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.


Internet and Portable Electronic Giants’ Involvement in Electric Vehicles

Their focus convinces us to strongly believe EVs (Electric vehicles) will be the Model T of the 21st Century. The Model T replaced the horse-and-buggy very fast with its obvious advantages on speed, practicality, affordability, etc. A similar phenomenon is beginning to take place in a few countries around the world, where the percentage of new vehicles purchased with a plug are moving up.

Right now, they represent only a rather insignificant percentage if you make comparisons. However the trend just might follow the Model T syndrome, should the price of the vehicle reaches the level of its ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) counterparts, which have been improved, refined and mass-produced for over a century.

Barriers holding back the adoption of electric vehicles

1. Lack of infrastructure to recharge the batteries – the time to implement this is longer than that of petrol.

2. “Range Anxiety” – this often discussed issue also acting against the sales of pure electric vehicles due to the scarcity of recharging outlets.

The efforts on building them work in direct proportion of the production or sales of EVs and vice-versa.

If one just to imagine being in a permanent reduction of about 95 percent of all petrol stations, as happened temporarily during the 1970s OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo, who would consider buying the car they are driving right now? This is the more or less the situation, early EV adopters are in nowadays.

The battery cost is the major contributor for the difference in sticker prices in the scale EV vs. ICE. They have been gradually coming down in the last years, and promising to get closer to the level of Lead-Acid 150+ years old chemistry, however the skyrocketing prices of rare metals, mined only in a very few countries, might make it an uphill battle. This could especially occur when EVs reach the mainstream market and overheat the demand to the stratosphere.

Nonetheless, major players, including companies in different business areas such as Internet providers and portable electronics are investing heavily in the EV business model. Even the United Nations are organizing international conventions where they are calling for talks and commitments to work in favor of the decarbonisation of human activity. This obviously includes the adoption of vehicles with no toxic emissions.

All the latest news stories are pointing to a carbon-free transition in land transportation, however it has to go also through a very strong opposition from the “business-as-usual” heavy-set players and the questions remain: how long will the battle take, and who will win at the end?


The transition to green urban transportation

In fact, that end could happen much sooner than one might think, should a coalition of utility companies, power contractors, etc. join the cause by taking over the battery-modules ownership. They could negotiate a SAE/DIN standardization with automakers and lease them to motorists on a pay-as-you-go basis. It would bring EV prices down to competitiveness right there; would create thousands of outsource-proof jobs while shifting all profits from energy acquisition for transportation in-house, end most (if not all) conflicts over oil as well as significantly reduce the risks of the possibility of funding terrorist organizations.

This might sound like another pie-in-the-sky idea (like EVs not too long ago) however: Should petrol products distribution companies also join the bandwagon by installing modular instant-swapping battery-modules machinery on the area of the barely used parking spots of their petrol stations, it would spell the arrival of the transition.

Automated Recharging or Instant-switching Electric Stations (ARIES) would benefit motorists living in apartments, flats, townhouses without access to overnight electrical outlets, as well as long distance drivers, out-of-towners, taxis, rentals, car-share, couriers, police cruisers, etc., without interrupting the traditional petrol business.

The potentially profitable network of stations could also take care of fluctuation of consumption plus “peak-shave”, allowing power plants to operate in a 30~50 percent (depending on the size and density of the network) capacity steady output 24/7, improving equipment efficiency or maintenance while avoiding typically wasted electricity.

They will serve also as perfect sites for the construction of sub-stations (on their penthouses), which could counter-act a threat of blackout locally. Larger format “ARIES” systems could also be built to serve trucks, trailers and buses.

Should a coalition of other retailers decide to join the “green-club”, it would sure help to speed up the transition, as they could also use their outlet network for the sales and servicing EVs. In fact, there is a minimum requirement for maintenance on these automobiles – no oil changes, hundreds of moving parts, mufflers, radiators, fuel stuff, etc.

Very fortunately, there are some signs of cooperation among major players in the EV manufacturing business which give us hope in the possibility of the creation of an international coalition to save the planet.

What will be the outcome of the investments of Internet providers and smartphone or computer manufacturers, as well as the possibility of involvement of utility companies, petrol distributors and other retailers in electric vehicle (EV) activities? 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.

On-Demand and Autonomous: The Transformation of Work

The Mobility Revolution – made up of a move toward environmentally-aware, quality-of-life enhancing electric, autonomous and shared vehicles – is actually part of a broader transformation that has been called the Third (or Fourth) Industrial Revolution. It not just changes how we live, work and move around in our increasingly urban and nomadic lives, it challenges working models that have existed even before the first (and second) Industrial Revolution.

When Time Magazine declared Travis Kalanick a runner-up to Angela Merkel in its annual “Person of the Year” issue, it wasn’t because Uber made a better taxi-service. It was for “changing the nature of work”. Indeed, Uber itself sees itself not even as a mobility company, but as a transport logistics company that simply brings together suppliers and customers of anything that needs to move from A to B, be it people, food, or Christmas trees.

In a very similar way, TaskRabbit, Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer and countless other platforms matching tasks and jobs with on-demand talent, are creating an entire generation of micro-entrepreneurs. The number of self-employed has gradually increased (while this is clearly evident in Generation Y, recent research shows that self-employment even peaks in later years).

Robots: not just your next driver

There is another element to the new industrial paradigm. Just as the impact of the sharing economy isn’t just limited to the automotive industry, the increasing capabilities of robots aren’t just enabling autonomous transport.

Today’s computer chips replicate the sheer processing capability of a common mouse; by Moore’s Law (often said to be “ending”, but proved correct for over 50 years), processors will eclipse the human brain by around 2025.

Combining processing power with code to not replicate unfavourable results (that is, to not repeat mistakes) leads to learning computers, or A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) – a prospect that admittedly worries both Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. When, in turn, this capability is matched with improving mechanical precision, we have learning robots that today are already better at certain surgical procedures, being used to transform banking, provide 24/7 security and surveillance, and even execute military operations.

Most certainly, they are better drivers – autonomous pilots have shown to be safer in mining operations, in airplanes, in cities and on highways. In short, we should get used to the notion that any activity that requires some manual precision, but is also repetitive and monotonous can better be done by robots.

What is left for us humans then? Well, as Brynjolfsson and McAfee have illustrated, a considerable number of job-descriptions may be at risk in the new machine age, but tasks that require high cognitive and creative inputs, and are highly specialized, will boom.

While robots and AI will replace the mundane, the repetitive and the dangerous (like your morning commute), it’s still safe to ignore the avalanche of doomsday scenarios that postulate that 35-45 percent of jobs will be gone.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. Greater transparency of available talents and activities, easier and lower-cost mobility, and countless new and independently-defined job-roles will empower a greater number of people to work in creative endeavors.

In turn, as Richard Florida has argued consistently, this release of creativity and passion, which forms the backbone of innovation, will drive regional economic growth, as the shackles of mundane and employment will be unleashed on millions of workers. At the same time, the sharing economy will facilitate bringing together the right minds to transform our economy with new ideas and concepts.

So we’ll see robots do those activities that have underwhelmed our minds: surveillance, accounting, driving, producing… We’ll use on-demand platforms to bring together those irreplaceable inventors, those non-digital creative minds, and those uniquely skilled process engineers that can do that which robots can’t do… We’ll unleash the power of our human minds to create, invent, and deploy new products, processes and business models.

What do you think? How are the future of mobility and the future of work linked? How will autonomous and on-demand business models impact the workforce? 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.

Are Electric Vehicles Key to the Development of Sustainable Cities?

In recent years, the automobile industry has been pushing the electric car technology, presenting it as an urban mobility solution for climate change, decreasing noxious emission levels and the greenhouse effect. In fact, in theoretical conditions, an electric car would help boost a better and healthier world but, is it enough? Can humanity and the current market adapt to this change?

From an environmental perspective, it seems like a proper solution with a logical marketing perspective: I use the car to commute, it does not contaminate and it initially uses a carbon-free technology. On the other hand, if we take a deeper look into the theme, there are some concerns that need to be addressed.

A car, regardless of its power source, like every product, has its own carbon footprint which has to be taken into consideration along with the emissions during its use. In fact, some recent studies show that the implementation of a massive switch to electric car technologies would not result in a drastic change in the level of emissions due to the sourcing of electrical energy (for example, coal). Besides this, there are other challenging issues such as waste generation, resource consumption, batter manufacturing and recycling that must be taken into consideration as well.

Despite that, there is no doubt that, with the enforcement of suitable public and private policies, it can be a tremendous tool to face the global warming problem. It must be seen as a challenging opportunity and not as a threat.

The role of electric cars in urban mobility

When it comes to urban mobility, a technological switch in car engines is not a big deal. The notion still remains in the same mobility conceptual scheme from the 50’s that brought us to the present situation.

The transport externalities are actually reduced in terms of air pollution (up to 50 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) emission level by 2050) , noise (silent) and urban health (zero noxious gases). However, when we consider combined efficient mobility solutions which include electric technologies and e-car, human-scale city planning and sustainable mobility modes, they seem to tackle a wide range of problems such as: land use, congestion, urban segregation, social inequity, urban sprawling, road safety, food deserts, mental health and sustainable mobility in general.

Also, this global solution fits better in the sustainable virtuous chain: Reduce, reuse and recycle and, if it is not possible to finish the process with the three previous concepts, optimize the non-renewable resources so as to diminish its impact for future generations.

To sum things up, the technological evolution will not solve the problem by itself. But, planning our cities, understanding its motives (citizens and their quality of life) and reshaping it with global decided initiatives will guide us to a feasible sustainable future. We might find that the collective prevails over the individual for the sake of every one of us rather than the profits of a bunch of companies.

Do you think electric vehicles are important to the development of sustainable cities? If yes or no, tell us your reasons in the comment section.

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

Carsharing is Increasing Diversity Among Electric Vehicle Users

In 2001, the California Air Resources Board added incentives to its Zero Emission Vehicle Program to include electric vehicles (EVs) within carsharing fleets, prompting many operators and manufacturers to add these vehicles to their systems. Now that the incentives are set to expire in 2018, researchers from the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) [at the University of California, Berkeley] recently examined the impact of exposure to zero- and low-emission carsharing on user behavior and opinions.

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program has been critical to curbing the number of petroleum-dependent vehicles on California’s roads by setting standards for manufacturers to meet and incentivizing consumers to purchase electric vehicles (EVs). Further, the program has offered incentives for carsharing operators to include EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs) in their fleets.

With the program’s expiration on the horizon in 2018, TSRC researchers partnered with carsharing operators and vehicle manufacturers to understand who was using EVs and PHVs in carsharing and how featuring these vehicle types in carsharing fleets affects carsharing user inclinations toward them.

A fundamental hypothesis of the study was that the presence of EVs and PHVs in carsharing programs is providing access to some individuals who may not otherwise have access to them. To understand these impacts, TSRC surveyed members from four carsharing programs over a four-month period in the United States.

Surveyed members were separated into control and experimental groups; the control group was comprised of members who had not used zero- or low-emission vehicles within the last 18 months, but they were active in the program; the experimental group consisted of members who had used an EV or PHV within the last six months. Over 3,600 carsharing members completed surveys for this study.

Key findings: Using electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in carsharing programs

Approximately 25 percent of those who have used a PHV or EV through carsharing have only been exposed to these vehicles through such programs.

This means that a considerable number of individuals would not have been exposed to PHVs or EVs without carsharing, and such systems are proving to be a method for disseminating automobile technology.

Carsharing appears to be exposing more women and younger individuals to these vehicles compared to the more common demographic profile of EV or PHV owners.

A survey sponsored by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 2013 found that 79 percent of PHV owners who responded were male and 71 percent were over the age of 45 (CCSE, 2014). Comparatively, TSRC’s study found that only 59 percent of respondents who had recently used a PHV or EV in carsharing were male, and only 18 percent were over the age of 45.

Exposure to PHVs and EVs through carsharing is having a positive impact on user desire to own such vehicles in the future.

As a result of using a PHV or EV in a carsharing system, the desire to own such a vehicle is either “greater” or “much greater” for more than 40 percent of respondents. Conversely, less than 5 percent felt less inclined to own a PHV or EV after using one in a carsharing program.

The impact of using electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in carsharing programs

The findings from this study support the hypothesis that carsharing programs with PHVs or EVs are exposing these vehicle technologies to people who many not otherwise be exposed to them. Further, the greater exposure by younger members is particularly notable because this could accelerate the acceptance of EV or PHV technology for future vehicle buyers. Carsharing also provides a supportive training ground for individuals learning how to operate an EV and PHV (e.g., user training, staff support, roadside support, etc.).

Carsharing programs featuring these vehicles and other sustainable technologies are valuable in spreading these technologies in the future, and this study suggests that CARB should consider incentivizing the placement of PHVs and EVs in carsharing beyond 2018, when the current Zero Emission Vehicle Program expires.

Would you prefer to own a Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) or rather use them in carsharing programs? Share your reasons for the choice in the comment section.

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