This week, two themes have dominated the news in the world of mobility. Self-driving vehicles, though a long way from commercial use, are certainly heading in that direction. And focusing much more on mobility issues that are currently very real, ride-hailing companies are still evolving and figuring out their relationship with the communities where they operate.
This week is shaping up to be an important one for autonomous vehicles.
We know autonomous vehicles are still relatively futuristic and not immediately relevant, but how businesses develop them will eventually play a big role in mobility networks. This holds especially true for the relationship between public and private providers, and how they are able to serve communities who need such resources the most.
Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection advanced legislation “that will prioritize safety while encouraging innovation” for businesses developing autonomous vehicles (AVs). The legislation will set the tone for AV technology in the coming years, and may well influence the role that driverless cars play in our mobility networks.
Meanwhile, states are already preparing for a future where self-driving vehicles are prevalent. Virginia is set to approve AV testing on Interstate 95’s express lanes, in “light traffic scenarios.”
Across the country, Caltrans, California’s Department of Transportation, is modifying its roads to accommodate the growth of driverless cars on public streets. The agency is moving away from Botts’ Dots (the intermittent stripes that mark driving lanes) to unbroken lane lines, as well as thickening them from four to six inches wide. Caltrans hopes to complete its 50,000 miles of roads in the next two to three years.
This reflects a trend that has been gaining momentum for some time. Cities are even competing for the lucrative business of testing AV technology, such as Ann Arbor, Michigan, which bills itself as a “living laboratory,” inviting businesses from around the world to test their products in its 32-acre proving grounds, as well as to mix with real traffic around the town.
TNCs Learning About Community Service
Transportation network companies (TNCs) - also known as ride-hailing companies - and communities continue to explore the best way they can collaborate to provide more equitable mobility options, with some occasional tension.
The University of California, Davis, has produced a study into how communities could work with ride-hailing companies to encourage service in rural, disadvantaged areas that would otherwise not be cost-effective for a typical TNC model.
Access for people with disabilities is growing within the ride-hailing giants, Uber and Lyft, as regulations go into place in states like Pennsylvania that require minimum numbers for wheelchair-accessible fleets. That said, recent lawsuits in Washington, D.C., and New York City show that there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Other communities have spoken out against Lyft’s recently-launched Shuttle, saying that it is pretty much a bus that exacerbates class divides by allowing people with means to take their own rides and undermine ridership of public services. Lyft, for its part, emphasizes that this service should complement public transit lines, rather than compete with them. And that Shuttle is not a bus.
Finally, more TNCs continue to pop up, filling very particular mobility needs, such as Sprynt in Arlington, Virginia, which provides free service to people going somewhere that’s “too far to walk but too close to drive.” Funding comes through advertisements from local businesses.
Image Credit: Automobile Italia, Flickr, Creative Commons
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