ParkMe: The State of Austin Transportation

ParkMe, the new mobile app that updates you with downtown parking info [highlighted in LGN 3], recently featured an interview on their blog with Movability’s Glenn Gadbois where they discussed Movability’s efforts to impact Austin’s mobility. Here it is! 


The State of Austin Transportation (via ParkMe)

According to Forbes, Texas’ capital city is the fastest growing metropolis in the United States. The place has become a major cultural destination, particularly with its annual juggernaut of a festival. With that growth comes added transportation needs to satiate the increases in population and tourism.

One local organization is doing its part by helping commuters better understand their transit options. Movability Austin is fueling growth and driving more people downtown by engaging the community’s needs and working closely with the city. Of course, “intelligent parking” is one area that Austin is excelling in.

Movability’s own Glenn Gadbois of was kind enough sit down with ParkMe to chat about his initiatives and his city. Here’s what he had to say.

What exactly does Movability Austin do, and how did you become involved?

Movability helps people understand the many choices for how they travel to, from and around downtown Austin. Our largest effort is working with employers and their employees to understand their challenges and their interests. Then we are basically a concierge helping them find and use options whether it is biking for exercise and health, transit for the safety and convenience of having someone else drive, or the social benefits of carpooling.

Helping someone avoid being stuck in traffic is also relieving a little bit of demand on the clogged roadway and, during rush hour, all the roads into downtown Austin are clogged. If we did nothing to address our traffic issues, Austin could not get more employees, customers or visitors downtown without turning rush hour into rush hours. I began working with the Downtown Austin Alliance and others to see if demand management could help. Things grew rather organically from that beginning.

Since you joined the organization, how have you seen the transit habits of Austinites change?

A majority of Austinites want relief from the traffic, high costs, and parking headaches of always having to drive. Especially, when something spikes like gas prices, you see significant shifts to transit, bicycling, etc.

But for most people figuring out what their options are and how to use them is still a daunting task. We also have a lot of new infrastructure to build if our roadways-as well as places to live, work or play-are to become as inviting for people as they are for cars.

The good news is use of transit, carpooling, and bicycling are all on the rise, even when compared to driving alone (which has declined slightly in the last few years). There is even more good news in that the Millenials, largest generational bubble since Boomers, are driving most of the growth in use of transportation options.

What type of local outreach is Movability Austin engaged in? Grassroots marketing? Paid campaigns?

Most of our marketing currently is “Individualized Marketing” and social media related. We have just begun to talk with potential partners in the public sector about larger scale (potentially including paid) marketing on safety and healthy communities. Co-marketing efforts with members (service providers such as Capital Metro, Car2Go and ZipCar; events such as Art City Austin, SxSW, etc) are in the very early stages. In addition, we are working with community organizations (Austin Cycling Association, Alliance for Public Transportation, Austin Trail Foundation) to initiate some light social engagement campaigns.

How have the city of Austin / Travis County been helping your efforts to improve people’s daily commutes?

CoA and Travis County are two of our four principal partners and funders. As two of downtown’s largest employers, they are both very committed to helping their employees find and use options. In addition, both have made a serious commitment to the partnerships, the investments and the building required to have a transportation system, which truly gives people viable travel choices. They see this as essential to the health and sustainability for downtown, the entire city and the region.

How do you think new startups/technology are helping with the current state of transportation?

Austin has its fair share of tech companies and we benefit greatly from the energy, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit that comes with tech companies. This alone makes a substantial portion of the businesses and their employees more open to try new solutions, including how they get to work.

Some start-ups, like ParkMe, are also providing a needed piece of the solution. Currently, most transportation customers are treated like kids at the breakfast table where mom plops one box of cereal on the table and that is the breakfast option. Any other option requires more skill to find what’s available and know how to cook the eggs, cut up fruit, etc. Mobile apps are beginning to load the breakfast table will all kinds of delicious options from peer to peer ride sharing, advanced identification of parking, and much more.

Continue reading here.

 

Downtown Development

Downtown Austin and downtowns in general have seen a resurgence in popularity over the last decade. This resurgence has attracted new people that in turn attract new development and that cycle continues until we have a downtown that is light years ahead of where it was ten years ago in terms of jobs, residences, transportation options, cultural amenities and so much more. What do the changing demographics of downtown look like? And what do all these new people mean for mobility downtown?

Living downtown is no longer only for bachelors. It’s become desirable for families to live as well. The Statesman recently featured a story on downtown that included one such family. The article highlights that families have different mobility needs than singles and even professionals commuting to work every day. First and foremost, families want their children to be safe. They want parks, schools, and libraries within walking distance. An urban street where parents feel their children are safe to walk to school looks much different than one in which your average twenty-something office worker feels safe walking to lunch.

 Another demographic shift in downtown is happening in the job market. Downtown is no longer the sole domain of lawyers and politicians. It is now home to over 30 technology companies and it seems that number grows daily. Facebook, Cirrus Logic, WhaleShark Media and many more high profile tech companies all call downtown Austin home. This influx of creative class jobs is shifting the demographics of downtown workers and residents. These new employees are young, most landing in the Millennial generation and highly educated. And we know that Millennials tend to drive less and bike, walk and use public transit more. These new, younger, creative class workers’ expectations are much different than their predecessors who worked downtown before them. In the not too distant past, employers and employees expected plenty of space to park cars and roads to get them into work. Now that we are experiencing a cultural shift, we understand that type of development has negative effects on our quality of life through increased driving and decreased physical activity. The Millenials are calling for more walkable and bikeable, transit rich urban places. In fact, a recently released report, shows a dramatic increase in the number of people demanding these types of places and, as such, developers are building them. Some say this is creating a new real estate paradigm that pits drivable versus walkable, with walkable being the clear economic winner.

For Austin to remain competitive in attracting the types of industries, companies and talented workers that will grow the local economy, we need to be making strategic investments and choices regarding our transportation network. Investments need to not only be in expanding our current infrastructure systems (transit, biking, walking) but also in the technology needed to make using these systems even easier for current and potential users. In order to attract families of all stripes to live and play downtown, we need to be sure to offer safe mobility solutions, like walking. To attract young, talented workers in all industries, we need to increase and strengthen public transit options. If we do not continue to invest in biking, walking and transit, other cities may start to seem more attractive than Austin. Palo Alto and a number of other cities are making mobility a priority in the pursuit of a competitive edge.

Programmers Create Mobility Solutions

A Hackathon is a simple idea. Invite lots of programmers to volunteer for a day, pitch ideas, then get to work on the ideas that get them excited. That’s the beauty behind Code For America: Austin.

There were several mobility ideas pitched at this years Hackathon including an Austin wiki focusing on mobility, 311 tags for problems in need of attention or ideas for improvements, real time info for transit, and a mobile version of the Austin bike map.

The group of programmers passed on the 311 idea, having heard from Austin’s Chief Information Office that a 311 mobile app that will enable users to identify what services are needed and where, much like San Francisco’s SeeClickFix, will be available late 2012.

What this group of energetic programmers decided to work on was a proof of concept for a mobile app that relays real time bus information to users. Given they only had one day, they narrowed their focus on building the guts (my non-technical term) for the web-based programming that would use a cell phone signal from a bus rider to identify the bus route and track that signal to provide real time geographic locations of the bus. By the end of the day they were able to test the functionality of the concept and prove that their real time tracking would work. Now Movability has something we can take to CapMetro and enlist their help to pilot a real time “next bus” app using crowd source information.

Another team also completed a mobile version of the Austin bike map.

Thanks to developers: Keith Casey, Twilio; Nolan Darilek; Matthew Hall, Neighborland; Mark O’Brien; Sophia Parafina, work on Cap Metro data files; Kevin Reilly Basjump.io; Shanta Stevens; Naqi Syed, Basejump.io; and Laura Seton, TNR/photographs.