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.


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.

What If Employers Made Sustainable Transportation a Commuting Requirement?

We’ll need something really remarkable to significantly increase public transit’s slice of the transportation pie. In a previous article, I outlined how improving user experience would be a step in the right direction for ridership. But how can we take a leap? How about making transit the only option? Or one of few. That may sound extreme, so let me set the stage. There would be no mandated mode of transportation for all citizens, but instead picture an incentivized sustainable transportation program for businesses. In this scenario, job offers would come hand-in-hand with a simple stipulation: to have this job, you must take sustainable transportation to work.

It’ll start with the executive who wants their business to make a positive impact on the community, going beyond creating jobs and revenue. We’re talking about socially responsible organizations with leadership that understands why supporting sustainable practices is good for business and good for the planet. These businesses are nothing new to us – Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and will be using 100 percent renewable energy for all operations in 2017. In fact, nine out of 10 CEOs believe that commitment to sustainability translates to real impact.

But responsibility doesn’t begin and end at the doors of a business, factory, or distribution center. An employee’s effect on the planet includes their mode of commute. Currently, 76 percent of Americans drive their cars to work alone, and the EIA estimates that vehicle gasoline consumption results in about 1,105 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in a year. That’s close to 60 percent of the total U.S. transportation sector CO2 emissions. If businesses cut down their commuter carbon footprint, we’d see clearer roads, clearer skies, and clearer corporate consciences.

To make this a reality, we have to address a fundamental economic concept – incentives. And they matter both to businesses and their leadership. Unfortunately for the environment, sustainable practices often come with a price tag. Just look at the list of the World’s Most Sustainable Companies in 2016 – 87 percent of them provided a monetary bonus to executives that met their sustainability goals. Requiring a specific type of commute would pose a change to recruitment and employee benefits, which is no light undertaking. For forward-thinking cities, a good place to start will be to provide tax incentives at the city, state, and federal levels to those businesses willing to run this type of transportation program.


So how about logistics? As long as employees have a smartphone, keeping track of their commute is easily achievable. With a customized mobile app, they’d check in and verify that they took a bus, metro rail, carpool service, rideshare, bike, etc. Since every city has different infrastructure and unique modes of transportation available, the flexibility allowed by mobile app development would give each business the freedom to partner with and subsidize their own preferred sustainable modes. Even the program requirements could vary from business to business – maybe some only have employees use specific transportation modes 2 or 3 days a week.

Targeting businesses will be the most effective strategy to increase public transit’s market share, and it has the potential to improve the quality of transit service. While we know that frequent riders appreciate the new consumer technologies being brought to the transit sector, like mobile ticketing, we continue to see reports of decreased ridership. Tapping into the business market would enable us to reach a new, larger segment of potential riders – urban employees.

Now you’re probably picturing crowded public buses during rush hour and skeptical about the idea of piling even more people onto them. Transit capacity would be an obstacle initially, but there’s no doubt we’d see private, dynamically routed transportation services like Bridj fill the excess need while public transit adjusted and improved. Any sustainable option would qualify to participate in incentive programs like these, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if one day we saw Lyft buses or Uber shuttles.

If sustainable transit won the support of businesses, public transportation would not only see an influx in riders, but also a subsequent increase in farebox revenue. Higher profits from transit fares might seem like a drop in the bucket, but in the long term, increased ridership would likely result in increased public transit funding support on local ballots. The same citizens and organizations who rely on sustainable transit to get to work will want to see improved options and efficiency for their commutes. The result? Better transit service and infrastructure – from more bus routes, bike lanes, and light rails, to updated technology and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Implementing sustainable business practices isn’t a radical idea. Taking actions to decrease your personal carbon footprint (hybrid vehicles, recycling, reusable grocery bags) isn’t a radical idea either. So let’s try and take a more critical look at where those two notions overlap. Sustainable commutes are everyone’s concern, from cities and businesses down to individuals. I said we’d need something remarkable to make a significant change in public transit, but maybe this concept is just simple enough to do the trick.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below – let’s get the conversation rolling.

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

Two-Wheeled Mobility in Latin America: More Cyclists and More Projects

Using the bicycle in Latin America to go to work, move around the city and even take the kids to school is becoming very common. On one side weather is mostly favorable, cities are relatively flat, infrastructure integration projects are being developed and the understanding of multiple mobility aspects (mainly cultural) is changing. On the other side, congestion is rising, travel times are increasing and air pollution is reaching higher levels.

Some resemble a pull measure, making the bicycle a more attractive transportation mode, while other a push measure, showing the disadvantages of the other modes. During the last years, the number of cyclist in Latin America has been rising and more policy makers are including related projects in transportation plans for the upcoming years.

Biking beyond the weekend activity perception

The rising number of bikers in Bogotá, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro show a common trend in urban centers, more people are using the bicycle as a daily transport mode. Additionally a global trend of young adults, who regardless of their income, are choosing to move around the city in bicycle, has been identified.

Some of the well-known benefits that make biking more attractive than other transport modes are convenience, low cost and health improvement. The increasing number of cyclists represents a behavioral change when compared with records from the previous years.

More roads for more cyclists

In Santiago, the recently released Mobility Plan of its central area fosters non-motorized mobility and traffic calmed zones. With its Plan Pro Bicicletas it aims at improving bike paths and parking infrastructure, while educating citizens about its use and implementing the public rental system Bike Santiago.

Last February did not only citizens of Bogota celebrated another día sin carro, but also inaugurated the cicloruta in Cra 11. A segment of one of the busiest streets in the city was transformed, from a traditional two lane in one direction automobile street to a double-way bike lane and a lane for cars.

Diverse efforts, a joint objective to improve mobility

Mobility is being approached from different areas, such as education, infrastructure, economy and gender equity, among others. The era of indiscriminately building roads is over. More and complementary aspects around the topic of mobility are being considered, for example health and social benefits.

The bicycle as transport mode appears as a very beneficial option in urban centers and citizens, as well as governments, are realizing it. This translates into more human and financial resources destined to design, implement and evaluate bike projects. Several Latin American cities are experiencing this shift in direction.

Still more inter-disciplinary understanding and clear cooperation among the leading institutions are to be developed. How does the vision of each city relate to each project? Is there a long-term investment plan? What role do education and promotion play? How does the current legislation adapt to new era bicycles?

Is biking a part of your daily commute? What are your motivations for riding a bike to go to work or to move around the city? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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

How Can Understanding Emotions Change the Way People Commute?

Equipping personal transportation devices with understanding emotions is about to change the way people spend their time moving around, and push their emotional bond with their vehicles to new levels.

The road is emotional. We sing praise of it. Write poems about it. Take pictures of it. Draw it on canvases and burn it into the deepest recesses of our memory. Epic or prosaic, exceptional or mundane, exuberating or depressing – whether it is an exotic road-trip or a simple Monday morning commute – the road defines us and shapes our emotions. For many, the road is the one of their first childhood memories.

That is probably one of the reasons people hold such a strong emotional bond to their transportation devices – according to a survey from 2007 about 60 percent of Americans have conversations with their cars. Whether a high-end vehicle, a scooter, a cheap pair of beat-up bicycles or an old horse – the things that move us physically do the same also emotionally.

Speaking of horses, unlike these old-time transportation animals, modern age cars know a lot about us – what people do, where they are, who they are with, and even what they are likely to do next, but they do not know something every horse does. How people feel.

Yes, when it comes to emotions, modern day vehicles are still running blind, but that is about to change.

Connection between emotion analytics and transportation devices

Emotions Analytics – the ability to quantify raw human emotions to data machines can understand and process is rapidly changing the way today’s call center agents assist customers, market research firms and global brands understand consumers’ attitude to products and services, and how wearable devices and consumer apps quantify people’s well-being.

The data is all there – raw vocal intonations, facial expressions and body language all carry the patterns of human emotions. As the saying goes “It is not what you say, but HOW you say it” and indeed non-linguistic queues are the ones transmitting how humans feel and what they mean.

Correctly decoding them opens a wide window into new dimensions of possibilities. Last May, the leaders of the nascent Emotions Analytics industry gathered for the very first time in a joint conference of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University to discuss how understanding emotions can change the world.

Introducing emotions to personal transportation devices – via existing on-board input devices such as microphones and cameras – vehicles can now adapt themselves to a human’s constantly changing emotional state. An emotionally-aware car can pick the right radio station and ambiance, notify us when people are “road raging” and change the tolerances of their safety systems depending on the level of emotional control.

Most of all, emotionally capable vehicles can finally adapt to us and reciprocate the existing emotional bond with them by gradually building an understanding of who people really are.

What sort of relationship do you have with your personal vehicles? Share your opinion in our comment section.

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