By Christopher Yuen
For cities aiming to increase transit ridership, expanding transit to reach more people is only half the task. The other half is to encourage people who value transit to locate where high-quality transit is possible.
To that end, tools that help quantify the usefulness of transit at any given location can be extremely valuable, whether for a person finding a place to live, or for a business looking to locate in a place most accessible by its employees and customers.
Since 2010, the tool that has gained the most attention has been Transit Score. With it, you type in an address and are returned a two-digit score that is supposed to approximate the usefulness of transit at that location. While simple and easy to use, Transit Score’s methodology has a few flaws, as discussed in our last post about it. Two issues particularly stand out:
- Transit Score assumes that the sexiness of transit technologies compensates for their objective uselessness. For example, Transit Score assumes that you’d rather wait 20 minutes for a streetcar instead of 10 minutes for a bus, even if the two will have the same speed and reliability.
- Transit Score describes the transit around a site without evaluating where it goes. Frequent transit that drove around in circles inside your neighborhood would score exactly the same as frequent transit that went straight across your city and formed a connected network, accessing countless jobs and opportunities.
Recently, the beta version of a new tool, MobilityScore, was released. It offers a similarly simple two-digit score, but with a broader scope than TransitScore. Created by TransitScreen, a company specializing in real-time transit information displays, MobilityScore is described as an “easy-to-understand measure of your transportation access.”
MobilityScore takes into account all your options, from public transit to carsharing, bikesharing, and hailed ridesharing services, to give you a number from 0-100 that will tell you how easy it is to get around. – transitscreen.com
MobilityScore works by scoring the typical time it takes to access each transportation mode based on past availability and response time data from bike share, car share, and ride-hailing services. For its transit component, it generates a score based on the frequency of scheduled trips near the address being queried. It then aggregates the scores of each component to generate a total “Mobility Score”. The tool does not directly indicate the score of each component, although it does indicate the fraction of overall mobility that comes from each mode as percentages.
In some ways, MobilitysScore appears to be an improvement over TransitScore. For example, TransitScore weighs results based on vehicle type, rewarding rail and penalizing buses, regardless of whether they differ in speed and reliability, but MobilityScore’s transit component is only based on frequency, without bias based on vehicle type.
However, a true measure of mobility must also look at the speed of travel on the relevant transit routes. Taking this a step further, a fair measure of the usefulness of transit must consider the access that the service provides– the number of jobs and opportunities that can be reached from the starting point within a reasonable travel time. Like TransitScore, MobilityScore only tells you where you can easily access transportation services to begin your trip, which says nothing about what destinations you can reach in a given time.
One could consider MobilityScore’s expanded scope (including ride-hailing, car-share, and bike-share) to be an improvement over TransitScore, given that transit riders are likely to also occasionally use those other modes. However, the resulting combined mobility score should be interpreted with some caution. For a data-driven approach meant to be objective, the combination of ride-hailing, car-sharing, bike sharing and transit scores into one single measure introduces a new layer of value judgement that is difficult to generalize. While a well-paid executive may place a high value on the ride-hailing services for everyday use, a person with a limited income may not find the availability of ride-hailing to be relevant, since it is not affordable to them. Similarly, car-sharing services may not be useful to a person without a driver’s license.
The mere availability of a ride-hailing option, including taxis, uber, or lyft, seems to result in a minimum score of 40. This optimism means that many sites, without any transit service, and a significant drive from urbanized areas are said to have – “Fair Mobility” despite being completely impractical for the average person.
It’s not easy to build a measure of transportation access that is both objective and simple to use so despite my criticism of some aspects of MobilityScore, I think it is great to see the development of more products like this. Hopefully, when MobilityScore evolves beyond its beta version, it will address some of its current deficiencies and become a serious contender for inclusion in real-estate listings. As we suggested before, the real two-digit score that matters may be a percentage: What percentage of your city’s jobs and opportunities can you reach from this point, in a given amount of time?
Christopher Yuen is an associate at Jarrett Walker+Associates and is a regular contributor to this blog.