Convergence of Sharing and Automation: Need for Proactive Public Policy and Research Understanding

By Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen

In recent years, on-demand passenger and courier services – known as Mobility on Demand (MOD) – have grown rapidly due to technology advancements; changing consumer patterns (both mobility and retail consumption); and a combination of economic, environmental, and social forces. MOD is an innovative concept based on the principle that transportation is a commodity where modes have economic values that are distinguishable in terms of cost, journey time, wait time, number of connections, convenience, and other attributes. Earlier this month, we wrote about innovations in goods delivery that are transforming transportation and consumer behavior as travelers increasingly turn to MOD. In this blog, we discuss four potential impacts of driverless vehicles and the need for proactive public policy to maximize the potential benefits and minimize potential adverse impacts.

Potential Impacts of Vehicle Automation

In the near future, automation could be the most transformative change transportation has seen since the advent of the automobile. While MOD is already impacting many cities, it has the potential to have even more notable impacts, particularly in four key areas:

Travel Behavior: It should be emphasized that the impacts of automation on travel behavior are uncertain and difficult to forecast due to a number of highly variable factors, most importantly societal acceptance and use. One potential outcome is that existing roadway capacity may increase due to more efficient operations associated with technology (e.g., closer vehicle spacing known as platooning, etc.). Additionally, operators could “right-size fleets,” providing consumers with vehicles sized based on the number of passengers and trip length. However, there is a possibility that automated vehicles (AVs) and shared AVs (SAVs) could induce demand by making motorized travel more convenient and affordable than personal driving. This could adversely impact congestion. Additionally, automation has the potential to fundamentally change historic relationships between public transportation and private vehicle use, which could support or detract from public transit ridership (we will discuss the future of public transportation in our next blog). In summary, the impacts of AVs on congestion will likely depend on whether the vehicles are predominantly shared or privately owned as well as public policy, such as pricing and restrictions on zero occupant vehicles.

Land Use and the Built Environment: AVs could result in reduced parking demand, particularly in urban centers that can create opportunities to repurpose urban parking with infill development. Infill development has the potential to increase urban densities and could in turn support higher-occupancy transportation modes. However, vehicle automation and telecommuting growth could also make longer commutes less burdensome, which could encourage suburban and exurban lifestyles.

Labor: Automation has the potential to reduce labor costs. However, automation is not likely to completely eliminate transportation jobs. With an aging population, we may likely need attendants to assist people with disabilities and older adults, security personnel, and a high-tech workforce to maintain an automated fleet.

Social Equity: While AVs have the potential to enhance access and economic opportunities for underserved communities, there are numerous challenges that could impact the equitable deployment of AVs. A few challenges could include: 1) affordability/payability (the services are simply too expensive for low-income households or require banking access); 2) availability (the services are not available equally in all neighborhoods); 3) accessibility (the services are not accessible to people with disabilities); and 4) digital poverty (the services require a smartphone or data plan to access). Additionally, AVs may employ machine learning and artificial intelligence that could create other equity concerns. While machine learning – if designed well — can help minimize human bias in decision making, it is also possible that such systems can also reinforce historic bias and discrimination in the transportation network. Just as humans learn to drive through experience, many perception algorithms use machine learning that is trained by events based on past experience. In a driverless vehicle future, machine learning may also impact where vehicles are pre-positioned, roam, charge, and other defining operational characteristics. Learning biases could create notable equity challenges in the future. There is a risk for discrimination when designing transportation algorithms for machine learning systems, including the potential for exclusionary transportation.

Need for Proactive Policy in a Driverless Vehicle Future

Public policy can have a notable influence on the success or potential challenges of driverless vehicles. Public agencies should consider proactively guiding public policy in four key areas to maximize the potential benefits of AVs:

Pricing: Public agencies should consider employing pricing based on occupancy, time of day, and congestion to encourage higher occupancy SAVs and discourage single- and zero-occupant vehicles.

Incentivizing Urban Growth and Urban Growth Boundaries: Metropolitan Planning Organizations, local governments, and other public agencies may want to consider policies that limit outward growth and encourage urban in-fill development to discourage the potential suburban and exurban growth pressure that AVs could create.

Workforce Development Programs: Local and state governments should develop workforce development programs designed to prepare for and respond to a driverless future. This should include a broad program encompassing job training/re-training and job placement resources to minimize the potential adverse labor impacts of vehicle automation.

A Comprehensive Equity Policy: Public agencies at all levels of government should consider a comprehensive equity policy to ensure SAVs are equally accessible and available to everyone. This should include policies that ensure access for people with disabilities, un- and under-banked households, low-income communities, households without access to smartphones or mobile data, and others. Additionally, this should include policies that prevent discrimination and bias from machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other systems that impact or guide the operations of AVs.

The public and private sectors, along with key stakeholders (e.g., non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, and foundations) should partner to develop proactive policies to prevent and overcome these challenges. Proactive policy and research understanding will be critical to balance public goals with commercial interests and to harness and maximize the social and environmental effects of driverless vehicles.

Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen are currently studying the impacts of connected and automated vehicles on state and local transportation agencies as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) study 20-102(11).

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


Public Transit in the City of Tomorrow

By Tim Lane


The next 15 years promises to bring a sea change in how we commute as a society. We may very well look back on this moment in history as the transition point between static and fluid public transit. Today, under the established, static model, the public largely adheres to set schedules to commute around our cities. We travel within the constraints of the system. Tomorrow’s fluid model may look drastically different. Traditional modes like buses and light rail will be partnered with new advancements like autonomous car fleets and the Hyperloop. Stitched together, the transportation experience will be catered to the individual’s commuting needs.


“Broadly speaking it’s exciting that the mix is happening,” said Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of the National League of Cities’ Center for City Solutions. “These things that for so long were science fiction are now becoming fact.”

New Technologies

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments is the fast-approaching reality of autonomous car fleets. A recent report from the independent think tank ReThinkX found that by the year 2030, 95% of passenger miles in the US will be serviced by fleets of autonomous, electric vehicles. The biggest question, perhaps, is whether this advancement will progress in the public or private sector.


“Uber is pretty clearly reducing public transit use,” said Dave Chandler, Director of Economic Development at the Center for Neighborhood Technology. “The trend of public transport went up from 2008 until two years ago and has declined since. People look at it and think it’s probably Uber. It’s a competing model currently.”


This competing model could only become more formative if private companies perfect and invest in autonomous fleets that don’t value their public transport counterparts. However, there is a brighter possibility. One where cities step in with fleets of their own.


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“I think there could be autonomous fleets at the municipal level,” Rainwater said. “It might be hard to conceptualize right now, but London is already trying to create a co-op. It is a model where cities act much like car rental agencies. They already have a ton of experience with fleet management. It’s a skill that could be used.”


Another alternative to protecting and promoting public transit would be to forge tight, reciprocal relationships between cities and public transportation. This could improve the overall commuting experience and ensure ridership equity.
“I think as we move to autonomous models we are starting to see some of those private/public partnerships pop up,” Rainwater said. “I think we’ll only see that relationship deepen.”


With increased sharing of transit and rider information, commuters will be able to depend on accurate travel times. Meanwhile, if approached correctly, private companies could be pressured to be a complement, not a competitor, to public transportation as a whole.
“I have some optimism about things like Uber building in more equity that could change the equation,” Chandler said.


Hyperloop, though grander in scale and seemingly further out than autonomous cars, could also instigate a huge change in public transportation. By slashing commute times and freeing up highway space, the Hyperloop would be a boon on multiple fronts.


“Hyperloop could be a game changer for places like Baltimore and D.C.,” Rainwater said. “I think that if the private sector can prove the concept, then the public municipalities could follow.”


Large Image-09_2016_iStock_New Rio de Janeiro Port

Smart City Planning

Even with all of the exciting technological advancements around transportation, without a considered, encompassing vision by cities, public transit won’t advance to its full potential.


“I think there are two basic paths that we could go down,” Chandler said. “The bright path is based on the consideration that more and more people are living in cities. Public transit is the most efficient way to move around in a compressed, compact environment. And the really neat thing is what has happened in last 20 years. There have been examples of people — combinations of architects, developers, and local government — designing transit-oriented developments.”


By planning cities around basic public transit needs, people can be easily connected with jobs in the city. With more and more manufacturing and information-based jobs created each year, the demand for flexible, creative workspaces will only rise. The importance of getting people to and from these dense, urban environments quickly and efficiently will be huge.


“The interactive nature of urban design and transit is underappreciated,” Chandler said. “Transit needs that design in order to function well.”


There have also recently been encouraging advancements in cities with historically low-functioning public transit systems.


“It’s really cool to see Denver and LA, which were built as very different cities, now trying to stitch it together,” Rainwater said. “It’s exciting to see the cultural pressures pushing people in this direction.”

The Morning Commute in 15 Years

A typical morning commute might begin by leaving your apartment located in the new development by the river. This and other areas are now designed with efficient transportation in mind, as well as the usual amenities.


From there, you hop into an autonomous transit car that’s been pre-scheduled, via your phone, to arrive at your doorstep at 7:30 AM. On any given morning, different neighbors might also share the ride, depending on time, day, route, and destination. The city’s transit system will take into account traffic patterns, commute time, and overall system efficiencies to decide the next stage in your journey.


smart vision EQ fortwo smart vision EQ fortwo


The car drops you at a bus stop along a main thoroughfare, and a minute later the bus arrives. There’s no need to pay to board — your progress is tracked anonymously using the latest in blockchain tech, and your account debited automatically. The bus glides down streets in a dedicated lane, making great time thanks to less congestion. But also, thanks to the city’s convenient new on-demand services, which means bus stops can now be spread farther apart, requiring fewer stops.


Then maybe you realize you’re running late for a meeting you forgot — across town from the office. You tap the new coordinates into your phone and are given new options in real time: Either pay for a private service to meet you at the next stop (unfortunately, all on-demand city cars are tied up in rush hour traffic), or have the city’s transit app reroute your commute. You’re instantly given an exact time of arrival and can alert your coworkers if you’ll be late, or rest assured knowing that you’ll make it on time.


While there may be big technological jumps in the next 15 years, the biggest change will be to the overall experience as a whole. We’ll still rely on modes of transit like buses and light and heavy rail, but utilized in concert with newer advancements like autonomous fleets and the hyperloop. The city of tomorrow will feature a fluid transit menu of options, working together for quick, efficient travel.


Will we still hate our daily commutes? Maybe. It will always be more difficult to rewire human nature than technology. But with the right planning, tracking and mix of smart systems, we’ll have to work a lot harder to complain about such an easy ride.


This Week in the Headlines: June 26th – July 2nd, 2017

Welcome to Move Forward’s weekly news wrap-up, featuring the mobility stories you don’t want to miss. This week’s edition features news of VIA Metropolitan Transit’s launch of their new mobile ticketing app, goMobile, along with news of Daimler’s focus towards ride-sharing, developments in legislation for autonomous vehicles, and more.

VIA launches new moovel app:

VIA Metropolitan Transit launched goMobile, its new mobile ticketing app powered by moovel, on June 28, 2017. “The VIA goMobile app is part of VIA’s ongoing investment in innovation, and part of several recent initiatives that will help transform the rider experience.”

My San Antonio: “VIA launches app to let San Antonians pay for rides via phone” by Samantha Ehlinger, June 28, 2017.


The future(s) of mobility: How cities can benefit:

A new report by McKinsey includes moovel as a company leading the way in the shared mobility space. “Mobility services such as Uber, Daimler’s Moovel and Lyft have already played a significant role in the shifting urban mobility landscape and will continue to do so, competing with public transit as well as private vehicle ownership.”

Sustainable Brands: “AVs, Shared Mobility, IoT to Shape Future Urban Mobility, Says New McKinsey Report” by Staff, June 23, 2017.

Ride-sharing and motor car companies:

Financial Times cites Daimler’s creation of moovel as an example of how leading motor car companies are changing their strategies in the face of ride-sharing services. “Daimler has taken a lead in ride-hailing, by purchasing taxi-booking apps Hailo and MyTaxi, and then incorporating them into its “moovel” app, a one-stop shop for all of its transport services.”

Financial Times: “Is it the end of the road for the motor car marque?” by Patrick McGee, June 26, 2017


Self-driving cars to put the focus back on humans:

Two city designers predict that autonomous cars will make populations “less machinelike and more human.” They believe that the self-driving car revolution will possibly replace vehicle-centered cities with urban environments that reduce car-dependency and put people first.

Fast Company: “Cities Full of Autonomous Vehicles Could End Up Less Machinelike – And More Human” by Antonio Gomez-Palacio and Alan Boniface, June 22, 2017.

Call for federal regulation for autonomous testing:

As self-driving cars become more prominent in the automotive industry, some believe the federal government needs to establish a national standard pertaining to testing, crash liability, and design requirements. During the past several months, over 50 bills have been introduced in 20 states aiming to provide some degree of regulation on AVs.

USA Today: “Regulators scramble to stay ahead of self-driving cars” by Nathan Bomey and Thomas Zambito, June 25, 2017.

New legislation promotes AV testing

Republican Congressmen on the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee introduced federal regulation regarding the testing and future deployment of autonomous vehicles. If passed, this legislation will increase the number of semi-autonomous and autonomous cars tested on American roadways.

Jalopnik: “New Legislation Aims To Put 100,000 Driverless Test Cars On Public Roads” by Allana Akhtar, June 27, 2017.

‘Smart’ Columbus reinforces transit initiative

Michael Stevens, Columbus’ chief innovation officer, was sworn in as Central Ohio Transit Authority’s newest board member this week. This move will allow the “Smart Columbus” initiative to take larger strides towards implementing innovative public transportation technology.

Government Tech: “Columbus, Ohio, Innovation Officer’s Transportation Board Appointment Will Help Align Smart Columbus Efforts With Other Mobility Options” by Kimball Perry, June 28, 2017.


Overcrowding is the root of transit delays in NYC:

The New York Times examines the ongoing issues with the NYC subway system and its high rate of delays. According to experts, aging subway cars are not to blame for this problem; rather an increase in ridership (up nearly 2 million riders since the 1990s) has caused significant transit delays and congestion.

The New York Times: “Every New York City Subway Line Is Getting Worse. Here’s Why” by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Ford Fessenden, and K.K. Rebecca Lai, June 28, 2017.

New technology influences the future of transportation:

The Guardian discusses the emergence of technology in all aspects of the transportation industry, in particular citing the impact of digital solutions on cars, trains, and airplanes.

The Guardian: “Trains, planes and automobiles: the transport systems embracing smart tech” by Nicola Slawson, June 29, 2017.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Autonomous Mobility – A Solution to Urbanization Problems?

In 2008, for the first time in the history of mankind, the urban population exceeded the number of those who lived in rural areas. The process of urbanization has been going on for centuries with no end in sight. As a result, the majority of our cities worldwide are facing challenges in consolidating quality of life on various levels.

Those eliminating the distance between themselves and cities are motivated by the reasonable prospect of wide-ranging benefits within more direct reach. However, migrating to the cities makes for a strained situation, and city planning authorities struggle to keep up with the accompanying challenges.

The recent enormous development in self-driving technology might be a very effective approach to stop this one-way “transfer of population” or even reverse the stream.

“The process of moving from A to B will no longer be the necessary effort we are trying to avoid”

With real autonomous driving, the process of moving from A to B will no longer be the necessary effort we are trying to avoid, but instead be used as productive time in many ways. As a result, our main motivation to reduce the effort it takes to reach supply of any kind (work, entertainment, etc.) may decline more and more with each further step of development. That may drastically reduce the need to move to the city, thought of as the bundled place of benefits.

Huge disadvantages of living in crowded urban areas already exist, such as housing shortages, and therefore high costs for home ownership, rented apartments, and living in general. But that obviously hasn’t stopped the process of urbanization so far, as the overall benefits seem to be dominant.

“Best of both worlds approach”

The age of autonomous door to door mobility might allow for a “best of both worlds” approach, where those living in suburbs or even rural areas, which provide enormous open space potentials, have the ability to reach all sources of education, culture or work with almost the same effort as those living nearby. This could even apply to families with lower income, as the costs for mobility are expected to decrease drastically as well.

A look ahead in a more distant future suggests that mobility might not be bound to the ground, but will take over the sky, e.g. multi-billion dollar company Uber’s work on so-called flying cars. Of course at the moment, this might not be any more than a PR stunt, but with the recent speed of development, who knows what else will be added to our future of mobility.

“Even the retail trade sector is no more dependent on physical presence”

Furthermore, autonomous mobility does not only influence passenger transportation, it fundamentally benefits the delivery of all kind of goods, driving the impact of online commerce and all sorts of internet buying (e.g. drones).

Even for the retail trade sector, a direct reach approach to their potential customers loses significance when business is no longer dependent on physical presence, and the whole purchase lifecycle is automated and digitalized. All of this might establish a very well working decentralized system of supply and demand.

“Autonomous mobility is a huge instrument to overcome the distance obstacle”

Almost how the age of motorization at the end of the last century defined a new evaluation for a relative distance between locations, autonomous door to door mobility will optimize the actual way and the sensibility of moving from A to B. It will act as a huge instrument to overcome the distance obstacle, with the power to adjust or even fully change the basic motivations of the current urbanization process.

There’s a lot more to come in the development of mobility.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.
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On The Road to Less Traffic: Self-Driving Buses

There’s plenty of buzz around autonomous vehicles being the future of mobility – every commuter’s saving grace. It’s glamorous to imagine drivers relaxing behind the wheel while their cars navigate rush hour traffic without any human assistance. What’s less glamorous is the gridlock itself – a larger issue that won’t be solved by deploying fleets of self-driving single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs). Out of the limelight, autonomous buses are poised with huge potential to benefit the public. Considering their current trajectory, smarter urban transit is an achievable reality.

In the past year, we’ve seen big players throw their hats into the ring of self-driving buses. In July, Mercedes-Benz successfully tested its semiautonomous “Future Bus” on a 12-mile route in Amsterdam. In Elon Musk’s Master Plan, Part Deux, he claims that Tesla is in the early stages of developing “high passenger density urban transport” that will be unveiled in 2017. Local Motors harnessed the power of IBM’s Watson to create Olli, a self-driving electric mini-bus that can be summoned on-demand, similar to ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. Then in Finland, EasyMile’s EZ10 electric mini-bus made its public debut on the streets of Helsinki, where vehicles are not required by law to have a driver. These buses are still in a trial period, but they could be considered as a possible extension of the country’s public transport system in the future.

While those are all really neat developments, what’s in it for the public? Is a bus that drives itself really going to change anyone’s life, apart from the driver of the bus? If properly implemented, yes. The impacts of autonomous driving technology can reach so much further than the smart vehicle itself. When a network of connected, self-driving buses is working together succinctly, everyone benefits.


  • More reliable – Gone will be the days of padding on an extra half hour of travel time to account for late buses. From what we’ve seen thus far in self-driving bus technology, you can expect public transit to become a lot more reliable. With a connected system, the buses could assess traffic conditions and ridership across the fleet and adjust in real time to maintain schedules. If rush hour is heavier than usual, or certain buses are packed from an event, extra vehicles could deploy in order to prevent a bottleneck. These buses would provide transit agencies with mountains of data that could be used to optimize bus schedules and create the most efficient system possible. As IBM explains, Olli uses “cloud-based cognitive computing capability of IBM Watson Internet of Things (IoT) to analyze and learn from high volumes of transportation data.” Learn is the key word here. Buses with self-driving technology are smart and will only get smarter as time goes on.
  • Safer – Our instincts, for now at least, say not to trust a vehicle without a driver. A lifetime of experience tells us that a human behind the wheel is normal. It’s safe. But here’s the thing: you probably won’t see a public bus without a bus driver anytime soon. Self-driving buses will still need operators in case of emergency and to monitor any circumstances that are beyond the capabilities of a computer. Of course, that means bus drivers will need to be trained in operating the new technology, or new drivers with the proper expertise will likely replace them – a disappointing reality. If we’ll still have drivers, then why not just let them drive? Autonomous buses like the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus are equipped with long- and short-range radar to detect pedestrians and vehicles, almost a dozen cameras to scan the road and its surroundings, and a satellite-based differential GPS system. Combined, these technologies paint a picture with pinpoint accuracy. Blind spots don’t exist. Not only can they see more of their surroundings and farther distances than we can, but buses like Olli have a faster reaction time than any human. Not to mention that 94 percent of vehicle crashes in the U.S. can be attributed to human error. Seems like a good reason to start adjusting our instincts and learning to trust this technology.
  • Reduced Emissions – Self-driving buses have the potential to reduce emissions both directly and indirectly. The Future Bus runs on diesel fuel, but its optimized acceleration makes it more fuel-efficient than the average bus. For instance, it can communicate with connected traffic lights from up to 200 meters away, allowing it ample time to adjust its speed and come to a smooth stop. Other autonomous bus developments use alternative sources of energy, like electric power. Either way, the output of emissions is reduced. Then indirectly, with fewer vehicles on the road we’d see decreased emissions and a positive impact our urban environment. Cleaner air affects the entire public.
  • Less Congestion – Compared to SOVs, buses transport commuters more efficiently in large quantities. If our public transit system were more efficient and reliable, it would encourage greater use, resulting in fewer vehicles on the road. Consumers like to dream about the prospect of owning a self-driving car, but the congested state of our urban landscapes is a huge reason why autonomous buses are a more worthwhile development than autonomous SOVs. No one likes to sit in traffic, whether or not your car is doing the driving for you. Even if transit agencies couldn’t invest in an entirely autonomous fleet of buses, smaller-scale shuttle solutions similar to Olli or the EZ10 can fill the gaps in our current transit systems.


transit reduces traffic

[Image via]


Looking beyond the prospect of autonomous, fixed-route public buses, there is additional opportunity for on-demand bus services like Bridj to leverage self-driving technology and increase transit efficiency even more. Bridj uses a fleet of flexible mini buses to create “pop-up urban infrastructure,” with the ability to transport more people than a carpool service like UberPOOL (though still fewer than a public bus). Then, as TNCs begin to deploy their own technology, we may also see the rise of autonomous personal rapid transit. In September, Uber launched a self-driving pilot program in Pittsburgh, and Lyft president John Zimmerman has claimed that the company will likely roll out semi-autonomous Lyft cars by 2017. Ideally, these on-demand services would supplement smart public transit, not replace it. Buses are still the most efficient way to transport large numbers of people on the road, but TNCs could help to alleviate first-mile/last-mile problems. Whether public and private will work together or not, these developments by Uber and Lyft make the need for smarter buses even more urgent.


The legal landscape for autonomous vehicles varies significantly from state to state — a source of frustration for innovators in the space. However, the federal government recently took a step toward standardizing that legal patchwork in hopes of making U.S. roadways safer. With support from the Obama administration, the U.S. Transportation Department issued voluntary guidelines for automakers to self-certify the safety of their autonomous vehicles. Many giants in the automotive industry are glad to see the government making a conscious effort to advance the autonomous car outlook. This comes not long after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) updated their policy on autonomous vehicles, committing $4 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation.


As long as policies continue to move in the current direction, signs point to smart, connected public transit systems outfitted with fleets of self-driving buses. The technology is poised and ready, so while lawmakers work to clear the air around automated vehicles, and the public adjusts to the concept and is further educated – which is much easier said than done – we’ll be excitedly watching and waiting.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.