The phrase “solutions for a multimodal ecosystem” is a mouthful. The theme for Michelin’s 2019 Movin’On Summit held in Montreal June 4-6, its implications for Greenville’s transportation system – from traffic-light timing to consistent public transit – are even more complicated.

Buzzword-heavy slogan aside, those five words succinctly sum up local efforts already in motion with the help of Greenville leaders who attended the third annual sustainable mobility summit last month.

Created and inspired by Michelin, the Movin’On Summit is an immersion into the world of mobility with the goal of moving from ambition to action in the conversations about the major global challenges of clean, safe, efficient, and accessible mobility for all.

The 2019 summit coincided with the momentum Connecting Our Future – an Upstate transportation alliance – is experiencing as it moves toward formal organization. With Ten at the Top as leading organizer, Connecting Our Future is an effort to create a regional vision for transportation, mobility, and connectivity in the Upstate’s 10 counties.

Connecting Our Future focus areas:

  • How we invest in mobility and transportation
  • How we move people and goods, specifically through public transit, but also through other means
  • Active transportation – biking and walking – and the connection between land use and transportation
  • Technology

Beginning the search for an executive director, the alliance is poised to step up the local conversations as members work toward quantifiable action.

But the solutions for moving a socioeconomically diverse population efficiently and sustainably are neither simple nor immediate.

Dean Hybl, executive director of Ten at the Top, says most of the efforts started now to improve sustainable mobility locally will not reach maturity for five to 15 years.

“We’ve got to plant the seeds. Most things are not an easy fix,” he says.

Multimodal mobility

Defined, multimodal is “characterized by several different modes of activity or occurrence.” Relating to transportation, the term is used to describe using two or more modes of transportation to get from point A to point B – riding a bicycle to the bus or train stop or driving to a park-and-ride lot and carpooling from there, for instance. The potential combinations are numerous, even in a smaller metropolitan community, as are the benefits of decreasing the numbers of cars on the roads – lowering emissions being a main goal.

“I think the Connecting Our Future initiative will help to advance the dialogue and, ultimately, the implementation of multimodal mobility solutions,” says Carlos Phillips, CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, who attended Movin’On. “I’m excited to kind of ramp up the conversation and get folks around the table that are open-minded enough to have them think past some of the challenges that we have. Implementing multimodal mobility solutions, there are going to be some challenges. How do you overcome that? Seeing communities that have done that, it gives me hope that we can do the same.”

The alliance is bringing all of the right people into the conversation, Hybl says, such as Rob Krulac, senior business development director of CU-ICAR, who also attended Movin’On.

“The alliance will be a mechanism to help the doers have greater success,” Hybl says.

Krulac represents one of the potential alliance members who could be involved in developing new technologies and cultivating partnerships with international resources.

Relieving road congestion requires collaboration with not only those public or private entities that could create a park-and-ride lot or, on a larger scale, a mass transportation system, but also traffic engineers to ensure that lights are timed efficiently to move traffic and that county and state road maintenance is kept up. Accidents and stranded vehicles due to tire-sized potholes create literal roadblocks to efficient transportation, Hybl says.

All of those, and many more components, have to be addressed for a workable solution to exist.

Public transportation

Greenlink’s marketing and public affairs manager, Nicole McAden, says the four electric Proterra buses that joined the public bus fleet last month are the most obvious response to creating sustainable public mobility.

A reworked bus route schedule with the new additions was rolled out this month along with a new unlimited monthly ride card, both of which should improve access and consistency of service, and save Greenlink fuel, maintenance, and staffing costs, McAden says.

Other considerations, such as the sustainability of the built environment, are equally as important, she says.

“As a community, Greenville County, we need to be thinking about how we develop our communities and our neighborhoods — new commercial, new residential projects – that support transportation in a sustainable way,” she says.

McAden attended a session at Movin’On that dealt specifically with the financing of electric vehicles using sustainable models.

“As a community, we’re going to have to get behind where that money comes from,” she says.

Positive messaging

“We need to really think about how we’re selling the product of transit,” McAden says.

Much of the challenge is overcoming misinformation about riding the bus or not understanding the benefits, Phillips says.

Part of the messaging also includes communicating to an instant-gratification population the long-term results and continual investment into public transportation, Hybl says.

While certainly applicable to sustainable mobility as a whole, Hybl says a main benefit of Movin’On was discovering a sense of camaraderie with other communities, even those much larger than Greenville, that are struggling in the area of improving the communication about using public transportation and all of the various elements that go into that.

Community buy-in

“Hopefully, then, next year or at some point, we’ll start a campaign around understanding the value and the importance of community investment,” Hybl says. “And not just public transportation, but really, in a variety of methods that move people and goods. Public transportation is one element, where you’ve got to also make sure we’re focusing on the connection between land use and transportation. People want to walk and bike to work, to shopping, or to other things. Well, part of what makes that possible is having land use that connects those.”

McAden says statistics are showing that youth are choosing to delay getting their drivers’ licenses or cars and instead are using ride-sharing for transportation rather than the bus system. She says Greenlink is considering what type of communication would work to engage a population that is not yet involved.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could engage the youth of Greenville County?” she asks.

Hybl says more companies like Michelin need to be involved not only on the technology side but also in educating their own employees to become community advocates.

Employer cooperation

McAden explains the need for employer partnerships or cooperation with Greenlink or any other future public transit options for those modes to continue to exist:

“Specifically, if you’re doing like an 8-5 job shift, a bus can only hold 60 people. So how do you incentivize a staggering of shifts? Like, the employer is going to have to be flexible with that employee so that if they come in 30 minutes late because they’re on the second bus, they’re not penalized from it. So it’s a community effort to provide the services, but if the employer is going to punish an employee for utilizing that service, because they couldn’t fit on the first capacity bus, then nobody’s going to use it.”

Phillips, as an employer, says he is considering his role.

“I have a staff myself; we are moving from our Cleveland Street location to the heart of downtown. How can the chamber not only influence other employers, but how can we encourage our own staff to leverage existing public transportation and then embrace whatever the future will look like in that regard?” he says.

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