Accelerating social change
While stats may sway some perspectives on autonomous vehicles (AVs) — especially at the policy level — deep-seated cultural concerns, allegiances and even fears must also play a part in shaping the new mobility landscape.
At this Movin’On Summit working session, Keolis representatives Rahul Kumar and Scheherazade Zekri shared findings from their ongoing autonomous shuttle projects in cities such as Las Vegas and Candiac, Quebec, while industry attendees offered their own expert insights into what might hurt — and help — the reputation of AVs.
Keolis stressed that there’s a major element missing from the AV discussion, across the industry: the accessibility angle. While AVs present an important new transport option for people with limited mobility, including members of the rapidly aging population, there are concerns around things like heavy equipment (e.g. wheelchair ramps) and their effect on battery life; services that traditionally need human assistance (e.g.wheelchair clamp-downs), and compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) — required for any government funding in the US.
In addition to proposing new tax models for funding AVs and infrastructure, participants suggested multiple service levels for riders, both in terms of vehicle type and user experience. So, for example, a business traveller would be willing to pay more for a higher-end vehicle with guaranteed wifi connectivity, while students might forego a bit of comfort for a cheaper ride that shuttles them on a loop between campuses.
As one participant pointed out, to many people, especially in the United States, owning a car is more than an asset — it’s a symbol of pride and independence. Other participants suggested that, in addition to general education and publicizing a clear cost-benefit analysis of AVs, mobility models that mix AVs and personal ownership can also be explored e.g. lending out a personal vehicle during the week but having it to oneself on weekends to take family trips.
Freeing up parking may seem like a benefit to the average driver, but to US cities like Los Angeles (which, Kumar notes, derives about 40% of its revenue from parking fees and citations) the rise of AVs — which are set to “cruise” in between stops, not park — means finding other sources of income will be a challenge. One possible solution, suggested by Keolis: building new, dynamic pricing models for access to curb space, shaped around things like time of day and vehicle type.
“In the US, there are 19 million driving jobs — about 8% of the workforce,” says Kumar. “We have to consider what we’re going to do with an entire workforce that makes its living behind the wheel — bus drivers, delivery people…” Participants noted that lobbyists who consider AVs competition may also be a hurdle, from car manufacturers to taxi unions. One popular solution was retraining maintenance workers, but all attendees were clear that this issue had to be worked on before widespread implementation of AVs.
Roads and highways
Keolis highlighted a need for more consistent and identifiable signage across along driverless vehicle routes, regulated at every level (local, state and federal). Participants noted that once these symbols become widely known, spotting them and their dedicated lanes (similar to carpool-only lanes) may encourage reluctant non-users to give AVs a shot. Dynamic lanes, which would be adjusted based on factors like traffic and time of day, could also help ease congestion for all drivers.
One of the top concerns for riders and regulators took many forms. Keolis mentioned their pilot project in Las Vegas, which had curious pedestrians jumping out in front of the vehicle — noting that it still stopped every time. Some participants wondered about breakdowns, suggesting data and interoperability would lead to quick responses from back-up vehicles. Others noted that AVs might actually solve some current concerns about safety and the new mobility, including recent stories of driver-passenger harassment in rideshares.
3 key POVs
Keolis found that organizations discuss AVs from three perspectives:
- Safety: re-education around accidents.
- Environmental benefits: AVs will be electric and shared, reducing emissions and congestion from single-occupancy vehicles.
- Technology: looking at the new technology within vehicles but also new business models (e.g. ride-sharing).
This article is based on the following working session given at the 2019 Movin’On Summit: “The city of tomorrow: Learning from today’s robo-shuttle pilot projects for large-scale deployment of autonomous vehicles” by Scheherazade Zekri (Keolis), Rahul Kumar (Keolis).