New Mobility Study shows how people use bike share, car share, and ride hail to get around Seattle

Photo Credit LINK

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Summary:  

  • The New Mobility Study gives us a better understanding of how people use ride hail, car share, bike share, and carpool or taxi apps to get around Seattle. 
  • We’re constantly stretching and working to gain the trust of all the people we serve and are especially focused on engaging Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and non-English speakers in developing our policies, plans, and projects.  
  • This two-part study included an online survey and a new approach to in-language interviews to help reach BIPOC and non-English speakers. We learned a lot along the way that will benefit future studies.
  • Outcomes from the study include the City taking a larger role in promoting discount programs for income-qualified people to use bike and scooter share and continuing to look for ways to serve more neighborhoods and a broader cross section of our communities. 
  • We expect to repeat the survey and interviews in future years to understand how behaviors and attitudes change over time. 

A recent New Mobility Study gives us a better understanding of how people use ride hail, car share, bike share, and carpool or taxi apps to get around Seattle. The findings from the study will help us improve Seattle’s new mobility options and help us all move safely and efficiently throughout Seattle.

New Mobility is a term used to describe emerging elements of our transportation system that are on demand services, enabled by digital technology, and use real-time data. They often use shared devices (like bikes, scooters, and cars) and can provide curb-to-curb transportation.  

These new mobility options allow Seattleites to get around in new ways that are convenient to them, reduce reliance on owning cars, and sometimes reduce drive-alone car trips.  

You’ve likely used or heard of many of these options: 

  • Bike share (like Lime) is a type of bike rental where people can rent bikes for trips around town and pay based on how long they have the bike. Bikes are available for rental 24/7 throughout Seattle and can be parked near the rider’s destination.  
  • Scooter share* (like Lime, Wheels, and LINK) is a type of scooter rental set up similar to bike share. Customers pay based on how long they have the scooter and they’re available for rental 24/7 around town. 
  • Car share (like Zipcar and Gig) is a type of car rental where customers typically pay based on how far they travel and/or how long they have the car. Cars are available 24/7 around town. 
  • Ride hail** (like Lyft, Uber) allows customers to request a ride in real-time using an app or website, unlike a traditional taxi service. 
  • Carpool, vanpool, and taxi apps** (like HelloYellow, or Curb) allow customers to request a ride on a traditional taxi in real-time using a phone app or website. 

*Scooter share launched in Seattle late 2020, after the New Mobility Study. Scooter share wasn’t included in the study, but is listed here as one of our current new mobility options available.  

**Seattle’s department of Finance and Administrative Services, not SDOT, regulates ride-hail and taxi companies, but SDOT sometimes partners with them to expand mobility or enhance connections to transit. We included these options in our New Mobility Study because we want to learn more about how they fit into our transportation network.


As the transportation landscape continues to shifts in Seattle, it’s important for us to understand how and why people use different new mobility options.  

The goals of the New Mobility Study were to understand: 

  • Who uses new mobility options and how, when, where, why, and how often they use them? 
  • What are the barriers to using these options and where is there room for improvement? 
  • What are user and non-user attitudes towards these options and how they compare to alternatives? 
  • How are behaviors and attitudes changing over time?  

To find out, we conducted a two-part study that included an online survey and in-language interviews.  


We here at SDOT are rethinking our traditional methods of engagement and how we gather community input. 

In some respects, our traditional methods, like online surveys, work well. People who have historically engaged with government employees generally understand our processes and can opt in as they are made aware and interested. However, we’re constantly stretching and working to gain the trust of all the people we serve and are especially focused on engaging BIPOC and non-English speaking people in developing our policies, plans, and projects. 

Here’s how we took a new approach to conducting interviews, and what we learned along the way.

We (through the consultant) hired community members as language access specialists. They worked in pairs and developed materials for recruitment and did the recruitment themselves through their networks (e.g., posting flyers in grocery stores, and one person went on a Korean radio show to talk about it and got a lot of participation that way). They focused on reaching out to people in the ways they knew their communities would respond. Then, they did interviews, took notes, and translated the notes back to English so we could use them. Working in pairs meant multiple eyes ensuring accurate translation.  

Speaking of translations, we were not successful in reaching Tagalog speakers. So we did a debrief with the language access specialists. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 impacted some of the in-person social networks commonly used. In retrospect they also thought the language used in the materials might be overly formal. Some Tagalog speakers use more informal language or mix Tagalog and English.  

Inclusive engagement is a marathon and not a sprint. Taking time to translate and work with communities starts to build important relationships; and we now have ideas for how to revise our approach for the next outreach effort. 

Photo credit: Gig

Here are some of the key findings from both the survey and the interviews: 


Part 1: The Survey  

We conducted the New Mobility Survey in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. 2,850 people, including Seattle residents, regional residents, and tourists visiting Seattle, completed the survey in English. Learn how we defined our target audiences, reached people, and the demographics of who responded to the survey in our New Mobility Survey Report

Key findings from the survey show who, how, when, where, why people use new mobility options: 

  • New mobility provides options for people to get around. The majority of survey respondents have used new mobility options, but don’t use them as their primary modes of transportation. This tells us that new mobility isn’t the only option for most, but that it helps provide choices and fill in the gaps. 
  • Ride hail, like Uber and Lyft, is the most well-known and frequently used new mobility option, especially in the evenings (7-10pm), but many people prefer to drive themselves or find it too expensive. 
  • People use bike share to go have fun, for exercise, to get home, or to connect to transit. Those who don’t use bike share prefer to drive or don’t feel safe on bikes. 
  • People use car share for fun or social purposes, but many people prefer to drive their own car or don’t want to get a membership to a car share company. 
  • When asked, “if you couldn’t drive alone, which modes of transportation would you take?”, the majority of people selected public transportation (not a new mobility mode, but fun fact!) 

The study showed that there’s room for improvement. People were concerned about the traffic impacts of ride hail and car share, high costs for low-income users, and availability of different options citywide. 


Part 2: The Interviews 

The interviews were conducted in August and September 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when Stay Home, Stay Healthy guidance was in place. Interviews were conducted in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese and all interviewees lived in Seattle. Learn more about our methodology in the New Mobility Study In-Language Interview Report

Key findings from the interviews show how, when, where, and why people use new mobility options: 

  • Interviewees most often take personal vehicles and transit rather than new mobility options. 
  • Interviewees typically chose a new mobility option when they otherwise faced limited options. 
  • New mobility options addressed some mobility gaps, but were no replacement for the affordability, availability, and flexibility offered by personal vehicles or transit. 
  • Participants often said ride hail or car share was too expensive to use more often, and they expressed little interest in using bike share more often because it was less useful for their travel habits. 

The interviewees recommended that SDOT should invest in increasing awareness of the new mobility options and accessibility for non-English speakers. They also suggested that we expand helmet access and other make investments to make bike share use feel safer. 


The New Mobility Study was our first comprehensive study that looked at all new mobility options.  

One outcome from the New Mobility Study is the City is now taking a larger role in promoting discount programs for income-qualified people to use bike and scooter share. We’re also continuing to look for ways to serve more neighborhoods and a broader cross section of our communities. 

To understand how behaviors and attitudes change over time, we expect to repeat the survey and interviews in future years and will use the information to improve our new mobility options.