The NMA Foundation presents The Car of the Future weekly feature.
Cities big and small want to jump on the autonomous vehicle (AV) revolution. Bismarck, North Dakota announced recently that they will begin experimenting with one driverless bus. Monticello, Minnesota has already been testing driverless buses this winter. Waymo announced it will be testing some of its fleet in Atlanta, one of the most congested cities in the country. Even a Florida retirement village is getting in on the act. Jumping feet first into the autonomous craze might be exciting but is it prudent? Testing Vehicles is one thing but who will actually pay for the infrastructure needed for AVs in the long run.
Many questions still remain about how the AV infrastructure scheme will work and some are even questioning why AVs be a priority when there are so many other issues with current infrastructure which we currently cannot maintain, fix or rebuild due to funding?
Can we afford to build streets that meet AV requirements while current vehicles are still using them and have other needs?
Transportation designers and other city officials seem to be high on the autonomous revolution but will the rest of us have a voice on whether we want our tax dollars to be spent this way?
The infrastructure funding landscape is complicated with many moving parts and all of it needing cash now!
In 2017, Chicago city officials took matters into their own hands. Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed that Chicago was facing a $40 million revenue loss due to the proliferation of Uber and Lyft ridesharing services. He promoted a plan to raise fees for every ride, currently at 52 cents (which is earmarked for the city’s general fund), with an increase of 15 cents this year and five cents in 2019. He wants to use the extra money for mass transit improvements. Just before Thanksgiving, the city council approved the plan which will generate $16 million this year and $30 million in 2019. Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) President Dorval Carter said the agency plans to leverage the new ridesharing tax money to issue bonds worth $180 million over the next 10 to 15 years. The state of Illinois apparently no longer can or will fund the CTA so the city needs to do something to maintain the 147-year-old system. But this is only to improve public transportation…not to prepare streets and the urban core for autonomous vehicles.
A number of studies have indicated that with the advent of ridesharing services, which will soon be autonomous perhaps, the number of public transit rides have declined. Since 2012 in Chicago for example, bus ridership has fallen 17 percent which is about 55 million fewer rides. This is according to the Active Transportation Alliance, a local transit advocacy group whose spokesperson Kyle Whitehead says the decrease is not just due to ridesharing but other factors have contributed such as service cuts and declining gas prices.
San Francisco, the birthplace of ridesharing, has already been struggling with a staggering amount of new congestion brought on by both Uber and Lyft. Drop off spots are of particular concern and the city and the two ridesharing giants are trying to work together to alleviate blocked bike lanes, congested parking lots and crowded streets. Between April and June of 2017, Uber and Lyft drivers accounted for two-thirds of the congestion-related traffic tickets. Competition and cooperation do not always go hand-in-hand. Who picks up the tab of trying to make all this work?
In a recent Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety poll, 64 percent of Americans are still skeptical of riding in driverless cars. This week, AAA released their poll which indicated that 63 percent of Americans are afraid to ride in an AV. But both polls only talk about the gee-whiz aspect of AVs.
Why is no one asking the very important question of how we will fund this new technology infrastructure when we can’t even fund infrastructure for current use?
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