Doing Urban Mobility Pilot Programs the Right Way

Pilot programs can offer useful insight to decisionmakers, but they need to be done for the right reasons and with clear goals and plans.

2 minute read

October 7, 2020, 11:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink

Lime Scooters

Portland Bureau of Transportation / Flickr

Kristin Musulin reports on a recent policy brief about developing and executing mobility pilot programs as local governments look new technologies such as autonomous shuttles, dockless scooters, and ride sharing services.

Musulin talked to David Zipper, the author of the brief, about how pilot programs can be designed to best help officials and policymakers assessing the landscape of emerging mobility options. 

Zipper says local governments need to identify clear goals for the projects, foster transparency that then builds credibility, and accept the outcomes. "If the hypothesis is not confirmed — if microtransit doesn't save money, or if scooters don't reduce car trips — I think it's terrific if the city can come out and say look, we ran the pilot, we collected the data, our hypothesis didn’t work out the way we thought. So now we’re going to make the appropriate decision."

Local governments also need to collect the right data and have the capacity to analyze it within their organizations or through partnerships, says Zipper. Pilot programs done for the right reasons can be extremely beneficial for a city as well as other cities considering similar programs and technologies.

"I would suggest that many times, the reasons that pilots happen have to do with what I would call FOMO [fear of missing out]. You have a city leader who wants to throw a technology on the street before peers do. I think it's a really bad habit and it can lead to wasted resources, dashed expectations and, in an absolutely worse case scenario, really unsafe technologies on the streets that can cause real damage," says Zipper.

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