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.


Leading Transportation Professionals Discuss the Latest Developments in the Sharing Economy

Every year, leading transportation professionals gather in Washington, D.C. to discuss and examine transportation issues during the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Annual Meeting. As part of the 2016 TRB meeting, I hosted a workshop with Prachi Vakharia of RideAmigos on behalf of several TRB committees. The workshop examined the latest developments in mobility and how to use research and policy tools to effectively shape its future.

The workshop was designed to facilitate a dialogue about the latest advances in technology, like the use of smartphones to access public transportation options and the development of automated vehicles. It also identified some of the challenges of shared mobility and its progression in servicing lower-income individuals, communities of color, and suburban and rural areas.

The workshop aimed to connect those in the public and private sectors and to identify shared visions in improving shared mobility and public transportation options. To help accomplish this, the workshop featured a combination of plenary and breakout sessions that evaluated the impacts of technology on shared mobility, examined the reach of shared mobility beyond dense urban centers, and discussed current research and policies regarding evolving technology.

Five highlights from the workshop include:

  1. Technology development—primarily as it relates to smartphones and automated vehicles—is moving at a rapid pace, and if the benefits of these technologies are to be realized in a timely manner, it is critical that governmental agencies and policy makers keep pace by implementing flexible but sensible regulations.
  2. While recent developments have been primarily focused on younger adults traveling in the urban core, shared modes of transportation are slowly trickling outward to the suburbs. Furthermore, some technologies, which are popular with younger demographics, like automated vehicles, are also popular with older demographics.
  3. As shared mobility and public transportation options increasingly rely on the smartphone as a means of access, it is critical to ensure that those who do not own smartphones are still able to readily access these modes.
  4. One of the latest developments in transportation is the growth of ridesplitting options, like Lyft Line and uberPOOL, as well as the evolution of some traditional taxi companies toward mobile apps (e-Hail) and ridesourcing.
  5. A key component of future mobility will likely be the use of smartphone apps, which offer means of routing, booking, and payment for multiple transportation modes, in one central location.

This workshop initiated a spirited dialogue among experts and practitioners from diverse backgrounds and offered critical insights into transportation developments, challenges, and the road ahead for multi-modal mobility and the sharing economy. Moving forward, it is important that research and modeling tools are further developed to fully understand and articulate the impacts of these evolving modes so that all socio-demographic groups can garner their benefits.

To read the full report about the workshop, click here, and for more research and current events in shared mobility, go to

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

When Public Transport Needs a Support Team

Transportation projects don’t always have the intended results. Instead of solving a problem, they can sometimes make situations worse. Why does this happen? What could prevent this from happening?

Developing countries around the world are rewriting their transportation policies as guidelines to adopt more sustainable practices. Public transport has especially gained attention over the last few years given the fact that it can reduce pollution and congestion problems, among other benefits. Innovation in operating systems, less contaminating vehicles and even restrictive automobile parking measures, aim at achieving a modal shift from private vehicles to public transport. Still a considerable number of such measures have had unexpected and unwanted results.


Each emerging city faces particular issues and undergoes an individual process towards a more sustainable urban transport system. Local expertise and know-how, political will, financial resources and communication strategies determine how fast and effective programs are adapted. A considerable number of projects have been developed and implemented successfully while others have failed or worsened.


An abrupt transportation measure usually results in different types of adaptation in developing cities. Those who can easily adapt will do it, even when detrimental for them. Those who cannot, will have to change their routines in order to cope with a new reality, facing even, in extreme cases, exclusion. Projects and measures such as, implementing a new transit system, restricting the use of private vehicles and even raising taxes for transit, have resulted in counterproductive situations around the world. Though projects seem to achieve the expected impact at first, the lack of integration with local customs causes a negative effect in the long-run.


Transportation planning in today’s cities demands interdisciplinary teams that focus not only on operational aspects of the system, but also on social and economic trends, demographic change and environmental restrictions. Public transportation goes beyond vehicle efficiency. Transit projects demand the support of a diverse team from the very beginning, keeping an eye on different but complementary aspects, such as system operation and cultural behavior. Professionals and stakeholders from different fields can immensely contribute for more effective policies and systems.

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

How Does the Policy Framework Affect the Success of New Transportation Technologies

Innovators across the globe are developing new ways to solve mobility challenges in urban and rural environments. As these ideas become more applicable in real world situations, it is important to remember the political and policy effects of these exciting new technological advances.

In order for mobility technologies to be successful, innovators need to communicate with policy makers to ensure that the existing public infrastructure merges well with new technology and that regulation continues to enable innovations of this sort.

The public and private sectors can also work together to create lucrative partnerships. For example, the public sector can use public dollars and resources to incentivize the private sector to fill gaps in the publically available transportation services.

The current transportation landscape

In the United States, local public transit operators such as Los Angeles Metro have introduced offices dedicated solely to innovation. These offices are responsible for developing partnerships between public transit providers and private sector companies. These partnerships aim to develop complimentary transportation solutions.

At the national level, the Obama Presidential Administration recently announced a new “Smart Cities” initiative that “will invest over 160 million dollars in federal research” exploring – amongst other things – how to use technology to improve mobility in the United States.

While this shows effort at the local and national level, more work needs to be done to define the most effective roles for national, state and local governments. Defining these roles will allow communities to take advantage of the new mobility technology at a faster and more efficient pace.

Understanding the bigger picture of transportation landscape

It is important to explore how national level governments can continue to play an active role in the policy sphere. Already, think tanks are investing in grant-funded research to explore the connection between mobility, technology, and policy.

These independent and “big picture” perspectives provide a starting point for discussion about future policy roles as transportation technology continues to rapidly evolve. This type of research can help identify how the policy framework can participate in current and potential trends.

As technology has changed, so have the needs and usage of consumers, which in turn, is changing how people travel. These waves of demographic trends may need to be reflected in how the federal government is structured.

Many have criticized separate modes of transportation for their lack of communication thus causing barriers to innovation; for example, it was only recently that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration proposed a rule change that would exempt urban roads from the same regulations that apply to conventional highways.

Changes in the national level role may need to be far more drastic, but it is worth starting that conversation now to shape how policy can play a role as technology continues to change.

Leave a comment: How do you see the national, state, or local government playing a role in your country in regulating and encouraging new transportation technologies?

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

How Positive Incentives Encourage People to Make Sustainable Transport Choices

For many years, pricing measures have been the main tactic used to reduce the demand for travel. So called ‘positive incentives’ involving ‘carrots’ rather than ‘sticks’ are now high on the transport policy agenda, the question is whether they can offer a practical and effective alternative approach.

The one area that city planners, transport policy makers and environmentalists are increasingly agreed on is that there will not be a single solution to making future transport more sustainable. Technology has an important role to play, as do improved public transport options, but for many years, pricing measures such as parking pricing, fuel tax or congestion charging have been the main tactics used. These are often seen by the travelling public as punitive measures and have had a number of unintended consequences, such as impacts on high-street business.

Positive incentives offer an alternative means to deliver a behaviourally-orientated transport demand policy, with incentives being offered for sustainable transport choices such as switching mode, changing departure time and, sharing or avoiding travelling. Incentives schemes include a range of attractors such as discounts, points, loyalty schemes, games or challenges, information sources, sharing or community based schemes and rewards.

Whilst still a relative new phenomenon, incentive schemes can be designed and offered by those responsible for transport provision, for example transport authorities or city planners. In principle, incentives can be tailored to the individual traveler and can be offered through new smart technologies such as mobile phones or tablets.

Tailoring can be enabled by the reciprocal flow of dynamic data back to the transport authorities on individual movement patterns that can be constructed by the phone acting as a location sensor and travel choices. Third parties (such as stores, restaurants, and the leisure industry) may also be involved in the provision of positive incentives or they may take the form of specific transport related discounts.

Design of positive incentives schemes

Further research is needed to develop practical positive incentives schemes that are both effective in encouraging the traveling public to reconsider their transport choices and sustainable (in cost and longevity). Designs may include high short term rewards to encourage people to leave their routine choices and habits to try an alternative for even a short period, or they may be designed to reward and reinforce sustainable choices such as use of public transport, walking or riding a bike.

To increase sustainability, the impact needed is not just temporary (for example, trying a different mode for a week or so). Travel choices need to shift more permanently towards either the use of non-conventionally fuelled travel options, active travel, sharing or more home based activity.

People have different transport needs and respond differently to alternative types of incentives. Particular designs for incentives schemes might be more successful depending on where individuals’ current decision making is positioned within recognised behavioural theories around choice.

Leave a comment: what types and levels of positive incentives would be most likely to influence your transport choices?

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