Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wall Street Journal special section on the "Future of Transportation"

On Wednesday, June 21st, the Wall Street Journal ran a special section on transportation issues, with some thought provoking articles.

-- "The End of Car Ownership" challenged some of my thinking on this issue.  I have argued that autonomous vehicles aren't likely to be institutionalized within my lifetime, because while they are touted on being most useful in cities, the cost and time and technological complexity of creating the necessary "intelligent transportation infrastructure" is astronomical.

Comparatively, it will be easy to set up such operations on interstates, especially for trucks.

From the article:
"By 2022, 2023, the majority of transportation in urban cities with temperate weather will be on demand, shared, and likely autonomous," says Aarjav Trivedi, chief executive of Ridecell, a San Francisco company that provides the back-end software for car sharing.
I think that's optimistic.

Car sharing is an analogue for on demand car usage, as are taxi and "ride hailing" operations.  Clearly, more people are willing to transport themselves in these ways, without having to own a car.  But reaching critical mass and then a majority of users in this fashion will take a long time

Still, I had to accept that I look at car sharing/ride hailing the wrong way sometimes--the issue isn't whether or not "it's cheaper" compared to transit, but is about convenience and whether or not it's cheaper than "owning a car."

An indicator of the increased acceptance of "not owning" or "fractional ownership" is how upper income segments of the market are starting to participate, such as with the BMW "ReachNow" car sharing service, or how Tesla owners, through an app called Turo, can "rent out" their cars, helping them to cover the purchase cost.

The article also discusses "subscription services" for car use and providing access to different types of cars. (Zipcar already provides access to different types of vehicles, including trucks and vans, and Car2Go recently added 4-door Mercedes vehicles to their fleets in some cities, allowing car sharing users to satisfy more types of trips than can be accomplished by the 2-door Smart car.)

-- To me, the article "Public Transit Learns From Uber," doesn't really break new ground.  It shouldn't be a surprise that the same kinds of IT/telecommunications advances that support car sharing can support "shared mobility" transit services on a scale smaller than buses.

There is a place for such services, and it will always be cheaper for the private sector to provide them, perhaps in conjunction with transit agencies.  It's cheaper because Uber-Lyft-Via drivers make less than union wages, and it's cheaper to operate their personally-owned car compared to an institutionally-owned vehicle, plus the administrative overhead is cheaper, etc.

Although the discussion of advances in mobile payment technologies is interesting, as this will eventually mean "one medium" can pay for all "mobility services," rather than there being separate methods for each different service.

However, Capital Transit in Austin, Texas is offering microtransit service themselves, using an app and branded vehicles called "Pickup" ("Cap Metro Brings Ride-Hailing to Public Transit").

-- "Technology vs. Traffic Congestion" discusses forms of congestion pricing.

-- "Car Interiors for a Driverless Era" outlines ways that car design will refocus on the interior and the experience it provides for riders ("a living room on wheels"), as opposed to the current paradigm where the exterior is made particularly "cool" (or not: see Volvo, Subaru) to push sales

-- "The Future of U.S. Train Travel," featuring comments from representatives from the US High Speed Rail Association, Eno Center for Transportation and the Reason Foundation wasn't particularly interesting, except in that the Reason representative believes that transit is only for the poor and disabled, and that trains shouldn't be subsidized, in the belief that roads and airports aren't subsidized.

Robert Puentes of Eno made a useful distinction in discussing Amtrak's footprint as being the high use network and the "geographic equity" service which provides services to various states without high ridership.  The "geographic equity" service has less than 20% of the total ridership and almost 50% of the costs.

-- "Rickshaws Plus Technology Equals a Better Commute In Developing Countries" makes a similar argument as the article on public transit. Advances in information technology, big data, and telecommunications can make "informal transportation" "systems" work better.

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At 5:20 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

1. Driverless car right now are going to cost over 250,000. That is why everyone is focused on ride-sharing as there is no way to reduce the price to a consumer level.

2. I have no doubt that we can engineer a 10x reduction in LIDAR costs over a 10-20 year time. Camera based systems will never cut it.

3. Given general hard driving conditions in cities I can't see any driverless cars being able to deal with it. Suburban -- even dense locations like Arlington - might be able to.

4. As you pointed out the possibility of autonomous driving on freeways in certainly possible in 10 years -- if you can reduce the LIDAR prices.

5. I think the IRS rate for cars is 45 cents a mile. Lets say 50 to make it easy. My 1.8 mile uber shared ride home with discount is about 2.50, so the "urban cost" with a heavy assist comes to about about $1.40 a mile. Lets say, again , with technology you can bring a driverless car solution for about $1.5 a mile. 2 mile ride for approximately $3. You'r still looking at private ownership being 1/3 the price.. And that is agressive. Real price might be closer to $6 to 8 a mile in urban areas. *

* for instance, if I took a car2go home it would be about $12 before tax in rush hour, maybe about $10 in non-rush. Price per mile vs a car is then about $6 a mile.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Am surprised too about some of the car2go costs depending on time of day. It doesn't seem like it takes a long time, but it does.

wrt your point about real cost, that's why I just can't see the economics behind Uber, Via, etc., making sense as long as the "low price" is pushed. You can only offer low fares with subsidy (venture capital) for so long.

But the thing in urban areas is time, money (as you said years ago, transit's killer app is saving time and money).

car transportation in these settings makes less sense. wrt your trip from home, it's probably faster to bike?

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Sure -- biking is about the same time, with the caveats that for one person, no bags, and weather. But my point is to get an estimate of the urban costs of a car.

IRS: 45 cents a mil (which roughly is what I've been paying for 10 years)

Maybe a more realistic estimate is a $1 a mile for car ownership. (higher gas, externality, parking at home).

Uber pooling around $1.5 to maybe $4.5 without a subsidy.

car2go about $6 to $8.

For the autonomous future to work you're going to have to get costs under $1.50, which is going to be very very hard.

I suspect it is going to be priced more in the $8 range than the $1.50 range.

A few years ago I though we might invest in an intelligent network that would move cars around. Favors built up areas. But the path everyone is moving at is putting the brains in the car, which will be great for freeway and suburban driving, not so much for city driving.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, if you price parking, that's the difference.

a chapter in the bike boom point is about how "if you provide a separated bike network and make it easy to drive, people will drive."

The cost of parking, directly and indirectly, in the core is the primary dis-/en-couragement to using other ways to get around or as in your case, reshaping where you live to reduce the commute time/reliance on Metrorail, etc.

Where I live, there aren't space constraints on street based car storage, plus many houses have rear lot parking. So here, it's very difficult to get people to think about not owning cars.

Although they might still take transit to work because of the cost of downtown parking. we're the only house on the block without a car.

In the core, many more households use sustainable means to get around because it's so much more efficient (at least when WMATA functions properly).

But for the most part, in the US, automobile-centricity is optimized, not walking, biking, car sharing, and transit use, which is why it is "outlier" behavior in most places, except cores in economically successful cities like Boston, NYC, DC, SF, to some extent Seattle (before light rail it had one of the most successful "bus only" systems) where automobile dependence doesn't make sense because of the cost of space both in terms of providing parking either on street or within buildings, or in roadways.


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