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

By Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen

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

Potential Impacts of Vehicle Automation

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

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

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

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

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

Need for Proactive Policy in a Driverless Vehicle Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Public Transit in the City of Tomorrow

By Tim Lane


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


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

New Technologies

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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Smart City Planning

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


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


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


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


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


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

The Morning Commute in 15 Years

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


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


smart vision EQ fortwo smart vision EQ fortwo


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


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


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


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


How Does Weather Affect the Transit Industry?

No matter where you live, you’ve most likely experienced drastic weather conditions at one point or another. Certain areas receive harsher conditions, of course, but any kind of extreme heat, cold, or precipitation can potentially cause delays or damage to vehicles and infrastructure. And thanks to environmental changes, historical climate metrics can’t easily predict future weather conditions, though they’re still useful to consider. Mother Nature will continue to impact how cities invest in infrastructure.

Inclement weather causes delays, as people drive more slowly in snow or rain and it will continue to get worse if changes aren’t made. A study of Ho Chi Minh City predicts that delays will increase 620% over the next 30 years. In the United States, approximately 800,000 auto injuries every year are associated with poor weather conditions. As a result, insurance claim costs for bodily injuries have risen 42% and collision coverage costs are up 17% over the past decade. Most insurance companies won’t accept “but the weather was poor” as an excuse – it’s still up to the driver to make the right decisions in bad weather.

Some people aren’t willing to take the risks though and are looking for alternative means to get around during inclement weather. In cities like Chicago, that means utilizing the subway system. On rainy days, riders on Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” trains use subway routes at a 2% higher rate than above ground routes. However, when people live farther away from train stations it limits their mobility during inclement weather. Because bus stations are usually congregated more closely together, those who take buses aren’t affected as much. Meanwhile, a Deloitte report suggested nearly a quarter of current commuters in the U.S. (about 28.3 million people) could switch to bikes as their main commuting method if biking barriers were removed. While it would seem that rain or snow would be the biggest barrier, most bikers cited incomplete or unsafe paths as their major deterrent from biking.
rainy bus
Not a bike rider? Then perhaps this next situation has had more of an effect on you. You’ve probably experienced a delay at an airport thanks to some nasty weather, but the damage goes much further. As we witnessed with Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, storms can force entire airports to close. Storms are a big problem particularly in the Northeast, where about 30 percent of the 47 largest airports in the U.S. have at least one runway that’s within 12 feet of sea level. Major hubs like LaGuardia and Newark lie within the range of current and projected 50-year coastal storm surges. These airports need to prepare for when (not if) they’re hit by storms in order to mitigate the damage done. In Alaska, they’re experiencing the opposite effect. Alaskan airstrips are built on permafrost and climate change has thawed the soil beneath, damaging the foundational integrity of important infrastructure.

While we can’t control the weather, the transit industry can combat its effects. The most important way to prepare is to plan ahead. Across the country, cities are preparing for the worst, and it’s helping reduce the damage caused.

– During Hurricane Sandy, New York and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority worked aggressively to stop operation of the subway system and move cars out of flood-prone areas before the storm hit.
– To stay clear of flood zones, authorities are building new rail stations, like the one in Bridgeport, CT, farther inland.
– Using networks that can monitor an earthquake as it starts, San Francisco can prepare in advance of an earthquake striking. The city’s mass transit system is using current sensors to halt trains should an earthquake occur. Furthermore, these sensors would allow utilities to shut off power and pipes along the San Andreas Fault to prevent damage. There’s even more ties between big data and earthquakes, such as analyzing tweets in the immediate aftermath of a quake to integrate sensor data.

Other examples of sensor capabilities include satellite-based sensing systems that can track the potential occurrence of high wind and blowing dust, which is often a byproduct of heavy showers and thunderstorms. These systems can then alert dynamic roadway signs, which can activate cautions to vehicles on the road. And airports are already beginning to utilize computer algorithms that determine the expected precipitation levels in certain areas. This can eventually roll out to every county so cities can know the frequency, timing, and severity of icy precipitation, and make adjustments accordingly, whether it’s in directing commuters elsewhere or changing the infrastructure of known problem areas. We’ve even seen this type of technology in personal vehicles – using big data, a dashboard screen can notify commuters about an approaching storm, giving them a timeframe of when it will hit and the safest areas to park out of harm’s way.

For bikers, cities can take a page out of San Francisco’s book and use paint specifically for roads on bike lanes in order to reduce the risk of slipping during the rain. Cities can also develop regional bike paths. Salt Lake City encourages bike commuting through a regional transportation plan. The city estimates that for the cost of one single interstate overpass, it can instead build out a comprehensive, integrated active transportation system that spans the entire county. If these paths are developed, we can expect more people to take advantage of bicycle commuting in spite of inclement weather.

Weather will likely be a thorn in the transit industry’s side for quite some time. However, with the proper preparations, we can limit its damage. As we work to combat the ill effects of inclement weather, we should look to cities that are ahead of the curve as examples.


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.

How Bluetooth and WiFi Are Easing Bangkok’s Traffic

For years, Thailand’s Department of Highway (DOH) faced the challenge of trying to ease traffic and reduce the massive gridlocks in Bangkok. The city is considered to have some of the worst traffic in the world, especially in mid-April during Thailand’s New Year, or Songkran, and during the international New Year. These holidays are notorious for causing major congestion, as millions leave the capital to celebrate with their families.

The DOH needed a solution to help provide live and detailed traffic information, so they turned to BlipTrack in 2015. BlipTrack mounted Bluetooth/WiFi sensors at strategic points along the city’s roads to measure and provide travel time and traffic flow information, and predict traffic build-up. The project has since seen so much success that Thailand’s DOH is now expanding the technology to cover additional roads in Bangkok.

The sensors, covering roughly a 600 km section of highway in and around Bangkok, detect Bluetooth or Wi-Fi devices found in mobile phones and in-car audio and communication systems. By re-identifying the devices from multiple sensors, specific and accurate statistical information, such as the travel times, average speeds, dwell times and movement patterns, becomes available.
The DOH specifically wanted to measure and compare travel times on the Intercity Motorway, The Bangkok Expressway and neighboring routes in Bangkok. The idea was to present real-time traffic information to road users via the department’s “Highway Traffic” mobile app and help them make informed decisions when planning their trip.

The mobile app, which provides information on travel times, fastest routes and other traffic information, is continuously updated in line with the actual behavior of road users. So by considering their route and the time they depart, motorists help keep the traffic moving. The collected data will ultimately produce economic benefits by reducing travel times, fuel consumption and vehicle emissions.

This was the first project ever in Thailand that implemented this kind of technology in the traffic field. The solution gives more accurate travel time data compared to spot speed data collected from radar and ANPR cameras. Furthermore, the origin/destination data is used by city engineers to gain an in-depth insight into the understanding of traffic flows and the development of traffic jams in order to optimize the road network and reduce congestion.

According to Songrit Chayanan, Director of Samut Sakhon Highway District, “the solution has helped Thai citizens to travel home faster during two major traffic events: Songkran and New Year holidays. The system allowed not only road users to decide route choices via travel time info online but also the Thai Highway Police to manage traffic in real-time.”


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