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.

Q&A with Andy Palanisamy, Founder of TransportGooru

Andy PalanisamyWith more than 15 years of experience in the transportation technology and infrastructure sectors, Andy Palanisamy is a seasoned professional with a deep understanding of issues facing the future of transportation/mobility sector. Outside of his day job as senior transportation project manager and principal – communications/outreach at Leidos, Andy also manages the website TransportGooru, a one-stop shop for transportation industry news, events, and other happenings. Andy has a passion for energy and climate issues as they relate to transportation and mobility. We wanted to chat with him and learn more about his work.

Tell us about your background and how you came to develop TransportGooru?

I was born in India and lived there until I was 22. I went to school to study civil engineering, and became interested in building systems where people can ride and travel safely. For a lot of us growing up in the 80s and 90s in India, the primary method of transportation was public transit. We didn’t have a lot of cars back then. It was very different coming to the U.S. in 1997. All of a sudden, I walked into a system where public transportation was scarce and personal vehicles were the dominant mode of transportation.

When I got to grad school, I always wanted to write about transportation issues. I had a perspective from working and living in a developing country, and also working as principal communications and senior transportation management specialist supporting the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). I rolled that perspective and my government work together and started TransportGooru. There’s a steady drumbeat that laid up to where I am today. None of this is done from a monetary perspective, it’s all community-oriented and it has remained that way since 2009. I think that’s why people are interested.

How do you ensure all of the information you write, aggregate, and organize is reaching your target audience?
I try to focus on one area and the applications of technology to solve problems. Being an engineer, I am naturally drawn to these things. My day job also gives me a lot of technology exposure. I’ve become more vocal, particularly on the subjects of walkability and building sustainable communities.

In July 2015, I decided to go back to policy school. It’s a new item I can add to my repertoire and one that has deeper implications on the way we develop and deploy advanced and far more complex technologies such as connected and automated vehicles. These days, in addition to transportation technology developments, I write about energy, climate change, and urban transport changes. I consider myself a jack-of-all-trades but tie them into issues of mobility and building cities of the future. Keeping track of all these things has become easier with the advent of technology. I’m always tied to some kind of mobile device. It makes it easy for me to look at something really quick and share it with the community. The more you share, the more people follow. You become that one-stop shop for information they think is useful.

What are some issues that aren’t being discussed enough?
There’s a lack of dialogue on carbon pricing, which is an important issue. Carbon pricing will have an impact on the way we live and how we finance our infrastructure projects. It can have a ripple effect across the whole industry. We’re also working on emerging technologies, like automation. These things ought to be discussed more publicly, but they’re all very politicized. We’re missing the ability to translate these topics so we can get the public more involved and educated. They’ll be at the receiving end of these technologies.
What’s something in the world of intelligent transport systems that you’re excited about?
Cities, counties, and states are looking at data to make their decisions, which is very good. We have a new window into things we haven’t had before. Travel patterns in the city, for example. In the past, you had to conduct a survey to see how people traveled (i.e., origin-destination surveys). It was very painful and cost-intensive to get all that information. Nowadays, it’s so instantaneous. You can understand a city’s mobility patterns by seeing how the cell phones move around a city. You can zoom in and zoom out to identify such travel behavior at micro and macro levels with very little effort. All of these things are opening up opportunities for decision makers to understand how to best use their resources to give us better services.

Where do you see TransportGooru in the next five years?
TransportGooru is a brand – it’ll exist in one form or the other. As an individual, I have no idea what I’ll be doing in five years. My heart and soul is at the intersection of transportation, sustainability, energy, and climate change. In five years, I’ll hopefully find a job that allows me to do something in a part of the world where they need that kind of expertise, particularly in the developing world. For the time being, TransportGooru will continue on. Moving forward, I would like to see more participation in the dialogue and expand that opportunity to other domains like energy and climate change, so more people can bring up their ideas on how that relates to transportation and where it’s going to go.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone hoping to break into the tech transport field?
Expect to face some push back, at least in some corners of the industry. The infrastructure side of the transportation industry (bridges, roads, etc) is still sort of stodgy and remains trapped in the old ways of doing business. It doesn’t move at the same pace as the tech or automotive industry, where disruptive thinking is at the core of doing business. At times it can be downright frustrating when you propose a new idea and others don’t buy into it, but that trend is starting to change quite a bit. Now the industry has matured rapidly to the point where it provides some opportunity for experimentation, so be bold and come in with your ideas. Also keep reminding yourself that usually people are not bothered to look at or realize how critical the transportation infrastructure is to a society’s well being. That changes quickly when something goes wrong – a bridge collapse or train failure, for example – and throws normal life out of gear (pun intended). So prepare yourself to be a well-rounded professional who can not only do problem-solving with technical solutions but also deftly navigate the political issues around the problems.

On a related note, explore career options beyond the traditional pathways. Today, the transportation and mobility business has emerged as one of the hottest investment destinations for private capital and experimentation. From Uber to Hyperloop, we are now experiencing a mobility revolution of sorts and that has made the transportation industry as the most exciting and happening domain in a long time.

Transportation is changing the way we move and live and it’s a great time to be a part of this business. It’s like a wave: bring your surfboard and an open attitude for the wide sea in front of you. It could be a shark or it might be a fantastic wave you get to ride.


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

Smart City Challenge – An Update On The Participating Cities

This summer, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) hosted the Smart City Challenge. This first of its kind challenge invited seven cities to provide a holistic, integrated approach to improving surface transportation performance within a city and integrate this approach with other smart city domains, including public safety, public services, and energy. We covered the great things the winning city Columbus, OH is doing in an earlier article, and how it’ll receive up to $40 million from the U.S. DOT and $10 million from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. to supplement the $90 million it’s already raised. That money will go towards reshaping and reimagining the city’s transportation system to become part of a fully integrated city that harnesses the power and potential of data, technology, and creativity. While Columbus is on the move, there are six other cities – San Francisco, Austin, Portland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Denver – that didn’t win the smart city challenge but presented compelling proposals. Though they didn’t take home the grand prize, they’re still implementing their plans to improve transportation. Let’s see what they’re doing to make themselves accessible for everyone.

Each city that participated in the Smart City Challenge has admirable goals for their residents and visitors. In San Francisco, for instance, the city is aiming for a 10 percent decrease in five areas by 2020: traffic fatalities, single occupant trips, transportation emissions, spending for low-income residents, and freight delays and collisions. Meanwhile, Denver proposed an enterprise data management system, a living database that is constantly gathering information and making it accessible to anyone. Their MOBE pitch (Mobility On Demand Enterprise) would eliminate the typical barriers of the transportation marketplace and provide transit options for everybody, regardless of income or disability. Getting rid of these barriers to entry is a great first step towards alleviating congestion and moving forward with transportation improvements.

Portland’s Hop Fastpass, set for a 2017 release, looks to be a hot ticket, easily allowing riders to utilize the city’s TriMet, C-TRAN and Portland Streetcar options. These pay-as-you-go passes will simplify the onboarding process for riders, as they just have to “tap” their card against a reader on the vehicle or tram station. They don’t require exact change or paper tickets; instead, riders can add to their account anywhere, anytime, using the Hop Fastpass app, website or phone hotline. They can also easily use their credit or debit cards to add funds in the checkout lane at the supermarket, pharmacy or convenience store – more than 500 locations in all.

Many of the cities that participated in the challenge have already put parts of their plans into action, and they’ve seen positive results. Pittsburgh has developed smart traffic signals, which are made right in the heart of the Steel City. The lights learn patterns about drivers that pass through, like emission rate, idle time, and travel time in order to make riding more efficient. And Pittsburgh also recently unveiled the world’s first self-driving Uber cars. This will limit traffic accidents, which currently kill 1.3 million people a year across the plant, and will also free up the 20 percent of space in cities currently used to park the world’s billion plus cars.


In Kansas City, 12 new buses and 25 stations are keeping more cars off the road. The city also has Wi-Fi kiosks throughout the city, where residents can search for jobs and other information. They can then use those same kiosks to book travel, whether it’s public transit or one of the cars from Kansas City’s growing electrical vehicle fleet.

While the cities can make strides in improving transportation experiences based off of their assumptions, getting residents interested and involved in improving transit will help turn some of these plans into realities. That’s why the Texas Mobility Summit, held earlier this month in Austin, is such a cool event. Teams from all over the state shared proposals and ideas, from enabling connected vehicles to providing transportation options at riders’ fingertips. Creating this kind of open dialogue will lead to more innovative approaches and more efficient results. I had the pleasure of participating in the summit and it felt invigorating to meet with attendees and hear ideas that will address the state’s mobility challenges.

Each city that participated in the challenge presented unique solutions for their city but many have common themes among them. For one, they’ve all adopted TNCs and offer ridesharing apps. Uber and Lyft are the most well known, but here in Austin we have RideAustin and Fasten to help riders get around safely while also cutting down on overall city traffic. All of these cities also make use of open data and data sharing. It’s been exciting to see some of the developments utilizing big data, whether it’s an app that can acknowledge when a road needs repair, or an airline company saving time and money on fuel by studying flight patterns.

Of course, there are some obstacles that must be overcome in order to implement these plans effectively. For one, money – always remember that you get what you pay for. Smart lights, self-driving cars, developing apps…all of these things are costly, and sometimes a large investment is necessary in order to ensure they’re carried out effectively. However, the goal with any of these innovations is to save its city’s residents’ time and money, so it’s certainly a worthwhile investment. Choosing to not spend the money now likely will result in more lost revenue due to problems stemming from too much congestion and accidents.

There’s also the matter of perfecting the technology we’re utilizing. Collision prevention systems are in place on certain cars and public transit, which can help drivers feel safer behind the wheel while also reducing the impact of a crash. This is the kind of technology, along with things like blind spot detection and smart headlights, which need to be flawless before they can be widely adapted. Companies will have to continue evolving and adapting to new tech so they can safely distribute it to other areas of transit. That can take time, but there can’t be any shortcuts around its production.

Finally, Mother Nature herself can be a hindrance to driving. We’ve experienced higher average temperatures over the past decade than at any time in the world’s history, and we’ve also witnessed harsher storms. Previously, bridges were built to withstand storms that might occur once or twice in a century. With climate change, history is no longer a reliable predictor of future developments. Coastal roads, railways, ports, tunnels, and airports are vulnerable to a rising sea level, which could result in delays or permanent closures. Infrastructure being built now will be expected to last for up to 50 years, so cities must keep the potential for harsher weather in mind. All the advancements in technology won’t be nearly as impactful if there aren’t reliable and safe areas to travel upon.

Still, the horizon is bright for these smart cities that are leading the charge in transportation improvement. We’ve already seen a glimpse of what they’re capable of and I’m personally looking forward to what’s to come in 2017 and beyond!


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

The Connected City

Our cities will continue to grow. According to the World Health Organization, in 2030 about 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas – rising to 70 percent in 2050. Among other things this will lead to more and more metropolises and megacities. So the question is, how can smart cities of the future manage themselves?

A megacity typically is defined as a city with a population of over 10 Million inhabitants. It is estimated that currently there are about 26 megacities in the world – with many other cities on the cusp of joining. With more than 35 million residents Tokyo is the largest megacity in the world right now.

The Networked Society – a project initiated by Ericsson, a Swedish information and communications technology company – recognizes the importance of future megacities with several reports and tries to detect ways to manage them.

The model for megacity management described by the Networked Society uses smart networks, a secure cloud infrastructure and interconnected objects, sensors and organizations. Thanks to various data flows people, businesses and society will have (sometimes in real-time) access to information at any time and in any place.

Another important point is the sharing of data between systems via data broker component – a part of the software that enables data sharing and can apply rules on what data is shared. “Many of the systems operated by the city, government and businesses could benefit from being connected”, is stated in the Network Society’s report on ‘The Next Age of Megacities’.

Inter- and Intraconnected Cities

Megacities are overrated“, the environmental expert Ross von Burg objects. The size of a city on its own is no indicator for wealth and prosperity. On the contrary: a city’s extend has always been limited by the time people need to commute to their workplace.

Most people do not want to spend more than half an hour of their time to commute. This suggests two things: a theoretical optimum size for a city and the need to develop much more efficient transportation systems.

The efficient use of data, information and resources will be the key of a future city’s success. It is the quality of the infrastructure that will first and foremost decide about the most prospering urban areas of the twenty-first century, says von Burg.

Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication, Vehicle-to-Infrastructure connections and the Internet of Everything make it possible to proactively manage the urban mobility of the future. By sharing – and using – traffic information seamlessly, cities can reduce congestion, pollution and improve safety.

The wish of an accident-free traffic can come true. Ross von Burg therefore envisions a world that is driven not necessarily by megacities, but by networks of smaller cities that are plenty, vivid and well-connected.

Trouble-free transportation

Frédéric Roulland, a computer scientist at Xerox Research Centre Europe, takes it one step further: he envisions a metropolis where citizens are connected to their community in a way they can better understand how a personal decision impacts the community as a whole. His City of 2035 is operated by data-driven systems and open data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by everyone.

These smart systems are connected with each other and pervade all aspects of life: everyday objects at home and in the environment, the management of energy consumption and transportation.

Imagine for example roads that warn connected vehicles about weather and traffic conditions or waste containers that contact collection services when they are full – and autonomous garbage trucks that empty the containers by themselves.

Networks like this make it possible to build compact cities with lots of green space. No more massive places and congested roads and parking spaces – there will be a trouble-free transportation system.

Depending on your current needs and your preferences, you will be guided to a variety of transportation services. Driverless shuttles are as common as shared car and bike services.

A system will automatically include external events that could impact your passage and at the end of the month, you pay one cumulative fare without having to consider the different transport providers.

Let us know: what do you think of the vision of a smart, connected city of the future?

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