Along for the Ride - Issue #79
Welcome back. I had a short two-week break, so this week’s a bit of a longer edition. For those of you based in London, I’ve got just under three weeks left in the city (😭) before my move to San Francisco (🌞). It’d be lovely to get in one last (socially-distanced) coffee, so feel free to reach out and we can set something up. Alright, let’s dive right back into it.
Government and Policy
A really powerful piece on how the Black Lives Matter protests have shed a light on all the ways in which our public transportation systems have been designed to the disadvantage of Black communities.
“One hot day in my hometown of Riverside, California, 25 years ago, I finally discerned the source of the clicking sound I often heard as I walked down the city’s sidewalks — it turned out to be people in nearby cars locking their doors at my approach. The drivers saw their vehicles as a source of freedom and a space of safety; they saw me, a young Black man on a sidewalk, as a threat.”
The Guardian’s Martin Love (who loves talking cars, and has been their motoring editor for fifteen years) details how coronavirus has given cities a once in a life-time opportunity: to reimagine our cities without cars in the spotlight. In his own words: “It’s ironic that the answer to all our car problems might be as simple as more of us turning off our engines, getting out – and simply using our own legs.”
This piece is equal parts nostalgia for motordom, and an awakening that if we really want cities that are liveable, and dare I say … enjoyable, we might have to kick our cars to the curb.
The UK’s Transport Secretary has announced the creation of a Net Zero Transport Board to help guide the decarbonisation of UK transport (🥳). One example the UK is considering is electric highways, where overhead charging cables would be installed for electric lorries (The Guardian); road freight alone was responsible for 5% of the UK’s total carbon emissions in 2018.
“The board will help shape and inform the transport decarbonisation plan coming later this year. It is the first time the UK will lay out its approach to decarbonising every form of transport, setting out a credible and ambitious pathway to delivering transport’s contribution to carbon budgets and to meeting net zero by 2050.”
The UN is (only now..) introducing regulation where vehicle manufacturers will be required to secure connected vehicles against cyberattacks under a new regulation. But this new regulation is voluntary, and yes, you guessed it the US did not sign on. Meanwhile, Japan said it would introduce the rules next year, South Korea plans to introduce part of the regulation this year, and the EU plans to begin implementing the rules in 2022.
“The car industry is becoming an increasingly regulated industry because its product is becoming more advanced, more sophisticated, but also more complex and vulnerable. Everyone’s trying to prevent a scalable attack.”
I really loved reading this piece this week; if you’re a “trained” urban planner or somebody responsible for the shaping of the built environment, it’s worth a deep read.
“In stark contrast to planners, architects, and other credentialed experts, most people experience cities in profoundly tactile ways, through their senses and emotions. The building blocks of cities comprise more than structures, streets, and sidewalks, but equally encompass personal experience, collective memory, and aspirations. While less tangible and more difficult to measure, these aspects are what transform infrastructure, mere physical objects, into place, a sense of belonging—community. And yet these more ephemeral ways of understanding are discounted within conventional planning practice and education. The result is an acute distrust between planners and the public.”
It is estimated that Working From Home (WFH) will continue beyond the era of Coronavirus, and has the potential to reduce driving in the U.S. by up to 270 billion miles a year (😳). The researchers behind the report also assume that automobile sales will plummet, and that the decline in commuting will remove roughly 14 million cars from US roads.
In many ways, coronavirus has changed our streetscapes for the better: there is more space than ever before for cycling and walking, and cities are taking fast steps to implement new infrastructure and policy to reduce care usage. But it appears we’ve given one mode the short end of the stick: our buses.
Transit ridership is down anywhere from 60% to 90% depending on the city you live in. Transit agencies are hemorrhaging cash, with fare revenue following ridership down the tube. And it’s been one of the only sustainable and active travel modes that has gone without additional street space allocation.
“Many cities have been aggressive in installing new, pop-up bike lanes and wider sidewalks to take advantage of suddenly traffic-free streets and encourage safe, active mobility. Now is the time to rethink the allocation of public space to give public transport more priority too. Dedicated bus lanes and other forms of transit priority can help cities move people to their destinations faster under the current restricted conditions and can support increased ridership in the future.”
FCA and Waymo have been in bed together for a long time. And this week Waymo announced last week that they will work exclusively with FCA as its preferred partner for the development and testing of light commercial vehicles. They will prioritize goods movement for commercial delivery customers, including Waymo Via. One vehicle they will partner on is vans such as the FCA Ram (Autoweek).
We’ve been promised self-driving cars for the better part of the last decade: it’s always a year or two away (or in Musk’s mind, mere months). But as we come to terms with the fact that this technology is still a long way out (despite real advancements), investors discuss other opportunities to not let this work go to waste. While investors are still interested in autonomy, they have shifted their focus towards practical services such as grocery delivery, automated warehouse robots, and autonomous functions restricted to highways.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles awarded AutoX a permit to test driverless vehicles on streets within a designated part of San Jose. AutoX has had state authority to pilot vehicles with safety drivers since 2017, but the new license allows the company to test one autonomous vehicle without a driver behind the wheel on streets around its San Jose headquarters.
The only other companies with this permit are Waymo and Nuro. Companies are allowed to drive its test vehicles in “fair weather conditions” and light precipitation on streets at speeds not exceeding 45 miles per hour.
You knew that pun was coming right?
If you’re a long-time reader of AFTR, I don’t have to tell you about the quams I have with Musk’s perception of the transportation industry. But if you’re new…
“Here’s one way to tell when Tesla’s earnings calls are scheduled: Elon Musk gets on Twitter to post a fanciful rendering of a Tesla-adjacent project to boost the company’s stock price. This week, just before yesterday’s call, it was a new look at the Boring Company’s Las Vegas tunnel transit system, which, in typical Musk fashion, is somehow more visually underwhelming than the previous version and also manages to contradict much of what he’s previously said about it.”
Aurora is scheduled to begin tests of its self-driving minivans and semi-trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. To date, Aurora has raised $690 million in funding, and are focusing first and foremost as freight as it’s route to market.
WeRide, a Chinese autonomous vehicle startup, has become the first autonomous company to start fully driverless vehicle testing in Guangzhou, China. WeRide will use a remote centre to take control of their vehicles if needed. In China, Pony.ai, Baidu, and Didi Chuxing are also testing autonomous cars, but all with one or two safety staff onboard.
This piece gives a good recap on who is testing in China, in which cities, and with what vehicles / technology.
Mobileye has partnered with WILLER, one of the largest transportation operators in Japan, Taiwan and the Southeast Asian region. Their collaboration will launch an autonomous ride-hailing service in Japan and Taiwan.
They are seeking to commercialize self-driving taxis and autonomous on-demand shared shuttles in Japan. Mobileye will supply autonomous vehicles integrating its self-driving system and WILLER will offer services adjusted to each region and user tastes, ensure regulatory framework, and provide mobility services and solutions for fleet operation companies.
Research and Academia
Anthony Townsend, author of Ghost Road: Beyond the Driverless Car, sits down to talk about autonomous vehicles and urban planning on the CleanTech podcast. Townsend discusses everything from implications for commercial real estate and transformation into a low-carbon economy.
Research from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology’s Future Urban Mobility group finds that one-third of DiDi ridesharing trips in Chengdu, China potentially substitute for public transit. The substitution effect is more exhibited in the city center and the areas covered by the subway, while the complementary effect is more exhibited in suburban areas as public transit has poor coverage.
“Different streets serve different functions and do so with different amounts of space and differences in design, from pedestrianised plazas to multi-lane arteries. As a result, road user behaviour varies across the city and through the day. Just as urban planners might try to cater for these different purposes by pedestrianising shopping streets or reallocating space between transport modes, we can consider whether AVs should operate differently in different areas. This could be through traditional regulation such as parking restrictions and speed limits or novel measures such as rules on driving style and platooning.”
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend folks.
By Sarah Barnes
This weekly newsletter on cities, transportation and technology is curated weekly by Sarah Barnes, a transport nerd based in San Francisco, CA.
The newsletter encourages new conversations about advanced transportation technology, primarily autonomous vehicles, which focus on people, equity, design and the cities we want to (and need to) be building for the future.
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