The Live Ride Share Conference on “Shared Mobility” Is Coming to Denver

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Most of the time — 95 percent to be exact — cars just sit there parked. But even when they’re in motion, cars remain a remarkably inefficient way to move people, taking up huge amounts of space on city streets. They’re also a huge drag on household budgets. And yet, Denver’s infrastructure prioritizes private cars instead of more efficient, less expensive modes of transportation.

With fewer cars clogging streets and taking up scarce land, more space could be devoted to housing, or transit, or safe streets for biking and walking. So how can Denver make it easier for people to live in the city without owning a car?

That’s one question that organizers of the Live Ride Share Denver conference, May 17 at the Colorado Convention Center, want to answer. Then they want local politicians, private companies, advocates, and transportation planners and engineers to make it happen — to give everyone better options to get around easily and affordably.

“We want this conference to be catalytic and to involve action,” said Amanda Eaken, director of transportation and climate for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Urban Solutions program. Eaken helped found the conference last year in Los Angeles, where she vowed to go car-free in her home city of San Francisco. NRDC is orchestrating the May 17 conference in Denver with help from WalkDenver and Transit Alliance. (Full disclosure: NRDC helps fund Streetsblog Denver.)

The conference focuses on “shared mobility” — services like bike-share, car-share, ride-share, and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft — all of which can complement transit in a city with a bus and rail network that still has plenty of gaps.

The ride-hailing companies get most of the attention in the press. But according to a recent survey of people who use ride-hailing services in San Francisco, more than 40 percent of people said they would have walked, biked, or taken transit if they hadn’t hailed a car. For those trips, ride-hailing isn’t cutting traffic.

But companies like Lyft, Uber, and Car2go aren’t going anywhere, so cities need to figure out how to make them work with the larger transportation system instead of against it, said Eaken. “The last thing we need to do is create a system where we’re replacing transit trips with vehicle trips,” she said. “That’s not a goal.”

One aspect where ride-hailing could help is freeing up land that RTD currently devotes to park-and-ride lots. Providing cheap and free parking is a bad investment that actually works against the transit system.

“If the thinking of the agency is, ‘Well everybody can just drive to the transit stations,’ then we’re actually quite limited in the number of people that can access the station,” said Eaken. “It’s very expensive. And it’s also not fair, of course, because the high cost of providing that parking free to the drivers is cross subsidized by people who walk and bike to the station and don’t drive. So it’s not equitable at all. But if you think about the ability to expand the number of riders to the station with ride-share instead of building more parking, that starts to be really complementary.”

The hope is that hearing from national leaders like Gabe Klein and other speakers will rub off on Denver officials. It’s a national conference, but organizers want to make a big impact locally.