Curbside in Boston: Increasing Available Parking with Innovative Pricing

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

boston-parking-meters (1)
Boston Parking

We’ve all had the experience of having to drive around a city looking for on-street parking near our destination. Having limited availability of parking can lead to increased traffic congestion and vehicle emissions and decreased safety while drivers are distracted and looking away from the road to find parking. The City of Boston, as well as the Commonwealth (including MassDOT), have all been looking for ways to reduce vehicle emissions and improve driver safety. Variable parking meter pricing by municipalities may help.

The City of Boston recently completed a year-long pilot study testing higher parking meter pricing in the Back Bay and Seaport neighborhoods. The final report of the study is available online here. A main goal of the study was to increase the availability of on-street parking with 1-2 on-street parking spaces per city block being open at all times, equivalent to a parking occupancy rate of 60-80%. The City also sought to increase road safety by reducing distracted driving caused by drivers looking for parking and to reduce traffic congestion by decreasing illegal parking and the time to find parking.

For the study, the City raised the metered parking prices in the Back Bay area and kept the higher price for the whole pilot year. With the increased pricing, the study achieved its stated goals. With the higher meter charges, there were more open on-street parking spaces for residents and business customers.  There was also a reduction in illegal parking, in illegal parking in loading zones, in double parking, and an overall decrease in traffic congestion.

In the Seaport area, the City used a more dynamic pricing model, varying the meter prices from block to block and adjusting them every two months to try to maintain 60-80% on-street parking occupancy.  During the study, the dynamic pricing generally did not lead to more parking availability. The on-street parking occupancy in many of the zones increased from January to October 2017, even though the meter prices were raised repeatedly. Parking occupancy fell during the final two months of 2017, though it’s not clear if that was due to the higher prices. Other factors could be an ongoing construction project that impacted parking availability, and seasonal demand fluctuations in the Seaport area. Overall, during the study, the number of parking meter transactions decreased. It is possible that many drivers going to the Seaport area were not aware of the differing and changing prices for different streets. As in the Back Bay, the amount of illegal parking fell significantly during the study.

During the study, public outreach sessions were held in the Back Bay and the Seaport neighborhoods. Both positive and negative feedback was received, with the negative feedback focused on the parking rate increases in these neighborhoods when other neighborhoods kept their old parking prices. Despite the latter feedback, the City considers the pilot program to be a success overall. When announcing the study results, Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina N. Findaca shared the City’s findings that the parking pilot program was “an effective tool to reduce congestion, improve safety, and open up more parking in our busiest neighborhoods” and “this program makes better use of our limited curb space and helps our business districts and neighborhoods thrive by making sure drivers can easily find a spot and that pedestrians and cyclists are not adversely impacted by double parking.”

Parking meter revenues rose by $5.7 million in the Back Bay and by $300,000 in the Seaport area during the pilot year. These funds will be used for a variety of projects to improve transportation mobility including for sidewalks, bus lanes, buses, and bridges.

There are other cities, including San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, that have introduced dynamic meter prices in popular neighborhoods and during times of peak demand to help address parking shortages and encourage other transportation modes.

Boston’s leadership is now considering possibly continuing the differential pricing in its current locations and perhaps extending it to additional parts of the city.

 

MassDOT Research on Options for ADA Paratransit Services

by Eric Gonzales, Assistant Professor, UMass Amherst, and Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

paratransit
Governor Baker (right) at the Ride, Uber and Lyft ADA Paratransit partnership press conference (MassLive)

One of MassDOT’s research project titled “Optimizing ADA Paratransit Operations with Taxi and Ride Share Programs”, had its kick-off meeting in December 2017 and is well underway.  This $152k research project began in December with the project kickoff meeting scheduled for December 14th at MassDOT.   This project is Championed by Ben Schutzman, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s (MBTA) and will be aimed at optimizing programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize overall system costs.

Rising ridership on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, such as MBTA’s “The Ride”, pose a challenge due to the high costs of operating this required service.  The objective of this project is to optimize programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize system cost. The benefits to MBTA will be to lower the cost of providing service in order to accommodate the anticipated increase in ridership.  The challenge of managing a demand-response transportation service, for people with disabilities, is the system operation depends on the demand of the traveler behavior and supply structure and costs.  As of March 1, 2017, a pilot program now allows eligible ADA paratransit customers on “The Ride” were able to use taxicabs, Uber, or Lyft for a subsidized trip.  The goal is to provide insights about how the operation and use of the system is changing under the pilot program and then to provide guidance about how to manage a multimodal ADA program that provides users with a greater range of choices than they have had in the past.  Although the scope is tied closely to an analysis of the MBTA system, the insights are likely to have implications for the ADA paratransit systems elsewhere in Massachusetts.  A recent Boston Globe article provides an update to March 2017 pilot study, the increase in demand and some initial cost per ride numbers.

Eric Gonzales, UMass Amherst, the project’s Principal Investigator states “the project will allow us to use modeling tools to analyze how coordinating ADA paratransit services with taxis is changing the experience for customers and costs of the agency.  Our goal is to identify ways to provide cost-effective and high-quality service for customers with disabilities as part of an equitable and sustainable transit system for the Boston region.”

Uber, Lyft…Impacting Traffic and Economic Development

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

 

uber

People are taking Uber, Lyft or Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) more these days and often to avoid both parking and drinking and driving.  Although the majority of users are urban base, demand has been increasing in suburbia for Ubering.  TNCs have changed the way people get around and have impacted traffic in many cities.  If these types of rides are a pre-cursor to autonomous vehicles, the additional passenger trips will continue to increase and will also impact economic development.

A recent U.C. Davis study that included 4,000 users in seven major metro areas—Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., between 2014 and 2016 – points to cities increasing in passenger trips and in population, but transit rides and taxi trips decreasing.  The TNCs are the main source that are accommodating the increase in trips and in-turn causing more urban traffic congestion.

This study also found that around 50% of these trips would not have happened at all or would have been done some other way, via transit, walking etc…This coupled with the dead head time, when no passengers are in the vehicle, the TNCs are having a dramatic impact on vehicle miles traveled and congestion.

Currently New York City is the only major metropolitan city that mandates TNCs to report their travel data.  Other cities are able to obtain data but TNCs are not required to share it.  Being able to access and analyze this data can be the key to determining current and future traffic impacts.

Massachusetts passed legislation in 2016, creating a regulatory framework for TNCs. Speaking with Katie Gronendyke, Press Secretary, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the MA Department of Public Utilities Transportation Network Companies Division  does require some TNC travel data to be reported:

274.12: Reporting Requirements

(2) Annually, a TNC shall report to the Division the following: (a) By February 1st of each calendar year, a TNC shall submit a report for the number of Rides from the previous calendar year, including: 1. City or town where each Ride originated; 2. City or town where each Ride ended; 3. Aggregated and anonymized trip route and length (miles and minutes); and 4. Location of Vehicle accidents;

(b) By March 31st of each calendar year, a TNC shall report its intrastate operating revenues for the previous calendar year. If a TNC fails to report its intrastate operating revenues to the Division by March 31st of any calendar year, the Division may estimate a TNC’s intrastate operating revenues. A TNC’s intrastate operating revenue shall include but not be limited to any Rider picked up at the following: 1. Airport; 2. Train station; 3. Bus terminal; or 4. Any other kind of port.

AASHTO’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program Problem Statements…2018!

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for NCHRP

It’s that time of year again when each state Department of Transportation agencies evaluate problem statements for AASHTO’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP).  MassDOT’s Research Section in the Office of Transportation Planning (OTP) will be looking for internal expertise to review and rate the 2018 problem statements.  The 2018 candidate projects include problem statements associated with a variety of subject matter categories including: Administration, Transportation Planning, Transportation Design, Materials & Construction, Maintenance, and Traffic.  Each year, Mass DOT strives to complete the rating of 100% of these proposed NCHRP Problem Statements.

Be on the look-out for the NCHRP problem statements and your involvement is very much appreciated.  Here’s an overview of NCHRP.

Where is my Snowplow? Snowplow Apps and Cams Comfort Drivers

by Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

MNDOT_snowplow_webcam
Minnesota DOT

When snowy weather comes, drivers want to know which roads have been plowed and what the road conditions are.  A number of state Departments of Transportation (DOT) are now providing the public access to the real-time data that the DOTs collect on roads and plows.  Some states even have snowplow dashboard cameras so people can watch the plows at work and see the roads as the plow drivers see them.

The Iowa DOT’s Track a Plow program started in 2013. Track a Plow lets anyone with Internet access see where plows are operating, and view photos taken from cameras attached to plow windshields.  As described on the Iowa DOT web site, “the data and images coming from the snowplow trucks are part of a larger data collection process that includes global positioning satellite and advanced vehicle location technology to help the Iowa DOT make smarter decisions related to treating Iowa’s roadways. Eric Abrams, the Iowa DOT’s geographic information systems (GIS) coordinator, developed the architecture behind the public website. ‘Our snowplow trucks are now equipped to collect a wealth of information. Some of it is more useful to managers and supervisors at the DOT and some of it helps everyone. We’ve made the data available in a variety of layers on the track a plow site so people can pick and choose what they want to see. So far, the camera layer has been the most popular with the public.’”

The Michigan DOT (MDOT) piloted its snowplow tracking program for the past few winters and has now expanded it statewide. The department’s Mi Drive website and app for traffic conditions lets people see where MDOT snowplows are and also whether they are actively plowing or applying ice melting materials. Some of the plows also have webcams which can be viewed through Mi Drive. As the MLive newsite reported, “MDOT has long allowed access to traffic cameras and images, but this new feature will show the havoc of Michigan’s winter with a first-person (vehicle) view.”  Information on the web site and app is updated every 60-90 seconds. According to MDOT, the Mi Drive app version is especially popular with motorists as it is faster and easier to use than the web site and allows more customization.

The Minnesota DOT (MNDOT) pilot tested snowplow cams for the first time last year and put them on about 200 plows (25% of the MNDOT fleet). A short video on this MNDOT initiative can be seen here.  The snowplow info shared with the public by MNDOT is part of the Minnesota’s 511 road information system (511mn.org).

Other state DOTs do not have web cams on their snowplows yet but still share weather and snowplow data online, and give the public access to some of their GIS data layers used by staff. The Pennsylvania DOT shares snowplow locations through its 511pa.com site. The Utah DOT (UDOT) includes a snowplow layer in its real-time UDOT Traffic web site and smartphone app. This website and app gives plow locations and shows where the plows have traveled in the last 30 minutes (the data is updated every 3-5 minutes). Last winter, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) launched its Find My Plow site which helps motorists see where plows have been, and when the next plow is coming, so they can plan their driving trips accordingly.

 

UMTC Affiliates & MassDOT Assistant Secretary Katherine Fichter Present at WPI Conference on Vehicle Automation

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

In May 2017, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) held its second annual Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Summer School speaker series, sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Vehicular Technology Society (IEEE VTS). The event included two days of lectures and discussions.

CAV intersection
Photo source: U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Danjue Chen, Professor at UMass-Lowell and UMTC Affiliate, discussed the impacts of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) on traffic operations and highway traffic flow, and how CAVs can help optimize roadway capacity and traffic control. Professor Chen is the featured researcher in this month’s Innovative Outlook (IO).
  • Hossein Pishro-Nik, Professor at UMass-Amherst and UMTC Affiliate, spoke about Vehicular Ad Hoc Networks (VANETs) for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-roadway infrastructure communications. His talk discussed the relationship between communications and safety in VANETs, how VANETs can be customized for different traffic conditions and individual drivers, and the issues of privacy in VANETs and Internet-connected devices and applications. Professor Pishro-Nik’s research is described in more detail in another post.
  • Jason Rife, Professor at Tufts University, presented information on different GPS-based technologies and applications that can assist with automated vehicles and navigation, even in dense urban areas with limited sky visibility.
  • Bob Sletten, Engineering Manager at Autoliv, a company that develops automotive safety systems for auto manufacturers, spoke about radar technology in automotive applications.
  • Akshay Rajhans, Senior Research Scientist at MathWorks, spoke about model-based design for connected autonomous vehicles. As described in the WPI conference program, “model-based design makes use of computational models of systems under design that are developed, optimized and checked after correctness specifications throughout the design cycle.”
  • Alexander Wyglinski, WPI Professor and organizer of the conference, provided an overview of vehicular communication systems and the fundamental concepts for understanding, designing, and implementing them.

The keynote speaker at the gathering was Katherine Fichter, Assistant Secretary for Policy Coordination at MassDOT. Ms. Fichter discussed the potential future impacts of driverless vehicles under different scenarios, including a Driverless Utopia and a Driverless Nightmare that were described in Driving Towards Driverless Cars, a blog by Lauren Isaac. Under these scenarios, autonomous vehicles are expected to improve roadway safety, increase vehicle miles traveled, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there are other potential impacts that are less certain. For example, will more driverless cars reduce urban sprawl or increase it, and how will the mobility of low-income people be impacted? As Ms. Fichter discussed, there are questions as well about how autonomous vehicles will be regulated and insured. One big challenge is that current regulations are all based on the idea that vehicles have human operators; this will need to change.

The Phantom Bus Driver: Helsinki Rolls Out Autonomous Public Transit

By Adrian Ayala, UMTC Research Staff

Helsinki, Finland has long been on the forefront of developing cutting edge transportation technologies. By 2025, they hope to implement a “mobility on demand” system that would eliminate the need for private vehicles through the combination of bicycle-sharing, public transit, and on demand taxi services. One of Finland’s laws is particularly conducive to increasing the technology involved with transportation – they do not legally require vehicles on public roadways to have drivers within the vehicle.

phantom_bus_helsinki

In August, they began taking an even more dramatic step to revolutionizing their citizens’ daily transportation needs. Although autonomous busses have been seen before in more controlled environments such as college campuses, the Helsinki bus is the first of its kind to operate on public roads, interacting with live traffic and having to make complex driving decisions. As of November 1st, the busses are running a route between Tampere University of Technology and Hervantakeskus Shopping Centre. The brains behind the project plan on stopping the service at the first snow fall in order to test the vehicle under difficult conditions. By getting commuters out of private cars and into public transit, the city of Helsinki could decongest streets, creating a safer atmosphere for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Developed by French company EasyMile in collaboration with the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, the model, EZ10, is able to carry 12 passages, 6 sitting and 6 standing. It uses a system of sensors and software in order to be aware of its surroundings. Passengers can board and disembark at predetermined points along the route.

Although the busses are a large step forward in moving toward autonomous transportation, there are still various pitfalls that must be first overcome. First of all, the busses are not completely autonomous. There is an attendant in the front of the vehicle, ready to push the emergency stop if the situation arises. Furthermore, the busses are only currently running at 7 mph, making efficient travel a bit of a difficulty. Lastly, it is not capable of lateral movement – if the vehicle needs to swerve around an obstacle, the attendant must manually do so.

bus_2_helsinki

Currently, the best use for the autonomous bus is in last mile service. The city of Helsinki, along with the University, hope to use the bus to move people from a transportation hub, to a final destination in the home. The city does not plan to replace the entire public transit system with these autonomous vehicles, but rather, hopes to use them as supplements to the existing system in high use areas. The main usage Helsinki has in mind is using them as a feeder service, transporting people to faster, more efficient forms of transit. Although only cruising along at a snail’s pace, Helsinki hopes for the bus to finally reach the Finnish line.

A Seasonal Bicycle Demand Model Using A Sinusoidal Function

As urban populations increase, there is a growing need for efficient and sustainable transportation modes, such as bicycling. Unfortunately, the lack of bicycle demand data is a substantial barrier to efforts in designing, planning, and researching bicycle transportation. Estimating bicycle demand is especially difficult not only due to limited count data, but due to the fact that bicyclists are highly responsive to a multitude of factors, particularly seasonal weather conditions. Current bicycle demand estimation methods are increasingly improving and are capable of accurately adjusting for seasonal change in demand. However, these methods often require substantial data for each calibration, which is often difficult or impossible in locations with partial or minimal continuous count data. This research aims to help mitigate this challenge by developing an estimation method which uses a sinusoidal model to fit the typical pattern of seasonal bicycle demand expected in in many locations. This sinusoidal model utilizes a single calibration factor to adjust for scale of seasonal demand change and is capable of estimating monthly average daily bicycle counts (ADB) and average annual daily bicycle counts (AADB). This calibration factor can be established using a minimum of two short term counts to represent the maximum monthly ADB in summer and minimum monthly ADB in winter, or ideally with continuous counts. The calibration factor can then be applied to other locations that are expected to have similar seasonal patterns, even if they have different overall counts. To develop the model this research uses data from bike-share systems in four cities and permanent bicycle counters in six cities. Ultimately, this model functions as an alternative, or supportive, estimation method which allows for researchers and transportation agencies to approximate expected demand in locations that suffer from minimal seasonal bicycle demand data.

By Nicholas Fournier, Eleni Christofa, and Michael A. Knodler Jr., UMass-Amherst Researchers

 

Evolving Strategies for Demand Responsive Transit

ada_maryland

For people who are unable to drive or use conventional transit (e.g., fixed route buses and trains), getting around can be a real challenge. One group is receiving increasing attention in the transportation community: people with physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from being able to use existing buses and trains. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires transit agencies to operate curb-to-curb paratransit with ¾ mile of fixed route bus services for these. Although ADA paratransit constitutes only 1% of transit trips in U.S., the services make up 8% of the operating costs. Furthermore, demand for ADA paratransit increased by 41% from 2000 to 2010, and the trend of increasing demand and increasing cost is expected to continue as the American population gets older [1]. This presents a major challenge for transit agencies: equitable service must be provided for customers with disabilities, but increasing costs threaten the ability of agencies to continue providing adequate ADA paratransit along with conventional services. Recent and ongoing research at UMass Amherst addresses multiple strategies for managing ADA paratransit needs.

One way to approach the problem of mounting paratransit costs is to focus on optimizing the operations. Recent studies of ADA paratransit demand and operation patterns in New Jersey have shown that the total operating cost in a service region can be modeled based on the area of the region, the rate that trips are requested per time, and the allowable time window for an on-time pick-up [2].  There are ways to geographically align service regions to cover large areas in order to minimize the negative effects of making customers transfer.  It can be beneficial to break up large regions into zones such that one zone provides service within a dense urban core, and another zone provides service to more distributed areas [3].

Another approach to the problem is to manage demand by incentivizing users to travel at times of day when there is excess system capacity. The current ADA regulation requires agencies to schedule paratransit service within one hour of the customer’s requested pick-up time and to charge no more than 1.5 times the fare of conventional transit service. Peaks in demand at certain times of day leave agencies with no choice but to purchase more vehicles and hire more drivers, but these resources are costly when they go unused at other times of day. A time-varying fare, within the ADA constraints, could incentivize users with flexible schedules to travel at less costly times of the day to improve the system’s overall efficiency [4].

An emerging question is what role existing ADA paratransit should play in serving this population in the long term. We know that shared-ride services are most efficient in areas with dense demand.  In the suburban fringe, there are many trips that could be served more cost-effectively by taxis or on-demand mobility services (e.g., Uber, Lyft). In the Boston area, where the average cost of serving a one-way paratransit trip is $46.88, the MBTA is piloting a program to subsidize taxi trips for some users [5]. Despite concerns about vehicles being physically equipped and drivers having appropriate training to serve customers with disabilities, demand responsive services that allow vehicles to be shared by multiple user groups hold great promise for bringing down the cost of providing high-quality ADA paratransit service. Perhaps the changes that emerging technologies are bringing for mobility services will be a great equalizer that can afford the same transportation choices to people with disabilities as the rest of the general public. One thing is certain, the future users are going to require flexible and efficient transportation systems to meet their diverse needs.

By: Dr. Eric Gonzales

  1. American Public Transit Association (APTA) (2012). 2012 Public Transportation Factbook. Available online from: http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/FactBook/
    APTA_2012_Fact%20Book.pdf
  2. Rahimi, M., Amirgholy, M., Gonzales, E.J. (2014). Continuum approximation modeling of ADA paratransit operations in New Jersey. Paper Number 14-4864. Transportation Research Board 93rd Annual Meeting, 12–16 January, Washington, D.C.
  3. Rahimi, M., Gonzales, E.J. (2015). Systematic evaluation of zoning strategies for demand responsive transit. Paper Number 15-4023. Transportation Research Board 94th Annual Meeting, 11–15 January, Washington, D.C.
  4. Amirgholy, M., Gonzales, E.J. (2015). Demand responsive transit systems with time dependent demand: User equilibrium, system optimum, and management strategy. Transportation Research Part B, doi:10.2016/j.trb.2015.11.006.
  5. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Riding the T. Available online from: http://www.mbta.com/riding_the_t/accessible_services/?id=7108

UMass Researchers Crowdsource Data to Provide Travel Information

Dr. Lance Fiondella gave a talk on “Software Tools to Support Transportation Network Performance and Vulnerability Analysis.”  He highlighted his recent research, working closely with Venkateswaran Shekar, a PhD student, on developing a Smartphone Application that will be able to capture individual geographical coordinates to better understand individual travel behavior. The crowdsourced coordinates are uploaded every 3 seconds which allows the researchers to capture the travel path and time, and then calculate speed of an individual walking, biking or driving. There is also a feature that allows voluntary input of demographic data which will allow for more sophisticated data analysis on travel patterns across key demographics. Researchers are also looking into developing additional features such as allowing the user to call for help and the App will provide geographical coordinates.

Dr. Fiondella is an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in the Electrical and Computer Science Department. Check out the presentation here. Learn more about Dr. Fiondella here.

By Melissa Paciulli, UMTC Manager of Research