Looking Ahead: Transportation Is Being Transformed, One Disruption At a Time

Screen shot 2015-08-18 at 4.06.56 PMPart two of our Looking Ahead series

Perhaps it’s the extraordinary costs or the inefficiencies, but disruption of traditional transportation is becoming so commonplace that it is now expected.

The trends are also causing some to think about completely transforming the future of our cities, our households, and our transportation network. Most of the new services we are now so familiar with began only within the last few years as start up “shared economy” services: zipcar, car2go, and Austin B-cycle, as well as technology-enabled mobility with quasi-taxi service like uber or lyft, or just-in-time access options like RideScout, Carma, and Dadnab.

On the horizon are even bigger changes. Think autonomous vehicles, sharing services that give you access to just the right-sized vehicle right when you need it, and even seamless access to purchase, arrange and use every travel option from your phone. With that in mind, we’re taking a long look at what this might mean for you and Austin over the next few years.

There are all kinds of speculation about the impact of new technology like autonomous (self driving) cars. Some predict that people will become more detached from their cars. There will be less “self-image” placed one what type of car you drive – after all you won’t be “controlling” it any longer. And more people will use autonomous cars as a practical tool allowing them to make money putting it to work, instead of sitting idle 22 hours a day, to give other people rides like uber/lyft do now..

Another prediction that most experts agree on is that these self-driving cars will usher in radical increases in safety and efficiency of travel. People are distracted, but computers will not be. This will have a significant safety benefit. Networked cars can also reroute in real time to use road capacity very efficiently.

A recent Atlantic Cities article about How Driverless Cars Could Turn Parking Lots Into City Parks provides a clear example of how radically these seemingly small details can change our world. As much as 64 percent of driving in urban areas is done when drivers circle (and circle, and circle) blocks looking for that one parking spot they’re sure will open up. A driverless car can drop you at the door then park efficiently or continue giving others rides to make you money. Either way, a lot of parking and traffic can disappear and the land could be used for parks or other great public/private uses.

But autonomous cars aren’t the only change on the horizon. Perhaps the most ambitious vision of future transportation has been articulated by the Rocky Mountain Institute as they decide if they will invest in helping Austin become the model for a transformation in transportation.

We currently have a “just in case” model: roads built for a few hours of peak travel and travelers who buy vehicles but only use them for a few hours each day, meaning they’re a huge expense with little or no use the rest of the day. RMI is instead proposing a transformation into the highly successful shipping model of “just in time,” meaning each user has easy access to mobility when they need it and that is all they pay for. They estimate that putting a “just in time” model into play would save our metropolitan area about $1 trillion a year. That extra money could pay for other important services, or reduce taxes. RMI also projects that each household’s transportation costs could drop from $.59 per mile to as little as $.15 per mile or lower, averaging a $10,000 annual savings per two car household.

Here’s what that proposed mobility on demand might look like:

Instead of buying a vehicle based on your best guess of how you may need to use it, imagine if you could easily get a pickup truck to your door when you needed to haul something, or just as easily jump into a one seat electric vehicle for a short quick trip. Maybe it’s driven for you and arrives at your doorstep by the click of a few buttons on your phone.

Screen shot 2015-08-19 at 1.31.37 PMInstead of your current 30-minute or more commute each way to and from work, imagine you could see on your phone the real time cost (time and money) and convenience for all your options, from driving solo to carpooling or transit. Imagine if with a click of a button you could arrange an uber pickup to the new 24-7 rapid ride transit that takes you straight downtown bypassing traffic, and dropping you where a taxi or shuttle is waiting for the last mile connection to your work. You get to read, relax, work and you get to the office in roughly the same amount of time.

Now you spend time traveling, often sitting alone in car, maybe surrounded by traffic, but imagine you could afford to live close enough to your work to walk or bicycle some days. You could combine daily exercise and your commute, saving you time and money.

images courtesy of Professor Stefan Heck

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