smart city

Pittsburgh’s mobility platform aims to expand transportation options

To provide lower-income communities better options for public transport, Pittsburgh is experimenting with a new mobility services platform that offers residents easy access to multiple transit alternatives – from buses to scooters.

Last month, the city launched Move PGH, a public-private partnership led by Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) that provides locals with low-cost transportation alternatives. The two-part program combines the Transit smartphone app and 25 mobility hubs to give users a seamless digital and physical framework for getting around the city.

“We wanted to understand the issues people had with the current transportation system,” Karen Lightman, Executive Director of Metro21, Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, said. “And what we learned was that the infrastructure we had was very outdated.”

Much of the city’s existing infrastructure was focused around cars, but 40% of low-income residents do not have access to one, she said.

The Transit app gives users trip-planning information and the ability to book any means of transport from its partners. These options include car-shares and carpool services through Zipcar and Waze, electric mopeds and scooters from Spin and Scoobi, as well as real-time information from existing bus and train routes.

The app also provides the location of the city’s mobility hubs -- 25 physical hubs, congregated around the Port Authority bus and light rail systems -- where residents can access a range of last-mile services and see real-time transit and mobility information on TransitScreens. The goal is to increase the number of hubs to 50 by the end of the year.

The placement of these hubs was informed by the existing transportation infrastructure, but the needs of lower-income communities were also considered. Data from a 2017 project that assessed the city’s annual progress toward equitable opportunities was combined with “an aggregate value of [transit] stops, frequency of service and routes being served,” said CMU graduate research assistant Allante Whitmore, who helped develop DOMI’s mobility principles. Based on these factors and socio-demographic profiles, the team was able to compare current transportation services with areas of the city where there might be larger demand, she said.

The information gained from the Move PGH pilot will also help to identify crucial gaps in DOMI and the Port Authority’s current structure, Lightman said.

“I think what is exciting is that, even though all the information is non-identifiable, we can make inferences and also combine it with other data to better understand where the gaps and the needs are,” she said. “And then that can help us make better investment decisions when targeting specific communities that have been disenfranchised in the past.”

“At Metro21, our philosophy is using technology as a tool to help people solve real-world problems in collaboration with municipal and equity partners,” Lightman said. “It is not just a Pittsburgh problem, and we think this has a lot of exciting replicability towards other cities.”

About the Author

Shourjya Mookerjee is an associate editor for GCN and FCW. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and has written for Vox Media, Fandom and a number of capital-area news outlets. He can be reached at [email protected] – or you can find him ranting about sports, cinematography and the importance of local journalism on Twitter @byShourjya.


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