Along for the Ride: Weekly Newsletter on AVs and Urbanism - Issue #4

Esteemed subscribers, welcome to another week of self-driving cars and urbanization.

Without further delay, here’s the round up:

Read(s) of the Week

This is a bit self-indulgent - one of our Reads of the Week is a report I co-authored while at Siemens. Cities in the Driving Seat discusses the urban implications of AVs globally and was released this past week at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. Shout out to my old boss Pete who put on a hell of a panel with C40 and the LTA.

The other is from Sidewalk Labs’ Rit Aggarwala: Expectations, Uncertainties and Policy Choices for Self-Driving Cities. He argues road pricing will be one of the most important policies cities can implement to ensure transport networks of the future are equitable and sustainable.

Government and Policy

State-level Policy

  • In America, the National Governor’s Association has released a report titled “State Public Safety and Autonomous Vehicle Technology”. The report includes multiple policy suggestions including maintaining state oversight for regulations about testing and deploying AVs. This run down gives a great overview of the report.

  • I just stumbled across this policy brief from a few months ago, and thought it was a worthy share: Maximizing the Benefits of Self-Driving Vehicles - Principles for Public Policy from the Union of Concerned Scientists. (link).

  • It appears most self-driving car companies want to be cleared from state-level policies in favour of federal regulations. While this might make their job easier - and get AVs on the road faster - it will likely mean that the rollout of AVs and the policies which support them is less localized. This is problematic as every city and state operate under different contexts - politically, culturally, economically, socially. Bespoke policy will likely deliver the best results. (link).

    • Over in DC, little action has been made to bring forward the AV START Act to a vote, despite bipartisan support. And while I believe state-level policies should be the foundation of AV implementation, the US does currently lack any over-arching policies or support from the federal government - potentially making R&D in other countries more appealing. (link).

  • Questions loom about whether police should have the power to disable self-driving cars. Many policy-makers in the US believe mass cybersecurity attacks on AVs are likely in the future, and want to know how they will mitigate these types of attacks. (link).

Don’t Piss off Pittsburgh

  • Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, has been vocal in recent months about the city’s waining relationship with Uber - calling them out via twitter for ignoring emails, and poor communication after the Tempe Arizona collision. Last week a meeting was finally held to clear the air, and Peduto remarked that Uber needed to be a better “Corporate Citizen”. (link).

    • Uber has terminated its self-driving car program in Pittsburgh, laying off its car operators in the city while it reevaluates its AV strategy. (link).

    • I’d love to dive deeper into what exactly a “Corporate Citizen” is on an almost philosophical level, perhaps await a blog post about that..


  • Daimler is testing in Beijing. They will be testing Level 4 vehicles in the capital city. This follows news that was also granted a license in the city last week. (link).


  • NYC is considering introducing policy which would require ride-hailing companies to pay their drivers minimum wages. 85% of ride-hailing drivers in the city make less than $17.22 an hour, the groups proposed pay standards. (link).

Public Transport

  • Miami-Dade’s upcoming elections may hinge on candidates support for a new rail line over Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The South Dade community has been rallying for a rail connection for years, and now feel the recently released BRT plans may mean they may never get their dream, despite the fact that the BRT will cost 1/3 of the price. Community leaders claim they will ensure anybody who supports the BRT will loose their support in upcoming elections. (link).

    • Important to consider here is how buses (even state-of-the-art, sexy buses) are always considered to be second class. The rhetoric people have adopted when it comes to buses (and how they are seen as synonymous with low-income, dangerous, vulnerable or disadvantaged groups) has made communities feel undervalued when bus networks are introduced. This needs to change because buses have so many benefits.

Sharing (Data) is Caring

  • NextCity reports how the lack of data shared by ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft hinders San Francisco’s ability to plan and measure progress. As we move forward with AVs, can we develop better relationships with cities such that sharing data feels more like ‘working together to achieve a common good’? (link).

Parking Garages

  • Chicago’s parking game just got a 21st century upgrade. Over 500 parking garages can now process autonomous vehicles. Driverless cars can book, pay, enter and exit the facilities on their own. (link).


Partnerships, Mergers, Acquisitions

  • Uber and Lyft are reportedly flirting with the idea of acquiring crowdsourced bus start-up Skedaddle. Uber has confirmed this, while Lyft has denied the claims. This would be another major investment in non-private transport, continuing to expand their service offerings. (link).

  • Daimler, Bosch will use Nvidia AI for their artificial intelligence platform. (link).


  • Slingshot, a vehicle which is not quite a car and not quite a motorcycle, received quite a bit of press this week. Wired is arguing it might just be the future of driving. While I don’t find the physical design too appealing, I am keen about the idea of right-sizing vehicles. If most vehicles are used for single-occupancy trips, then applications such as this are incredibly more space efficient. (link).

Highway One

  • Mercedes-Benz is launching autonomous taxi services in California as early as next year. (link).

Another Day, Another Court Case

  • Apple sees itself in the limelight this time. The company believes previous employee Xiaolang Zhang stole files before exiting the company and moving to China to work for an electric vehicle company. (link).

That’s a lot of Zeros.

  • In it’s latest valuation, Cruise is estimated to be worth $43b USD - that’s up significantly from a few months ago. (link).

Learning Quickly.

  • Wayve’s AI used reinforcement learning to teach itself to drive in 20 minutes. This is just really cool. (link).

Research and Academia

Public Health

  • Researchers from Australia find that the general public knows very little about the potential public health benefits of AVs. 63 percent of people surveyed had neutral or negative attitudes towards driverless cars. (link).

Decades Off

  • Wharton Professor JohnPaul MacDuffie explains via podcast and interview why AVs are decades off. MacDuffie is the Director of the Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation at Wharton. (link).


Public Transport and Ride Hailing: Making it Work

  • Is it possible for ride-hailing apps to support public transport? I personally have my skepticisms, and this article dives deeply into them. (link).

NUMTOTs United

  • What’s a NUMTOT you ask? NUMTOTs are millennials who want to build better cities, and members of a Facebook Community called New Urbanism Memes for Transit Oriented Teens. This may sound trivial, but the group boasts 100k+ members, some of whom are professors at Stanford, Harvard and beyond. The group actively discusses their ideal transport systems, riffs on Elon Musk, and shares urban news from every corner of the world. The Guardian highlighted the group in their Cities Editorial this week. (link).

Using Incentives to Develop Self-Driving Cars

  • This blog post considers how to best incentivize the use of self-driving cars, thinking not from the perspective of a growing bottom line, but of a mobility system that works - for all citizens and for the planet. (link).

A Touch of Nostalgia

Feel like a gentle read before you begin your weekend? I recommend 10 Streets that Changed America.

Have a blessed weekend friends.


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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