As cities across the world face growing traffic congestion — and the stress and carbon pollution that come with it — people need a variety of options to get where they need to go.
It’s not enough to just provide transportation “alternatives”. We need to offer high-quality transportation choices that are more convenient, more affordable, and maybe even more fun than driving a car.
Luckily, the timing is right for a radical shift in the transportation landscape.
As mobile technology improves and the sharing economy evolves, new transportation options are emerging each day, along with better choices for managing trip planning and payments. In cities like Portland and Seattle, where we first launched Validated, it’s becoming easier to live without owning a car. Having access to a range of transportation options rather than being tied to a single mode helps people feel freer and happier — and makes our cities’ streets less congested.
Validated offers a patented technology platform that allows businesses to generate footfall and build customer loyalty through subsidized transportation options. Founded as Parkt, Inc. dba Validated in 2015 by Tov Arneson, Ian Lyman and Alexander Wilhelm, Validated offers services in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. The company is an alumnus of Techstars Seattle.
If we are going to grow the number of people who feel like they have real choice in how they travel, we need to consider the overall cost of a trip, as well as who pays for it. Let’s take a look at the possibilities for rethinking how we pay for transportation in a way that supports small businesses, strengthens public transit, fosters emerging mobility options, and provides better options for each of us as we travel around our cities.
Small Businesses and Employers
Transportation is an essential part of the business-customer relationship — it connects people to their city.
When a customer receives a discount or reward for visiting a local business, it cultivates loyalty. Grocery stores and large retailers have been doing this for years, offering customers points that earn them coupons or discounts. And smaller businesses have adopted the model as well — most people have at least one punch card in their wallet from a local café or coffee shop. If that reward for patronizing a business can take the form of a credit for transportation — it becomes even more valuable.
At Validated, we’ve begun partnering with small/medium sized businesses and transportation providers to offer transportation credits to their customers that can then be used for a wide variety of transportation options including public transit, rideshare, bikeshare, or scooters.
Unlike other loyalty programs, where customers receive an impersonal coupon in the mail that they promptly lose, or a discount via email perceived as spam that languishes unread, a transportation credit can be awarded instantly. Customers receive an automatic personalized text message once they’ve spent a targeted amount (maybe $10, $20, or $50), letting them know they have earned a mobility credit they can use however they choose.
A reward that is linked directly to the shopping experience (traveling to and from the store), mixed with instant notification, strengthens brand affinity and leaves customers feeling valued and cared for.
Tying loyalty to transportation, however, means that instead of discounting their core products, businesses are inviting customers to visit by removing barriers and making the travel experience more seamless: no more circling for parking, feeding the meter or paying full bus fare. At the same time, restaurant owners can encourage repeat customers who are more likely to order dessert because it could pay for their ride home.
Transit Agencies and Mobility Companies
While the concept of loyalty is crucial for retail businesses, it’s just as important for both public transit agencies and private mobility service companies. Generating affinity for any service requires connecting your brand to people’s lifestyles. Connecting transportation discounts to stores and restaurants that people may be visiting anyway adds significant value for your customers and can keep them coming back.
Subsidy, in some form, has always been part of our transportation system. Traditionally, government has helped to subsidize public transportation to sustain the service and keep it at a cost that is within reach for most people. For decades, the brick-and-mortar businesses have offered validation for paid parking. And more recently, nearly all of the new mobility options that have popped up have relied on billions in venture capital to keep trip costs low as the market matures. However, each of the subsidies have always been tied to a single mode of transportation.
When we all concentrate our efforts on providing the most choice to the most people, opening up options for how people use their transportation subsidies and tying transportation into how people live their daily lives, we can create benefits for both public and private service providers. Transit agencies see their services become even more affordable and cost competitive with both driving and private sector mobility options. At the same time, private mobility providers have a viable path to a sustainable business model that allows them to reduce their reliance on subsidy from venture capital and stock sales without dramatically increasing prices.
For each trip we take, we should be able to choose an option that suits our needs, which means there’s room for a wide variety of modes and services. In the end, it all comes back to choice.
Currently, most transportation benefits are tied to a single mode — maybe a monthly transit pass, a parking space, or company car lease payment. The problem is that these narrow subsidies don’t truly reflect how we live our lives — or more importantly, perhaps, how we want to live our lives.
If you had greater choice — access to flexible mobility benefits that could be used for different modes, you could mix and match as you please. Maybe you want to take a rideshare into work, hop on a bike afterwards to meet up with friends for a quick happy hour, and then take public transit to a local sport’s event. The point is, you decide.
We think transportation options should be based on a more reciprocal relationship, offering riders financial incentives and freedom, and at the same time helping local businesses build loyalty through supporting their customers’ transportation choices. When people have affordable and convenient alternatives to driving themselves, we end up with fewer cars on the roads and healthier communities.
Ultimately, choices allow people to be more adventurous, more open to possibilities. As a rider, when you can see a list of participating businesses on your phone and know that choosing one of them means your ride (or at least part of it) is covered, you’re more likely to think about the best travel option for that trip, instead of defaulting to your car keys. Instead of paying to drive yourself there, to park, to drive back home — that’s taken care of. Now you have the freedom to enjoy your city, go off the beaten path and explore — and do it at your own leisure.
Isn’t that why we live in cities in the first place?