“Unfortunately, motor fuel taxes are an increasingly unsustainable source of revenue as fuel efficient hybrid vehicles and completely electric vehicles grow in popularity” — Courtney Moran and Casey Ball.
Federal motor fuel taxes haven’t been increased since Clinton was in his first term as president. They simply aren’t a sustainable form of revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure.
In this context, a number of states are more realistically testing out what the vehicle mileage traveled (VMT). Brookings Institution has a nice report on the topic here. The researchers found that switching to a VMT “would raise $55 billion a year for highway spending [and] could increase social welfare by 20 percent when compared to an increase in the gas tax to meet the same goal when taking into account changes in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.”
Washington State legislature has been looking at VMT since 2012. They “think it’s a viable approach, but now it’s time to test it.” “The one-year study, which will involve 2,000 volunteers, would figure out ways to charge car owners a tax based on how many miles they’ve driven within the state, rather than how much gas was pumped.” They are not only testing out the idea of VMT, but the ways in which people would report the mileage driven. The approaches include:
“A mileage permit, where a driver chooses how many miles to purchase. Odometer readings: A per-mile charge would be based on the vehicle odometer. Automated mileage meter: A device installed in the car would report miles driven. Drivers would choose GPS or not. Smart Phone: A downloadable app would use the driver’s phone to record and/or report miles driven.” Drivers can sign up now to pilot the approach to taxes.
Oregon conducted a similar pilot in 2015, with few pilot subjects continuing to opt for the VMT rather than fuel taxes. California, Pennsylvania, and Delaware are also testing out this idea. It may take a few more years to become mainstream, but the inability of Washington, DC (Congress/President) to do anything on raising fuel taxes, coupled with more fuel-efficient cars using few gallons of gas per mile create a situation where leaders will HAVE to do something (hopefully) sooner rather than later.
Rather than building its own vehicles, like competitor big firms, Lyft designed a ‘common software interface’ that partner automakers can use for their cars. This means that riders in Boston could be using vehicles built by a range of manufacturers (GM, Jaguar, Land Rover, etc).
The sensors will be collecting information and interacting with their surrounding as the vehicles begin picking up passengers. This will progressively contribute to a centralized source of data controlled and analyzed by Lyft. The insight will then be shared with partner automakers. It’s still unclear if the carmakers will also receive any revenue from Lyft, for their service.
Tech and automotive executives are expecting AVs to play a key role in the future of transportation, which could prevent 95% of traffic accidents, due to human error. Yet, the AV industry still faces State regulatory obstacles. The lack of uniform procedures and expectations could hinder the progress of AVs. Key House subcommittee members unanimously approved a bill, in June 2017, that will make it easier for federal regulators to develop the rules for AVs.
I’m seeing a giant meteor coming that will, metaphorically speaking, put a huge hole in municipal budgets. This meteor will be AVs. The meteor that pushed dinosaurs to extinction may have done so with one big hit, the AV evolution might be a bit slower. A recent article in Governing Magazine provides us with evidence that the impact of AVs is being foreshadowed by the likes of Uber and Lyft (often collectively referred to as TNC or transportation network companies).
Airport managers nationwide are expressing concern in how the TNC are disrupting the budget models that airports have long had in place. Carter Morris (VP with the American Association of Airport Executives) has stated that “airports need to adapt and do it quickly.” Many airports have seen dramatic drops in fees collected from taxi companies and car rental companies because so many people are just using the TNCs instead. So now more than 200 airports nationwide are charging pick-up and/or drop off fees for the TNCs, just as they might have with taxis—though the exact revenue models are quite varied. As fee revenues decline, airports may look to airlines to pay more, which could drive them away from the small/medium size airports.
And if you are wondering how much of an impact TNCs are having on the ground transportation game, look no further than “San Francisco International Airport, where TNCs accounted for more than two-thirds of commercial ground transportation in May.” Lyft and Uber are preparing for an AV future, airports should too!
To learn more about the impact of AVs on municipal budgets in the Urbanism Next report coming out in late July. You’ll find a link to the report here on the blog.
Supporting the idea that autonomous fleets are in our future, GM (Lyft’s partner in the AV/EV/Ride-sharing arena) said that its Bolt AV will be costing something in the six-figures, most probably precluding it from the private ownership model, but absolutely viable in the ride-sharing model.
All signs pointing to Robin Chase’s FAVES in our future (Fleets of Autonomous Vehicles that are Electrified and Shared). Good news for those interested in urbanism and sustainability.
A key issue facing cities, states, and the federal government as they ponder the AV future, how do we properly prepare the roadways for AVs? Some suggest putting sensors on roads, but in an already fiscally constrained environment the idea of spending more on our roads for technology that is not yet fully functional is a non-starter.
And while building smarter roads would make for safer and easier AV travel, it is clear that companies like Ford understand that “you can’t count on that being there, which is why our technical approach is to build the capability completely on the vehicle,” says VP of research and advanced engineering Ken Washington.
The forthcoming Urbanism Next white paper will cover a range local government secondary effects that we expect to see arising from the introduction of AVs. Look for it in the coming weeks.
In the last few days, it has become apparent that the owners of the largest fleets of private vehicles, car rental companies, are finding ways into the AV conversation as well. Alphabet (parent of Google and Waymo) recently signed a deal with Avis to manage their fleet. While Apple signed a deal with Hertz to lease vehicles from the car rental giant to test their AV technology.
The types of ways in which these partnerships may develop are starting become clear, as Avis owns the car sharing company Zipcar. Waymo executives have indicated that this was one the selling points for the Avis partnership. Zipcar already has a distributed fleet of vehicles around many urban areas that are available on demand for people needing a short-term car rental. While neither Apple nor Waymo appear to have signed any exclusive deals here, they are pointing toward, at least in the Waymo-Avis deal, a shared ownership model for cars and AVs in the future.
Intel and Strategy Analytics researchers are claiming the impact of AVs will yield a $7 TRILLION boost to the economy. They feel that the effect of AVS “could add as much as $2 trillion to the US economy alone by 2050,” according to a recent article in Wired magazine. Much of the money will, expectantly, go to manufacturers of the vehicles but “mobility-as-a-service will supplant the value of vehicle sales as core sources of shareholder value creation” in the long-run the report says.
How do they suggest you get a share of the benefits?
Work in data (“Storing, organizing, and analyzing that data will be a big job”);
Work in IT (“someone needs to tend to these data architecture beasts—not crunching the numbers themselves, but making sure the systems are humming along as they should”);
AV mechanic (“Robocars won’t need you, but they’ll still need mechanics”)
Something we don’t yet understand (“No one has yet predicted how many jobs the autonomous future will create, and that’s partly because the future is so messy”)
Not surprisingly there are a lot of states (or at least their leaders) scrambling for the attention that AVs can create. A recent article on CityLab points to some of the challenges of regulating and encouraging AV development, testing, and innovation.
For example, Michigan—a state with a long history in the automobile world—is positioning itself not just as a testing ground for AVs, but also a place where AVs can be developed and built (creating a lot of jobs). While other states that do not have Michigan’s automotive history might just be scrambling to get a little attention by allowing AVs to be tested in their states—perhaps in a way that gives away a lot to the developers by lowering regulatory barriers to testing.
The authors of the article point out that “the winning move for states in the competition for AV pilots is simply not to play” but rather to make a strategic decision about whether or not they want to be active or passive players as the technology develops. The scramble for attention could play well electorally but may be a waste of public resources and create distractions or worse.
In the wake of this week’s Portland charrette/workshop on the potential of AVs to transform urban spaces, a new CityLab article is right up our alley here at Urbanism Next.
A take away from the charrette and the article is that cities need to be proactive partners and be sure they are assertive as we transform to AV transportation. “…if cities aren’t learning anything from these partnerships, local officials and citizens are going to push back and say: Why do tech companies get everything and we get nothing?”
Regulatory capture is a real threat as traditional automakers try to block new comers from entering the auto market, but some sort of regulatory action will be necessary—it just needs to be designed in such a way to keep us safe without stifling completion. CityLab notes that “With federal policy, too, the goals of automakers may not always line up with what’s good for cities. Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Volvo, Uber, Lyft, and others continue to lobby congressional policymakers for a “national framework” regulating safety performance standards, so as to avoid 50 versions of AV requirements.”
What is good for auto companies’ bottom lines, may not be good for cities. The authors of the CityLab article note that “While the industry pushes for national AV standards, cities may want to retain local control over things like speed limits, designating special AV zones, and setting trip fees in order to meet the safety needs of their specific neighborhoods.” Balancing the needs of all levels of government will be a key challenge in the next 3-5 years, being proactive and thinking about these challenges is what Urbanism Next is all about. Benjamin Clark and Nico Larco will be releasing a white paper on some of the financial challenges and opportunities for cities in about a month. Be sure to check back here on the blog for more info on that white paper.
“With the many benefits that AV technology promises, including reduction in traffic deaths, increased mobility for the disabled and seniors, reduced congestion, and enhanced connectivity for all demographics, cities have a unique opportunity to be proactive to not only engage in smart planning for AVs, but to also shape the policy around AVs to ensure such benefits are fully realized.”
The report suggests that cities:
Develop their own safety and privacy guidelines related to AVs. Transparency will be the key to a successful innovation, the report suggests.
Data will have real value to city management. “Cities should consider their data needs, and the relationship they seek to build with AV manufacturers as well as transit platforms and other mobility providers.”
While federal AV policies are likely to be focused on safety, local and state governments have great opportunities to shape policy on how AVs shape our communities. “Cities have an opportunity to come together and lobby their state governments to advance their concerns around the safe operation of AVs in their communities, including insurance requirements and local approval of any proposed AV testing in a city.
Look at procurement policies now to avoid future issues with the new technology. “Cities should assess their current procurement policies, and look specifically at whether these policies might inadvertently erect any roadblocks to purchasing the technology and smart infrastructure necessary to support AV deployment.”
Policy coordination and development is going to have to be multi-disciplinary. “With technology like AVs, cities need to get the right people to the table, which includes urban planners, public works, information technology, procurement policy, and law enforcement. Modifications to existing codes may be appropriate, or cities may have to think about the development of a new autonomous vehicles or smart infrastructure code.”
Be open to dialogue with residents and don’t assume they want AVs. “Cities should engage in an open dialogue between all their residents and respond to varying levels of acceptance of this technology.”
New infrastructure will be needed, make sure it is not left off the table as AVs roll in. Cities should “link funding with new technologies to additional funding for capital improvements as well as existing maintenance.”
Data and analysis will become a bigger part of city management—be prepared. “The data processing requirements needed for cities to take advantage of the data being generated within them is often out of reach of many small and mid-sized cities. Partnering with local academic institutions has given many towns and cities affordable access to the data storage and processing ability they need.”
(Note: scholars, like myself, here at the UO are glad to work with cities interested in exploring this issue.)
Carlo Ratti of MIT’s Sensable City Lab offers an ominous warning: tax rideshare, or destroy public transit.
Citing data on the per-mile cost of ridesharing services, and projected costs of self-driving costs, Rotti says ” In the US now, the cost of a car such as Uber per mile is $2.20 ($2.85)…”When you get to self-driving cars and you don’t need to have a person any more, and [when] a self-driving car can run 24/7 and is used more efficiently, the cost per mile is anything between 30 and 60 cents. Now if that happens, nobody will take the subway.” (Bleby, Australian Financial Review)
In his interview with the Australian Financial Review, Ratti brings up important points about pricing rideshare and AVs, and discusses the need to consider city design.
On the heels of USDOT announcing 10 pilot designees for testing AV technology, one state is getting out ahead of AVs. Legislation proposed in Massachusetts would ” allow self-driving cars on public roads, but impose a mileage-based tax on their use, allow some large municipalities to ban them, and require all such cars to be zero-emissions vehicles.” (Boston Globe, January 19, 2017) As pointed out in the article, AVs currently fall into a legal gray area in Massachusetts and many states.
APA reports that Michigan, Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah have statutes regulating AVs. (“Michigan joins small number of states with self-driving car laws.” – APA blog)
CityLab has posted a report from this years Consumer Electronics Show and – unsurprisingly – the roll-out of AV’s seems to be focused on shared fleets and they will focus on freight and high occupancy transport. Cost seems to be the largest factor early on with AV technology being cost-prohibitive for individual ownership (although Tesla might have something to say about that). Another reason is simply the ability to monitor and modify cars and algorithms – much easier to do roll-out and testing in limited contact points via larger shared fleets.
This is not to say that shared vehicles are the only future for AV’s – but thier initiation happening as shared vehicles is promising and gives a bit of time to figure out how best to promote and cement that future over individual ownership – probably the most critical issue in avoiding a dystopian future.