mentioned, the, the burden the taking care of the household often on the woman, but was there any other equity issues that you noticed in this study or, Clarissa also jump in if, there's anything...
Susan Shaheen: Yeah, Wesley if you feel uncomfortable, just, I didn't mean... to talking a lot. I wanted, I wanted to give you a bite at the apple I'm happy to, to jump in and I think Clarissa will, but just, I just wanted to… we want to promote you!
Amanda Cairo: I wonder did you look at race at all in terms of parsing out the data? Was that something that you looked at?
Susan Shaheen: It wasn't really racially, yeah, it was more, the selection of the population was more based on like this more of a heavy versus an occasional user. But I think this is, this is an area for future research. I know one thing that I would [00:44:00] mention, Amanda, Clarissa and I have had another project together. I really enjoy working with her. And so we just completed a strategic growth council project where we did look at gender and income related matters. And one of the things that, that we found was, particularly during COVID when transit operators were forced to reduce the number of headway or reduce the, the number of buses coming in, the frequency of the buses and the transit overall, it puts some people in really challenging positions who, for example, might work really, really early in the morning hours when transit was now no longer available because those services have been cut and their only way to get to work was to take a TNC.
And also during this time we started to see much more or higher prices in terms of per [00:45:00] trips because there was driver sort shortages, concerns about virus, transmission and also some labor related costs coming through state policies. So one of the things in that particular study that we were concerned about was the transportation network companies provide an opportunity for these people to get to work, but if the trip itself is costing more than they're making when they're at the job, that's a serious equity concern.
So it's building a gap in terms of a service, but it's not necessarily a cost-effective option.
Amanda Cairo: How much of an impact did COVID play in this particular study? Because you designed it before COVID and everyone's travel behavior really shifted during COVID. So talk a little bit about how that all worked out.
Susan Shaheen: Yeah, it was shocking when COVID [00:46:00] hit. I know everybody was taken, I think, a bit by surprise with this. And I think the, the first impact, right, Wesley, was we needed to change photo voice because photo voice tends to be more of a sociological type of method where you are as a researcher, walking, going on these walking tours with these individuals, taking photographs, right? And now we can't go with them and we have to train them on how to do this, online. Wesley, do you have anything to add to that?
Wesley Darling: Yes, I was going to say, COVID definitely changed the project a lot. Like Susan was saying, we could no longer do these walking tours, so we had to find a way to kind of replicate that virtually, but without complicating it too much so people could still do it [00:47:00] so that involved, like making a video. I made a demonstration video that sort of showed how to do it and, what sort of pictures we were looking for and how to upload them and share them. That was a whole aspect was like getting people to upload and share their photographs with us. I think, normally we would've been able to…we'd go on this walking tour with the TNC users. They would be taking pictures and things like that, and then we could just meet right then afterwards, pull up their photos right there. There's no having to transfer data or anything like that, but having to sort of develop that pipeline was an additional facet.
And then also just like, I don't know, having Zoom meetings instead of in-person focus groups. I never had an in-person focus group before because [00:48:00] my only experience with this has been in the time of COVID. I've heard that the sort of in-person focus group experience, you can build a lot more trust between the administrators and the participants.
And unfortunately, we tried as best as we could, I think, to build that, through the rapport, using Zoom. But that still was sort of a barrier, having to meet over COVID. I will say unfortunately because of COVID we did have to have some restrictions on the sort of who is eligible to participate. We wanted sure basically people wouldn't catch COVID while they were doing the study or at-risk people.so we did ask people to self-select if they were not comfortable with going outside and taking pictures of places like that. Additionally we did, [00:49:00] ask people to provide their own smartphone and have to have like an internet connection, webcam and that sort of thing.
And, unfortunately, that somewhat restricted our selection pool, right? Like if we were doing this in person, we would've been able to provide cameras, we would've been able have people there. They wouldn't have had to have Zoom or a computer or something like that. So, you definitely want to try this not during a pandemic. That said, I'm very happy with the results and the findings that we were able to get through this pandemic version of photovoice.
Amanda Cairo: So I think everyone's kind of touched a little bit about because this has some really great information coming out of it, but, obviously we're researchers. We want more. And so, what [00:50:00] do you see like next, or what studies would all of you like to see come out of this? Let's start with you, Susan, and go to Clarissa and Wesley.
Susan Shaheen: Yeah. You know I always want to talk about future research, don't you Amanda? So, with our dear partner Clarissa here, I think really focusing on some of these equity considerations would be really exciting and maybe this is something we can do together, Clarissa, but looking at gender equity more…this interests me because Clarissa, I'm a mother of two and so I experience a lot of the childcare responsibilities and I'm also a person who travels a lot when it's not a COVID environment.
And safety does come into mind when I am taking these types of services, including public transit. So I think [00:51:00] that would be really helpful. I'm always interested in understanding service inequities, if it's people with disabilities, people from underserved communities who might be living in the suburbs and might not have as much access to mobility alternatives, including public transit. I'm always really interested in figuring out how to overcome the digital and income divide, so people that might have the resources to get a smartphone, but don't know how to use one. And so that could be a lot of the aging population that could benefit a lot from pooling. And people who don't have the resources for the mobile phone plan to support the cell phone. So they might have a smartphone, but they don't have the plan to support accessing it. So how can we address the issue of unbanked [00:52:00] and underbanked individuals or people who just don't have the resources and can we use things like geofencing and, and kiosks to facilitate those payments? So I think those are super interesting questions for follow on.
Amanda Cairo: Clarissa? It's always hard to go second.
Clarrissa Cabansagan: And Susan said everything. I just want to plus one to everything Susan said. Something I was thinking about as we were chatting was I wonder where the driver fits into all of this, right? So when I pooled and that was pre pandemic, I always saw the interaction between the rider and the driver and the re confusion on both sides, right?
So sometimes it's like, “I don't wanna ever pool again because the driver didn't know what to do when he was picking up multiple people” and [00:53:00] there's obviously, during COVID were not on the pooling side of things is not turned on with concerns about COVID. But I wonder about where the driver factors into someone's desire to pool or not pool. Just because I've seen it a lot, right? Like, “Oh, I'm never gonna do this again.” And then the aging population. And here's a generation that grew up with the car and I love to pick on my grandmother, who's 88 this year, still has a driver's license in San Francisco, lives half a mile from the BART station and decides to drive everywhere. And she's getting dementia to the point where we just need to take away the driver's license. And yet when I look at my mom, who's that generation [00:54:00] below, this is her daughter-in-law. My mom's used to doing the Uber. She doesn't drive anymore. We drive her around to like medical appointments.
But she's learned to use Uber, right? Or Lyft. She actually loves talking to strangers. So she loves the pooled environment in the TNC and yet my grandmother who are trying to get her to use it, she's in fear because she's been encapsulated in her vehicle for decades. That that kind of switch is huge for her to make.
Right? She knows how to take part, she gets confused with the bus that doesn't show up. So the TNC environment, I think is that step away from the car to then help her live more multimodally. But that generation I think has a lot of education that needs to happen. And is that where some group like Transform steps in to say, let's do the education or is the onus on the company, right?[00:55:00] To have a more user-friendly environment or the elderly population, but that silver tsunami, as we say in our industry, like that's here and now, what do we do about it? Because like my grandmother, like she's going to stop driving at some point. I don't want her to be stuck, right? Like a lot of them elderly folks live in isolation and don't have, connection to, community.
So where it is, so that's kind of where I'm at, but because I'm taking care of elders these days, and yes to all of the things that Susan said in terms of, well, what does this mean for someone who's the person of color versus not affluent versus not? So cutting that research from an income and race perspective would be interesting. [00:56:00] There's always more research to do. And then suburbanization of poverty, like that's a whole other thing. And we're working on that together. Susan, on this SB1 project. But there's a lot that on the equity side of things needs to be uncovered, on the disability community and how they're factored in, the wheelchair accessible side of things. That's one thing. And then automated TNCs are quickly upon us. Waymo is rolling around in San Francisco. At some point, perhaps the driver goes away, there's still someone in the seat. But how does that environment interface with the rider, desire... choice to take that or not? I'm always wondering like, well, people decide they would [00:57:00] rather be in the driver TNC environment or the AV/TNC environment…too many acronyms here. I'm sorry.
Amanda Cairo: And, and you, Wesley. So you're just starting your first year of your doctoral research. You've got many more years of research to come. I know you're really into the TNCs. Tell me a little bit more about where you see this kind of research heading.
Wesley Darling: Oh my gosh, that's a huge question, especially because I'm still sort of in the process of figuring out what my, PhD research will be. Oh my gosh. There's so many different areas within this area. One that I have been thinking, I, I don't know if this is necessarily the future of TNCs or anything like that, but one that I've been thinking a lot about since the, [00:58:00] photo voice study was how the user experience and like incorporating that into the TNC operations and I've been thinking a lot about how like geofencing and so geofencing is basically where the app or someone, essentially like uses GPS technology to, you'd basically ensure that, TNC, pickups and dropoffs occur specific areas. That may not be a perfect definition, but, essentially that’s how you could use the like user preferences and user, the user side of like allowing users to create their own geofences how that could affect their experience. For example, if they didn't feel comfortable getting a TNC pickup in [00:59:00] one particular area for some reason or another, if they could set their own geofence, both how that would affect the operations of the TNC, how that would affect like trip matching travel times and that sort of thing, but also how that would affect the equity of TNCs. Because if you have a bunch of people setting up geo fences in areas that they deem unsafe, what does that do to the basically TNC performance for the people that live in those areas? So how do you factor in user preferences, which are very different across all users to improve both their own experiences as well as just make pooling and everything better, in general. I don't know. I'm still asking a lot of questions. I'm still figuring things out.
Amanda Cairo: That was a hard question. I'm sorry.
Wesley Darling: Susan and [01:00:00] Clarissa took all, all the, all the good ones. There’s a lot of areas for future research. It's a really rich and fruitful area.
Amanda Cairo: And I think we could sit here for the rest of the day and possibly week talking about all of the different areas of congestion reduction and TNCs.
But I think we probably have covered a really good topic, this topic, really well. So I think we'll wrap this up. Thank you so much, Wesley Darling, Susan Shaheen and Clarissa Cabansagan, for joining us today talking aboutTNCs and the user experience and how it got a little, little widge during COVID.[01:01:00]
Thank you for joining us. We hope you'll catch our next episode of the National Institute of Congestion Reduction Podcast. The NICR podcast has been brought to you by the National Center for Congestion Reduction, NICR a Transportation Research Center focused on innovative congestion strategies.
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For more information, please visit www.nicr.usf.edu. ITS Berkeley: it's a nucleus for multi-disciplinary transportation research and student engagement at UC Berkeley. [01:02:00] Visit us at its.berkeley.edu and happy uncongested trails to you.