Chamber News

Needham / Newton
May 08, 2019 Likes Comments

Transportation entrepreneur: We have to get this transition right

Robin Chase at Spring Business Breakfast

Photo by Leise Jones Photography

By Gail Spector

The country’s mobility future is a heaven or hell choice, transportation entrepreneur and featured speaker Robin Chase said at the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber’s annual Spring Business Breakfast on May 3.

“I can tell you that you get to hell by having the status quo persist,” Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, Veniam, NUMO and author of “Peers Inc: How People and Platforms are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism,” told the audience.

“The status quo zoning, the status quo taxation, the status quo street allocation will all deliver more hell.”

The tectonic plates in the technology sector are in motion, she said, pointing to Uber, Lyft, ZipCar, dockless bike, electric scooters, and the rise of order and delivery. The different parts are provoking a re-evaluation of the status quo.

“The entire sector is in flux and it’s really putting incredible stress on existing business modes, existing regulations and existing revenue streams.”

To build a surface parking space costs $25,000, Chase said. An elevated space costs $50,000, and an underground parking spot costs $75,000 - $85,000.

“If you want to build more affordable housing, take away parking minimums,” she said.

“Take them away."

But if you do build them, make sure they have flat floor plans and high ceilings because one day those unneeded parking spaces will need to be converted.

“Parking is definitely going away,” she said.

Also important in the mix is changing what happens at the street level so that people can make trips without cars, she said.

“There is demand for carless housing. What we have today isn’t working. We have to be revolutionary evolutionists. We have to move faster. The alternative is really ugly and it’s terrifying.”

Planning should assume more trips on micro-vehicles, she said.

In 2018, 84 million trips were made in micro-vehicles including dockless bicycle shares, station-based bicycle shares and shared scooters, with the number of trips on bikes and scooters doubling between 2017 and 2018.

Chase believes that underpricing is the root of most of the problems experienced today in transportation.

“We underpriced air pollution.We underpriced congestion. We’ve underpriced parking, the cost of building housing and retail. All of those underpriced things that cause us to over-consume cars and under-consume everything else will be gigantically magnified when you put autonomous vehicles in there.”

Because autonomous vehicles are free of the cost and personal time associated with today’s cars, they will magnify current problems because they will make car travel even cheaper.

“We have to correct these problems before we add autonomous vehicles,” Chase said.

In order to make changes, Chase said communities need to follow the shared mobility principles for livable cities that were developed by the leading international NGOs in sustainable transportation.

Urging audience members to visit, Chase listed examples including planning cities and mobility together; focusing on moving people, not cars; transition towards zero emission vehicles; and seeking fair user fees across all modes.

“We don’t need to make investment into wide highways. Let’s get those people out of those lanes,” she said.

“Infrastructure is destiny. We get what we build. We have to get this transition right."


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