Convergence: Where Do We Go From Here?
Transportation systems across the world are changing rapidly. Private sector innovation has upended many traditional transportation markets, and innovations such as car sharing, ride hailing, and self-driving cars are suddenly a normal part of the transportation discourse. Yet our policies that support our transportation system have not quite caught up to the changing transportation environment.
The final session of Eno’s March 2016 Convergence event took a holistic view of the public policy role in enabling innovative mobility, reflecting on the robust policy discussions taking place throughout the day in terms of public transit, freight, cities, data, and autonomous vehicles.
The panelists included:
- Robert Puentes (moderator), CEO and President of Eno
- Brian Taylor, Professor of Urban Planning, University of California Los Angeles
- Nadine Lee, Deputy Chief Innovation Officer, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
- Rit Aggarwala, Chief Policy Officer, Sidewalk Labs
- Vincent Valdes, Associate Administrator of Research, Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
- Deron Lovaas, Senior Policy Advisor, Natural Resources Defense Council
Each panelist brought a unique perspective to the discussion. Lee is part of an emerging group of “innovation offices” that are housed within public sector agencies, while Valdes is spearheading federal effort called the Mobility on Demand Sandbox, that engages with transit agencies to understand their proposed projects. In a different federal relationship, Aggarwala’s company has developed the data analytics platform Flow for the USDOT Smart Cities program. In terms of research, Taylor has recently looked into how Millennials relate to these new transportation technologies.
Much of the discussion focused on themes mentioned throughout the day, particularly about how other entities engage with federal agencies as technology rapidly changes; what people expect and need from their transportation; and how these new forms of transportation will address accessibility and social equity.
Both Valdes and Lee talked about the relationship between federal and local government. Valdes highlighted the Sandbox program, which allows public agencies and local governments to propose a service, how they plan to implement it, and to point out the regulatory hurdles. FTA is then able to provide feedback on those proposed projects, allowing agencies to tweak a proposal while creating a different application process for federal grants. Lee noted that the success in these pilot programs could also lead to changes in regulatory policy. However, Aggarwala noted that the current debates and conflicts between the traditional stakeholders and the newer companies tend to fixate on a specific aspect, rather than the larger public policy goal. He cited the conflicts between taxi industry and Uber taking place in various cities, which focuses on the driver rather than whether both or either can help achieve broader transportation goals.
Another theme that was discussed was the need to be more tuned into what people need and have come to expect from their transportation options, which includes whether all population groups have the same levels of accessibility. Lovaas highlighted that while these new technologies have provided a new future for transportation, “it’s not distributed equally.” Taylor noted from his research that Millennials in economically disadvantaged populations with poor transit options and poor access to technology are “being left behind technologically” and the “divide is growing alarmingly.” To address these issues, the new emerging services could fill the gaps of the “skeletal public transit” and help bridge the gap of accessibility. These newer services could also potentially provide solutions suitable for lower population densities, rather than the traditional transit networks more apt for high-density urban areas.
Final takeaways from Eno’s Convergence
Convergence covered a broad range of policy topics within the transportation technology space. While transportation technologies feel very new, the policy implications are already numerous and growing. The following are some of the takeaways from the event, and will inform future Eno research and discussion:
As these technologies mature, there are and will be many policy hurdles
Not only are the policy areas growing overall, but each specific application has a set of policy issues that are specific to federal, state, and local levels of government. For example, among the shared-use mobility apps, there is huge potential for collaboration with transit agencies. Yet there is the logistical challenge of compiling all the information streams and also the hurdles to ensure that all population groups have equal access to multiple mobility options.
For freight, as automation could become more prevalent, there is the question of whether and how to phase out the human role in driving and other logistical applications. And while self-driving cars and drones have captured the public imagination, industry stakeholders have not yet reached consensus on basic questions of privacy, liability, licensing, and security.
Many of the issues go beyond the conventional confines of the transportation industry
Panelists throughout the day discussed non-transportation issues, such as the lack of data transparency, cybersecurity concerns, and liability. For instance, within freight, there is a lack of data transparency across the entire supply chain that could benefit transportation planning; while all the panelists agreed that allowing data access could bring substantial benefits, panelists recognized the challenges within finding a workable solution for the private sector. Within transit, agencies are finding that many of the new startups are still in their initial growth phase but have not been effectively coordinated with transit schedules and services. And across all platforms that require data sharing, there is the issue of privacy, the current lack of understanding between those contributing and those gathering, and how to reconcile that discrepancy.
We need to re-think how our transportation system interacts with land use policies…
Both in the shared-use mobility and cities session, the need to revisit land-use planning came up frequently. As technologies make transit, active transportation, and shared-use more viable options, older policies such as minimum parking requirements might need to be revised. For example, having more “pick up/drop off” zones in lieu of the traditional parking spot could also potentially leverage the street curb as a way to facilitate shared-use mobility. The unknown nature of some of the potential technologies, such as self driving cars, need to be accounted for, and communities need to begin thinking of how these technologies could be used to improve on broader goals such as safety, environmental sustainability, and economic access.
…and also re-think how we think about transportation as a whole
Highlighted in multiple sessions was the current approach towards transportation and how it needed to be adjusted, facilitated by these new technologies. In transit, the planning approach was typically framed as the passenger traveling from one transit stop to another, but the mobility options encourage agencies to think about the full journey from origin to destination. In addition, these options allow people to access a wide range of transportation options, rather than adhering strictly to owning a car or using mass transit.
In freight, the emergence of smaller freight delivery companies fill in the gaps for shorter deliveries. As people increasing resort to e-commerce, this could have larger implications for how the overall freight network could meet this type of demand. For AVs, car ownership could be broadened to a larger audience (depending on the level of automation achieved).
Convergence provided a forum and a platform to delve into the policy questions during a point within the transportation industry that has the potential for significant change. While the answers to these questions are not simple, having these discussions is only the beginning. Eno will continue to work to develop smart policy solutions to the pressing problems that were presented at Convergence.
Looking to get involved with our Digital Cities project? Contact Eno’s Development Director, Patrice Davenport at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested in learning more? Stay updated on our Digital Cities project here and please come to the event hosted by Eno and AASHTO during Infrastructure Week in DC on May 16: CHEAPER, SAFER, FASTER: How Disruptive Technologies Are Changing How We Build and Operate Transportation Infrastructure.