Let’s Not Get Run Over by Major Transportation Trends
The general press and transportation specialty publications are bursting with reports of new developments in four major disruptive transportation technologies:
- Shared rides
- Electric vehicles
- Autonomous vehicles
- Connected vehicles
As we look back on the auto revolution since 1945, we have spent trillions of dollars on cars and related infrastructure. These investments transformed our country and greatly assisted us to an unprecedented level of prosperity. Yet there are many things we would no doubt do differently with 20/20 hindsight to shape the use of cars in relation to other modes of travel and in relation to the urban forms we want to live in. As we look on in amazement at the current technological prowess on display in the auto and mobility industries, it is important that we learn from the automobile revolution of the last 75 years. We can learn from the past to shape new developments to meet shared goals as these technologies unfold, rather than suffer the impacts of unintended consequences.
Community Impacts and Approaches to Ride Sharing
Of these four disruptive technologies, let’s consider the impacts and opportunities emerging around shared ride systems such as Uber, Lyft, Via, and others like them. Here are a few of the impacts already on the move:
First and last mile to transit
This is a major issue in medium to lower density communities that may have rapid transit, but cannot build out transit networks to increase access at an acceptable cost. There is the potential for major ridership increases in medium density areas with rapid transit if they can be connected to more riders with first and last mile solutions. Communities around the country, like Columbus Ohio, are piloting Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing services for first and last mile access.
On-demand paratransit demonstration projects by ride sharing companies have supplemented or replaced the local paratransit services in the communities where these projects are implemented. Services provided by ride share companies have much shorter lead times and potentially much lower cost, with greater freedom for transit-dependent people. Pilot projects are coming to address paratransit services in Boston and elsewhere.
Decreased Public Transit Ridership
Ride share services are pulling customers away from overcrowded and often delayed subway lines in NYC and other cities. People are voting with their feet, or rather, with their smartphones, to send the message that ride sharing is more efficient and comfortable than public transit in many cities. New York City, for example is scrambling to deal with transit challenges in service and reliability that are fueling rideshare services and they are far from alone across the country.
Making Transit Routes More Efficient
Pilot projects are being designed to answer the question of how transit routes with low ridership can be complemented or replaced with ride sharing services. Some transit routes have low ridership in the very early and late hours, but have better ridership during the day. Services to balance ridership and transit service with ride sharing are being piloted in suburban Toronto and elsewhere.
Increased Access to Transport
Ride sharing has created greater access to transportation options in areas where taxis were in short supply and public transit services are lacking. According to a presentation at the American Planning Association Uber and Lyft have added greatly to capacity outside of Manhattan in the New York City area.
In addition to these effects, there are other impacts on the horizon. Communities are looking to avoid the costs of new parking structures at intercity rail stations. Giving riders access to these stations with shared rides allows the communities to begin rethinking parking policies and parking volume. A huge impact will come about if auto sales enter a long-term decline as many urban residents defer a second, and even a first, car in environments where shared rides and rapid transit are easily accessible.
Use Technology Disruptors to Shape the Mobility Industry
These impacts are just beginning to emerge and disrupt many traditional ways of doing business in the transportation world. Considering the other three technologies mentioned at the start of this article, there are many more impacts on the way. So rather than standing at the edge of the ocean and commanding the waves to stop, what can we do to work with these disruptive technologies?
Here are a few ideas to use moving forward:
Develop a framework by which to measure impacts.
Despite great positive impacts, the auto revolution has led to many urban challenges, from flight from the city, to unfriendly pedestrian and cyclist environments. As new technologies continue to disrupt the mobility services industry and shape transportation environments, communities will need to develop a framework by which they can measure the outcomes of policies and projects. One possible framework is the Triple Bottom Line which considers economic, environmental, and social equity impact. Another framework starts with prominent issues in the field of transportation itself including such issues as safety, public transit, and freight. Conversations about which frameworks or combinations of frameworks fit the four technologies would be a good way to go.
Do some crystal ball gazing.
The Dephi technique allows transportation experts to look at impacts and cross impacts of these four technologies on a standard list of transportation concerns such as safety, efficient freight movement, and environmental impacts. The Delphi method is a structured communication method, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts. Panels of various types – transportation, urban designers, and residents – each going through a process and then looking at cross impacts would be a good place to start on digesting and monitoring these four disruptive technologies.
Track the results of pilots and prototyping of implementation.
As more of these four technologies move into real world implementation, we need to harvest the knowledge quickly and act to minimize clearly negative impacts.
These and other lenses and frameworks should give us the knowledge to shape developments to meet agreed upon goals, rather than be unfortunately surprised by negative and unanticipated outcomes of allowing technology to shape the landscape with no policy or framework to guide the process. It is important to remember that transportation is a means, not an end, and that we need to discuss the goals of transportation and shape our policies accordingly. To avoid being “road kill” with these new technologies, we need to affirmatively monitor and shape policies to meet desirable goals.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
I see the outcomes of Duke Pond as a representation of the importance of the profession of landscape architecture in today’s world. Once obscured by the glaring light and booming voice long-generated by building architects, landscape architects are steadily emerging as the designers needed to tackle complex 21st century problems. As both leaders and collaborators, their work is addressing the effects of rising sea level on coastal cities, creating multi-modal pedestrian and vehicular transportation systems to reduce carbon emissions, reimagining outdated infrastructure as great urban places, and as with the case of Duke Pond, mitigating the impacts of worsening drought.
AI has enormous potential to improve the lives of billions of people living in cities and facing a multitude of challenges. However, a blind focus on the technological issues is not sufficient. We are already starting to see a moderation of the technocentric view of algorithmic salvation in New York City, which is the first city in the world to appoint a chief algorithm officer.
There are 7 primary forces determining the success of AI, of which technology is just one. Cities must realize that AI is not the quick technological fix that vendors sell. Not everything will be improved by creating more algorithms and technical prowess. We need to develop a more holistic approach to implementing AI in cities in order to harness the immense potential. We need to create a way to consider each of the seven forces when cities plan for the use of AI.
In New Zealand, persistent, concentrated advocacy and legal cases advanced by Māori people are inspiring biocentric policies; that is, those which recognize that people and nature, including living and non-living elements, are part of an interconnected whole. Along the way, tribal leaders and advocates are successfully making the case that nature; whole systems of rivers, lakes, forests, mountains, and more, deserves legal standing to ensure its protection. An early legislative “win” granted personhood status to the Te Urewera forest in 2014, which codified into law these moving lines:
“Te Urewera is ancient and enduring, a fortress of nature, alive with history; its scenery is abundant with mystery, adventure, and remote beauty … Te Urewera has an identity in and of itself, inspiring people to commit to its care.”
The Te Urewera Act of 2014 did more than redefine how a forest would be managed, it pushed forward the practical expression of a new policy paradigm.