Last week, while attending the Governor’s Transportation Conference in Northern Virginia, I participated in a session about emerging forms of transportation, which have the potential to significantly improve mobility in our communities. This session was presented by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and focused on innovative transportation, particularly, universal mobility. Universal mobility is an emerging transportation paradigm through which an individual can book a trip on a single app spanning multiple modes. For instance, one may be able to schedule a trip from his or her home in Danville to a relative or friend’s home in Washington, D.C. by first using the app to book a ride on Amtrak, and using the same app to book an Uber, Lyft, or taxi ride to the Danville Amtrak station. The next step on the app might be to book connecting transportation from Washington’s Union Station to the friend or relative’s home using transit, taxi, or a ride share service. The entire trip could be scheduled with a few touches of the smart phone or clicks of a mouse.
The presentation also highlighted a new paradigm of demand-response transportation currently utilized in Denmark, which could be valuable to us in the West Piedmont Planning District. The program, named FlexDanmark, is characterized by a number of private transportation entities brought under one umbrella. Like our region, Denmark is characterized by an aging population which is not necessarily concentrated in one or two major cities, but is largely dispersed throughout the countryside. Therefore, while traditional transit service is feasible for city travel, it is very inefficient for transportation of residents who reside in the countryside. Therefore, demand-response service, typically facilitated using vans, is very popular in that country.
FlexDanmark is an information technology (IT) company operated by the Danish government, and so essentially operates as a public-private partnership. More than five hundred private demand-response providers operate within the realm of FlexDanmark, while the public sector manages the IT and dispatching element of the program to efficiently link customers with rides and generate costs per ride. With about 1,700 vehicles operating as part of FlexDanmark, the program spurs competition among the hundreds of companies involved in the program. The FlexDanmark transportation component is divided into a number of subcategories to service the various needs of its customers. These include FlexMunicipality, FlexHandicap, FlexTur, and FlexRoute.
Given that the West Piedmont Planning District is largely rural, interspersed with a number of population centers of various sizes, it is not inconceivable that a much smaller version of this program could be launched here as part of a pilot program. As universal mobility continues to mature, such a system could become feasible to operate, and there may also be opportunities for riders of connected demand-response services to transfer to other modes in the region, such as Amtrak, Piedmont Area Regional Transit (PART), or Danville Transit.
To learn more about universal mobility and the FlexDanmark program, please visit https://www.aarp.org/ppi/issues/livable-communities/transportation/future-of-transportation/.