Urban mobility is autonomous, connected, electric, and shared

By John Addison

John Addison is the author of two books - Save Gas, Save the Planet that details the future of transportation and Revenue Rocket about technology partner strategy. CNET, Clean Fleet Report, and Meeting of the Minds have published over 300 of his articles. Prior to being a writer and speaker, he was in partner and sales management for technology companies such as Sun Microsystems. Follow John on Twitter @soaringcities.

Apr 12, 2017 | Mobility | 5 comments

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The future of urban mobility is ACES: Autonomous, Connected, Electric, and Shared. Professor Stefan Heck of Stanford University has been using ACES as a convincing model of future mobility.


For decades, we have used shared mobility in cities as we ride on buses, rail, and on-demand options including Uber, Lyft, taxis, shuttles, car pools, car rental, and car share. Most major cities have metro rail and bus systems that enable people to travel faster.

My wife and I recently used shared mobility for everything as we traveled from San Francisco to Whistler, Canada for skiing. We started with a bus, then Amtrak rail to Vancouver, then taxi, then bus to the resort. From there it was all walking, gondola, chair lift, and skiing.

When I worked in Massachusetts, I took the “T,” MBTA’s vast subway and light-rail system. Without these rail systems, those who drive would be stuck in gridlock for hours daily. If you leave Boston for New York, Philadelphia, or Washington D.C. take Amtrak’s popular Acela.

Of our shared choices, rail moves the most; cars the least, with buses in between. Rail is laid down into fixed routes that last 40 to 100 years, yet cities grow and reshape organically. When people exit transit one-quarter mile from their destination, most walk. But for one to three miles, on-demand services are needed. Smart cities have integrated services of rail, bus, on demand, bicycling and walking.


Almost 20 years ago, Toyota added an electric motor and advanced battery to a conventional car and introduced the hybrid Prius. With the success of hybrids, plug-in vehicles were introduced so that batteries could be charged from garage outlets to public chargers.

Over a million plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles are on the road. By 2025, Navigant expects 37 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the global roads, fueled by lithium battery costs falling from $1,000 per kWh in 2010 to $145 (GM’s price from LG Chem reports Car and Driver).

From electric cars to electric buses and electric rail, we are ending our dependency on oil-refined fuels for 15 percent efficient drive systems and transitioning to local renewable energy powering 90 percent efficient electric drive systems. The United States has already dropped from using 21 million barrels of oil daily to 19 million. As we electrify, we will continue to drop to zero. Mobility will be powered from wind and solar, not from the extreme emissions from shale drilling and pipelines tar sands, and oil from countries hostile to the United States. Millions of lives will be saved annually, now lost to lung damage from air pollution. Trillions will be saved in health care.

My wife and I have been driving electric cars for six years. We enjoyed our Nissan LEAF, which met 80 percent of our daily driving needs with 100-mile range on city streets and 60 miles on freeways. For long trips, we drove our hybrid or took rail. Range was rarely an issue because we had two cars. Now that we have only one car, we drive the Chevrolet Volt. The first 55 miles are from an electric garage charge, then it becomes a hybrid getting 40 mpg with a gasoline fill-up every 300 miles or so. Downsizing to one car, we rarely drive in our city of San Francisco, instead walking, using transit, and making some trips on our electric bikes.

Over six years, owning electric cars has cost us $225 per month, plus $35 per month to charge; our electric cars have cost us less than our former Prius to own, fuel, and drive. We charge from the California grid, which is 30 percent renewable and zero coal. Many EV drivers charge with the solar on their roof.

The University of California at Irvine, my alma mater, has ordered twenty all-electric buses from BYD, the world leader in making electric vehicles (sorry Tesla and Nissan). BYD is headquartered in China, where 800,000 EV sales are predicted for 2017. About 100,000 electric buses are now sold annually by a number of global manufacturers.

In China and most developed nations of the world, transit systems in major cities are connected with high-speed rail, which is pure electric. The planned 800 mile high-speed rail system for California will connect all major cities, 25 transit systems, and run on 100 percent renewables.


If you need a ride in Pittsburgh, open your Uber app and schedule a pickup. If your Uber car is a Ford Fusion with a 360-degree lidar system on the roof, you will be chauffeured in a self-driving car. By Pennsylvania law, the car will have a person behind the wheel, but they won’t touch the wheel unless there is a surprise situation. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sees their future in self-driving vehicles.

Drivers kill over a million people annually, making the road unsafe for other drivers, bicyclers, and pedestrians. Self-driving cars see better using multiple cameras, lasers, and lidar. Self-driving cars are totally focused on driving; don’t text, bounce to music, drive after drinking, smoke dope, or get distracted.

Machine learning and big data will make full use of autonomous fleets during peak hours, routing them to the right places at the right times. In some cities, wireless charging will be used for the fleets of self-driving cars and shuttles. In others, the vehicles will drive themselves during off-peak hours to car washes and parking structures where they will be fast charged.

The benefits of self-driving are hotly debated. Transportation authority, San Francisco CTA, states that the on-demand services have made the streets of SF more congested. Indeed, independent drivers come into SF from other cities looking for gigs to make added money. CTA also worries that ride sharing will compete with its buses.

Other studies conclude that on demand leads to fewer cars and more transit use. After analyzing the data from 3 million taxi rides, MIT calculated that 2,000 on-demand 10-person vans in New York City could replace 14,000 taxis. MIT researchers also estimate that successful use of ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by a whopping 75% without slowing down travel.

Put a price on carbon, congestion zones, and vehicle miles traveled during peak hours, and most urban transportation will not be solo drivers, it will be in electric and autonomous shared rides like Lyft Lines, Waymo and Waze (Alphabet companies) shuttle vans, autonomous buses and rail. Autonomous vehicles will save lives, insurance rates will drop, hospital bills will drop, urban housing will be more affordable without requirements of one and two spaces per unit. ACES mobility improves urban density.

When I listen to debates about autonomous vehicles, I am reminded of similar debates ten years ago about electric vehicles. EVs were predicted to add massive congestion, use nothing but coal power, eliminate jobs, and cause recessions by reducing petroleum demand. None of these alarming forecasts happened.


We were making a long and painful drive back from Los Angeles to San Francisco in heavy traffic. On the freeway, in the middle an empty desert my Android Auto navigation told me that I could save 37 minutes by taking the next exit. I was inclined to ignore the direction as an error, but I trusted Google Maps and took the exit. As we drove 12 miles on a windy side road, I looked at the I-5 freeway in complete gridlock, due to a major accident. After 12 miles, we were directed back on the freeway, indeed saving 37 minutes. Google could see the speed of thousands of Google Map users at that GPS location. In my Google Map settings, I had given permission to reroute me based on traffic information. Google’s sophisticated algorithms saved me valuable time.

There has been talk of autonomous mobility needing connectivity standards for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X). Yet, autonomous vehicles are already in daily use without such standards. In the early years, the vehicles use high-resolution cameras, radar, and lidar to “see” everything around them.

What matters is connected people that use an app to be guided through interconnected services making best use of rail, transit, on demand services, and some healthy walking.

Leading cities are already using ACES – autonomous, connected, electric, and shared mobility. Pittsburgh has electric autonomous cars. Vancouver has electric self-driving Skytrain monorail. Today, no city is 100 percent ACES; tomorrow, ACES will be at the heart of smart cities. ACES bring us mobility that is safe, pollution free, healthy, and less expensive. Learn the details about Meeting of the Mind’s Boston Mobility Summit.


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  1. Hi. You discussed electric vehicles. I have a question: where you live, what percentage of the electricity is generated renewably? I’m asking because, where I live in the UK, the percentage is very low, so if I were to switch to electric transport, I would actually be making our problem of fossil fuel dependence worse. My concern is not just that fossil fuels (primarily coal in the UK) are used to generate the electricity, but also that a lot of that energy is lost in the conversion and transmission processes. The advertising of electric transport in the UK as clean and green really annoys me because of this. If I were living in New Zealand, where 85% of the electricity comes from hydro, I would very happily go electric.

    Someone once said to me that there has to be mass adoption of electric vehicles to enable an economically viable transition away from oil, and THEN we can push for renewables. My concern with this argument is that it will simply encourage our government to give permits for fracking, rather than invest in renewables. Indeed, this is already happening: all subsidies for renewables have been cut, which is making fracking a cheaper alternative.

    Or is there a flaw in my thinking that I haven’t seen? Is transitioning to electric transport a greener alternative even when electricity is not being generated renewably?

    • Good concern. This issue has been carefully studied for several years. Because an electric drive system is 90 percent efficient, where a gasoline drive system is 15 percent, even if you lived in a coal dominate region, your carbon footprint would be lower with an electric car. The same is true with electric rail and buses, versus 20 percent efficient diesel drive systems. The story is better, because many EV high-adoption communities are also high-adoption of renewables, such as California with 36 percent renewables and zero coal. Thanks, John

      For more: http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/electric-cars-green or http://www.cleanfleetreport.com/coal-powered-electric-cars/

  2. The one item that is typically not mentioned in the “mobility” description (shared, electric…) is “accessible.” This aspect of mobility cannot be assumed. When we examine what was required in transportation after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, it is imperative that we consider accessibility (and equity) early as autonomous vehicles are being designed.

  3. I’m not yet convinced that electric vehicles are what’s best for the environment. Lithium mining and refinement is an incredibly harsh process on the environment. What happens to the Nissan Leaf battery when it reached end of life? Does Nissan have a program for disposing/recycling?

  4. Smart design must include *equal* access for people with disabilities. Not “special” access, not “available upon request. It must be equal. And when it is designed in from the beginning, instead of retrofitting a flawed system, you will find an equal access design also expands your market to include highly motivated early adopters you hadn’t thought of, seniors, young people, families with children and changing needs.


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