Mobility on demand

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Overview of Mobility on Demand Sandbox Program [1]


Mobility on demand (MOD) is a Federal Transit Administration term for “an integrated and connected multi-modal network of safe, affordable, and reliable transportation options that are available to all.” This includes modern transportation systems like ridesharing, carsharing, and bikesharing, and demand-responsive transit as well as smartphone apps and other technology. Because these tools are relatively new to transit agencies, the FTA does not yet have clear guidelines to cover all of them. The organization has developed the MOD Sandbox Program to award grants to agencies experimenting with MOD. The FTA hopes this experimentation will lead to a better understanding of the role of mobility on demand in transit operation.

MOD Sandbox Program Projects

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

In 2016, LA Metro received $1,350,000 in federal funding for a two-region mobility on demand partnership with Lyft (the partnership has since changed from Lyft to Via), in Los Angeles and Seattle. The project was designed to explore the viability of first/last mile solutions for trips originating and ending at select transit stops.[1] Metro provided this service in three zones that included the following strategic stations: North Hollywood, El Monte, Artesia, Compton, Willowbrook/Rosa Parks, Avalon, and Long Beach. Riders can request rides using Via's existing mobile app or by calling over the phone. Via then matches passengers with other riders along similar routes. Pricing is set in advance, with TAP card holders paying $1.75 and non-TAP riders paying $3.75. Currently however, all rides are free.[2]

The project was rolled out in late January 2019, and reactions have been mixed. Streetsblog LA has been very critical of the pilot, characterizing it as an "expensive flop".[3] Both the FTA and Eno Foundation have conducted external, independent evaluations of the program, as they seek to assess the efficacy of the pilot. The Eno Foundation report covers the process that developed the contracts and partnerships for the pilot projects in both Los Angeles and Puget Sound, and makes recommendations for how the process can be improved.

Los Angeles Department of Transportation

The Dockless Mobility Pilot was started in 2018 as a one-year pilot permit program, developed to manage privately-operated bikes and scooters. 9 providers were permitted to distribute a standard of 3,000 bikes, and potentially up to 5,000 provided that they distribute the additional 2,000 scooters in “Disadvantaged Communities” as identified by CalEnviroScreen 2.0. Over one year, 36,710 dockless bikes and scooters were distributed and placed at 72 designated parking stations. 6 companies  (Lime, Spin, Bird, Wheels, Jump, and Lyft) were awarded One-Year Conditional Use permits.

As a part of the pilot, providers were required to share data on the distribution of their devices via the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) led the development of MDS and recently transferred ownership to the non-profit Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). MDS is a set of 3 APIS: the “policy” API, which is implemented by regulatory agencies and accessed by mobility providers to provide information on the rules governing the operation of devices. the “provider” API which is implemented by mobility providers and access by regulatory agencies to monitor the status of individual decides trip information; and the “agency” API which is implemented by agencies and accessed by mobility providers to track the number of vehicles that are registered and operational.  Over 80 cities currently use MDS -- though Los Angeles is one of the few who actually requires mobility-as-a-service providers to publish their data in the MDS format as a condition of operating their devices within the city limits. Ownership and management of the MDS standard was recently transferred to the Open Mobility Foundation, which oversees its distribution to other cities around the world.

Equity in Mobility On Demand

As mobility on demand proliferated, it has generated new equity concern. As revealed by protest in the Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, on-demand micromobility systems can be perceived as harbingers of neighborhood change and displacement. Technological concerns include providing mechanisms for riders without access to smartphones or bank accounts to use shared modes. Spatial concerns have arisen regarding the geographic distribution of docks and parking areas. Economic concerns have also been raised regarding the per-mile cost of shared modes. From a demographic perspective, concerns have been raised that riders are disproportionately white and male (Bradley, 2018; Goffman, 2018). The collection of data raises privacy issues as well, which is a particularly large barrier for Los Angeles’ immigrant and undocumented communities.

Civil society has begun responding to these equity concerns by using the word frequently throughout policies relating to shared mobility. In 2017, a coalition of 10 high-profile non-profits signed the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities (“Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities,” n.d.). The key declaration for this analysis is Principle 5, which declares We Promote Equity, and specifies that “Physical, digital, and financial access to shared transport services are valuable public goods and need thoughtful design to ensure use is possible and affordable by all users, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, income, ability, or other characteristic/identity.”  Among the signatories of the Shared Mobility Principles is the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), who in 2018 authored, in collaboration with LADOT, a “Shared-Mobility Climate and Equity Action Plan (“Los Angeles Shared-Mobility Climate and Equity Action Plan,” n.d.).

LADOT followed NRDC’s recommendations to “embed” equity outcomes by segmenting the city into 3 “equity zones” based on data from CalEnviroScreen 3.0, mandating that 2,500 devices be distributed in environmental justice zones, 5,000 in San Fernando Enviro Screen Areas, and 3,000 in the remaining areas of the city (August, 2016; Ross, 2018). This requirement was enforced through mandatory reporting of scooter location data in the MDS format. While providers are usually only allowed to operate 3,000 devices in the city, this amount may be increased if they agree to add new devices in disadvantaged communities. In addition, each operator must provide “a low-income fare option, a cash payment option, and a non-smartphone option” for riders to access the devices (Couch & Smalley, 2019).


  1. Federal Transit Administration. Fiscal Year 2016 Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox Program Projects, Viewed on 14 December 2019,
  2. LA Metro. Ride with Via, View on 14 December 2019,
  3. Linton, Joe (2019). Six Months in, Metro/Via Mobility on Demand Pilot is an Expensive Flop, Viewed on 14 December 2019,