Why Your Agency Needs a Future Mobility Plan

How a future mobility plan can help agencies prepare for rapid technological change

February 24, 2020

Jonathan Slason

smart city and wireless communication network, abstract image visual, internet of things

future mobility plan (FMP) can help metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), cities, and states prepare for and respond to technological transformations. These transformations, many of which are underway, are changing how people and freight move through urban environments.  

Future mobility is multifaceted and encompasses an ever-changing array of technologies. E-scooters, shared bicycles, and automated package delivery vehicles place new demands on roads and sidewalks. Both ride-hailing and freight delivery compete with conventional transit and parking for curb spaceAnd highly automated vehicles will soon share the road with conventional vehicles. 

Despite the increasing prevalence of these new mobility technologies, most are relatively recent developments. Their deployment and rapid user adoption rates have outpaced the more methodical policies and planning procedures that could help shape a shared vision for their use.  

The metropolitan transportation plan (MTP) and the long-range transportation plan (LRTP), both with horizons of 20 years or more, struggle to capture the effects of these trends. Conversely, an FMP, by being forward-looking and agile, can help bridge the gap between longer planning cycles and technological change and help organizations identify strategic solutions. 

An FMP focuses on automated, connected, electric, and shared (ACES) trends in technology and operations as these relate to mobility, including bikes and microtransit options. Much like an MTP or an LRTP, an FMP follows a sequential framework that helps organizations evaluate the technological landscape, forecast trends, and develop actionable strategies to meet their objectives.  

An FMP, when undertaken as part of a strategic transportation planning framework, includes the following elements, which offer the flexibility necessary to adapt to each organization’s needs. 

1. Understand Goals and Objectives 

Plans start from a foundation of goals that reflect a vision of the future. The FMP begins by identifying how the adopted goals and objectives of an MPO, city, or state relate to future mobility. Typical linkages are often found in the areas of mobility, accessibility, safety, energy and air quality, and land use. 

2. Inventory Current Conditions 

An FMP requires an assessment that outlines present conditions. This is done by performing an inventory of current conditions in the city, region, or state with each of the ACES mobility elements in mindThis inventory should assess whether the region is currently a test site for automated vehicles and evaluate the status of connected vehicle technology. It should also evaluate the adoption rates and use of electric and shared vehicles in the area. 

3. Evaluate Smart Communities/Cities Initiatives 

“Smart city” initiatives consider the benefits of technology applications in many sectors, including transportation. Where such an initiative exists, the FMP must recognize and evaluate itHow do mobility considerations and ACES applications fit with the programs or infrastructure that are in place or in development? How can smart community considerations encompass ACES mobility? If a smart city program is already under consideration, the FMP can enlighten the proposal. 

4. Establish ACES Linkages to Performance-Based Planning and Programming 

MPOs and states are now required to include an assessment and ongoing monitoring of system performance in their plans. The FMP should address the effect of ACES mobility (as defined in the inventory of current conditions) on safety, reliability, and congestion performance. This may affect specific targets for future performance. 

5. Conduct an ACES Assessment 

Because transport technology and operational applications are rapidly evolving, the FMP should focus on what is likely to emerge over the next five yearsIdentifying these trends requires a scan of the technological landscape and forecasts found in current research. The final assessment also requires the support of a consensus of planners and policy makers. 

6. Conduct a Policy/Regulatory Assessment 

Given its public sector role, an FMP should inventory policies and laws that affect the operation of ACES mobilityAn inventory may assess federal, state, and local government initiatives. For example, is ride-hailing regulated or charged a fee? Do local regulations govern the operation of bikeshare and shared scooters? An FMP should evaluate regulation of parking, curb space, and sidewalk use; it should review relevant land-use regulation and identify existing and potential regulatory gaps. 

7. Conduct an ACES Forecast 

Planners should perform a short- to mid-term forecast of the market penetration and utilization of each of the identified ACES mobility elements. Ideally, this forecast would analyze the extent of impact ACES might have on the demand and supply of mobility and on system operation. The analysis should also account for changes in land use, electric utilities, and the regional economy. Surveys of household travel and consumer attitudes toward ACES mobility can provide insights. Analytic tools, including strategic modeling platforms, can evaluate scenarios to help understand how ACES mobility may affect land use and the transportation system. 

8. Identify ACES Strategies 

The value an FMP brings to an MPO or city is in its support of strategic decisionmaking. The plan should identify strategic actions that decision makers may take to maximize present benefits and minimize future risks. Developing strategies requires work with both traditional and new partners, including electric utilities and technology and mobility companies. Strategic actions may include capital investments, operational activities, and regulatory initiatives. As travel demand changes, the FMP may also include recommendations related to the deferral or deletion of long-term capital projects that are in the MTP or LRTP. Forecasting requirements in adopted project development procedures may require modification. Strategies should identify trackable performance measures and trends. 

9. Update the FMP 

Because an FMP is a strategic plan with a short-term horizon, it is important to revisit it every two to three years. If baseline conditions have changed, or if technology moves in unexpected directions, an examination of the FMP should determine if the recommended strategic actions are still valid. MPOs may choose to coordinate FMP updates with updates of the transportation improvement program, local capital improvement program, or the congestion management process. Improved awareness of trajectories and policies of ACES mobility can also inform regional strategic models and travel demand models. 

The real value of transportation plans is the effect they have on an agency’s decisions about policies and investments. An FMP adds value for the state, MPO, or city as a tool that supports strategic decisions that may be overlooked or not fully captured in plans with horizons of 20 years or moreThe streamlined and targeted approach of an FMP allows organizations to more quickly assess the effect of technological changes in the ACES mobility spaceIt also offers platform for public agencies to communicate effectively with private mobility providers. Most importantly, an FMP informs an understanding of transportation system performance in terms of maintaining safe, efficient, and reliable mobility for all users. 

Jonathan Slason

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