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In our thin cities and suburban areas, it is far more difficult to reach transit, and so most people still own their own automobile. There’s not much of a jungle yet. Can we move beyond the personal automobile in such areas?

I think any transition would have to start with the roughly 70 million commuters in the United States. The recipe for making car ownership less necessary for them requires three main ingredients. First, we need express “trunk line” transit services (trains, buses, vans, or carpools) from residential neighborhoods to areas where people work. Next, people will need local, short-distance transportation in the form of a bike, low-cost taxi, shuttle, or small personal vehicle to get to and from the trunk line service. Finally, car-sharing services—like Zipcar or peer-to-peer services like Getaround or RelayRides—need to be available near both work and home so people can have access to a car when they need one.

I call the transfer points where local transportation meets the trunk line services “GoPoints.” These points would be located every three or four miles across the suburban area surrounding a metropolitan region. Our current train, light rail, and bus rapid transit stations are already GoPoints, but we would need many more (a flag in a shopping mall’s parking lot could serve as one). And we would need thriving regional and local transportation services connecting to them.

The system would be similar to our national airport network. It would require users to have both easy access to their local GoPoint and a convenient “last mile” service to let them reach their final destination. Who would want to fly to an airport in another city that did not offer car rental, taxis, or shuttles for that purpose? Technologies like GPS and smart phones are critical in organizing our movement around such hubs and finding the fastest, most convenient transportation home.

Beyond helping commuters, the GoPoint system would enable millions of seniors and youth to get where they need to go across their city or region without needing to own a car. We have an opportunity to integrate piecemeal mobility innovations into meaningful solutions for consumers in both thick and thin cities. Seizing that opportunity will reduce the footprint of our transportation system and allow us to convert a portion of our roadways and parking areas into bike and pedestrian paths.

Dan Sturges is former GM car designer, inventor of the GEM neighborhood vehicle, and a member of the Transportation Research Board. His work on sustainable mobility reform can be found at www.wheelchange.us.

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Credit: Jose Paris/itMoves

Tagged: Business, Business Impact, business

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