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NYU Researchers Pave the Way for Future Shared Mobility

The C2SMART Center at NYU is tackling the most pressing issues in urban transportation

5 min read
E-scooters

NYU researchers led by civil and urban engineering professor Joseph Chow are working in the area of micromobility, a category of transit that includes electric bicycles and scooters, which has grown in popularity in cities around the world.

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This is a sponsored article brought to you by NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

The collection of technologies and markets that comprise so-called "shared mobility" now constitutes a $60 billion market, according to some estimates. This enormous growth has at least in part been driven by the aim of reducing vehicle carbon emissions to address climate change concerns.

In order for shared mobility to realize its aim of reducing pollution, there are a number of urban transportation elements that need to be taken into account, including car sharing services and micromobility offerings, such as e-bikes and scooters.

As these shared mobility markets mature and develop, C2SMART, a U.S. Department of Transportation Tier 1 University Transportation Center at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering comprised of a consortium of universities, is leading research efforts to optimize these technologies to make them effective and efficient for our lives and our environments.

Researchers at NYU have been at the forefront of much of C2SMART's contributions since first applying to be part of the U.S. federal government's University Transportation Centers program back in 2016. Since that time, the C2SMART Center at NYU has worked with shared mobility companies including, BMW ReachNow (now ShareNow), Lime and Via, and collaborated with automakers such as Ford Motor Company on some of its research.

"The goal of the Center is primarily to tackle some of the most pressing issues that we see in mobility and in cities today and be able to come up with new solutions"

"The goal of the Center is primarily to tackle some of the most pressing issues that we see in mobility and in cities today and be able to come up with new solutions," said Joseph Chow, Institute Associate Professor at NYU Tandon's Department of Civil and Urban Engineering and co-founding Deputy Director of C2SMART.

Chow sees the Center as kind of bridge between local government agencies as well as the many private mobility companies and providers. "They come to us with problems and challenges that they see, and we try to come up with new solutions," added Chow.

The agenda for the Center is driven in part by an annual Request for Proposal (RFP) process and partly from partnerships arranged with local agencies and private companies, according to Chow. As an example, C2SMART formed an on-call relationship with NYS DOT and for one of their tasks they are providing support in updating the New York 511 Rideshare program, which is a demand management system that has been in place for a few years now.

"They want to update the program to next-generation technology that might consider more mobility services throughout the state to address equity needs as environmental needs," noted Chow.

Joseph Chow, Institute Associate Professor at NYU Tandon\u2019s Department of Civil and Urban Engineering and co-founding Deputy Director of C2SMART Joseph Chow, Institute Associate Professor at NYU Tandon's Department of Civil and Urban Engineering and co-founding Deputy Director of C2SMART.NYU Tandon

Chow has focused some his recent research on developing the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles throughout New York City. While prior to this work there had been a lot of studies examining EV charging station locations, the charging considerations for mobility services tend to be trickier because they're on-demand, so their locations are not as known in advance.

Chow and his colleagues addressed this problem by developing a look-ahead policy so that the model uses current data to anticipate where the future demand will be, taking into account the capacity at the different charging stations. This accounting for the capacity is a key difference from previous approaches.

This new feature allows for the designing of different mixes of charger types and sizing of the charging stations. By being able to accommodate all these different sizing alternatives the model makes it possible to focus on different geographic locations, and changing the amount of capacity at these locations. Chow and his team collaborated with BMW ReachNow on this work, prior to the company merging with Car2Go.

The Micromobility Phenomenon

In another line of research, Chow has recently been working in the area of micromobility, a category of transit comprising e-scooters, mopeds, bicycles and the like, that has grown in popularity in cities around the world. In fact, Chow's recent research coincides with a current pilot e-scooter program in New York City.

Acknowledging the rapid growth of e-scooter adoption, the NYU researchers looked specifically at the role that these vehicles play for the first and last mile in connecting travelers to public transit. The results support a relationship between how people use public transit and e-scooters, which bodes well for them reducing the number of cars in urban environments.

NYU researchers discovered in their data analysis that one way that e-scooters will reduce cars is that fewer people will use carpooling from public transit hubs. The substitution of e-scooters for carpooling means that there might be less people dropping other people off because there will be e-scooters available. Taxis were also another mode of transport that looked to be displaced by e-scooters, albeit to a smaller extent.

"This means that there'll be less need for vehicles, at least for short-distance trips," said Chow. "What we could witness in the long term might be a shift in the mode distribution by distance. For short-distance trips, you'll see e-scooters insert themselves into that spectrum."

The C2SMART Center at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Micromobility, electric bikes, and EVs are among the topics tackled by researchers at the C2SMART Center at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.Karl Philip Greenberg

Chow recognizes that in the future there still will be a strong dependency on automobiles when used in conjunction with conventional fixed rail transit. However, he believes this might change if transit agencies consider running more on-demand services and micromobility. "In the long term, I think this would help to reduce the car and vehicle miles traveled, which would help to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions," he added.

While micromobility is a phenomenon currently taking hold in cities around the world, there's another emerging service called Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), in which a platform provider forms a single gateway to process multiple different options of trips into just different packages that people can purchase. This service is somewhat akin to how airlines have evolved, according to Chow.

"Years ago, it was just individual airlines competing with each other," explained Chow. "But nowadays, when you book a trip, that single trip might be operated by three different airlines. As we head towards that in our public transit, I think there will be a bigger role to manage the demand through pricing and then try to make it more equitable for people."

Along these lines, Chow highlighted the work his team has done with Italian start-up, NEXT Future Transportation, which offers modular, self-driving modules that look somewhat like a bus divided into smaller pods. This particular solution addresses one of the main problems in public transit of needing one or more transfers to get to your destination. This technology essentially allows passengers to transfer within the vehicle and then they can disband and go separate ways to be dropped off where they need to go. Chow's lab has studied methods to operate such systems as a transit service, including a recent award from the National Science Foundation.

"Imagine a bracelet, and the different links in the bracelet are algorithmically programmed to go the last mile to a different neighborhood," explained Chow. "You just go to the link in the bracelet that'll take you to your neighborhood based on where you want to go, but you're going to go with other people who are going to that area."

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