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Report highlights community impact of new mobility options

First publishedin ITS International
JanuaryFebruary2018
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Local authorities and communities must understand the impacts of the new mobility options and regulate to get the transport systems they want, according to a new report. Colin Sowman takes a look.

Outside of the big cities plagued with congestion, the existing transportation system(s) often cope adequately, and the ongoing workload (maintenance, safety…) is more than enough to keep local transport authorities busy. Is it, therefore, a good use of public service employees’ time to keep abreast of the raft of innovative mobility services (IMS) and connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technologies that have been introduced recently, or which are set for introduction in the future?

According to a new report from the Center for Automotive Research, sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ and its lead author, transportation systems analyst Adela Spulber, goes further: she says it is vital. However, she found this is not happening and those in many smaller authorities are often unaware of the details and implications of the new and pending mobility options.

Entitled Future Cities: Navigating the New Era of Mobility, this new report looks at the potential impact of CAVs and innovative mobility services which it defines as transportation solutions enabled by emerging technologies and wireless connectivity that allow for more convenient, efficient and flexible travel.

Ideal scenarios

These innovations include ride-, car- and bike-sharing, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), taxi hailing and microtransit as well as CAVs. Spulber says the impact of IMS and CAVs provides a variety of possible future scenarios and “public agencies and local communities can influence services and technology adoption through planning, policies and regulations”. She goes further,  adding: “Communities must begin defining their ideal scenarios for mobility systems, and those they wish to avoid, and then design policy to achieve their desired goals.”

While these new services can benefit residents, in many cases new infrastructure or policies will be required to maximise their societal benefits and overall effectiveness. Such changes usually fall to local governments and municipalities and, in acknowledging this reality, the report provides guidelines for local authorities big and small.

Speaking at the official publication of the report, Michigan’s governor Rick Snyder said: “While much of the talk is about technology, there is a huge overlay that is important from the public policy perspective. This report helps build a framework for decision-making - and it is not just about the big cities because these questions are equally relevant to people in rural areas.”

Central to the report is the assertion that IMS and CAVs can potentially offer solutions to contemporary problems such as congestion and crashes - but they could also create new and unexpected problems.

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Impact assessments

To quantify some of these factors, Spulber’s report starts with a literature search of the growth and potential impacts of these new transport options. She highlights numerous research findings such as that each of the new transport options has a predominant use case (Feigon, S. et al, 2016) with car-sharing used more often at weekends for shopping and leisure. Taxi-hailing (which the report terms ‘ridehailing’) peaks in the evening and late at night, while bike-sharing is used most in the afternoon peak with little difference between weekend and weekday usage.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, IMS users are identified as predominantly younger than those using traditional transport modes and households with IMS users were found to own 1.05 vehicles compared with the US average of 2.06. Furthermore, IMS users were found to walk, cycle and use public transit more than they did before signing up to the new services. 

In previous research Spulber had considered transport costs and the breakeven between owning a vehicle and using taxi-hailing and car-sharing services which were calculated to be 3,500km (2,200 miles) and 13,200km (8,200 miles) per year, respectively. As the annual average vehicle miles travelled (VMT) for cars in America is 15,300km (9,500 miles), such services are currently cost-effective only for those doing short commutes.

Another study (Smith, 2016) found that 15% of Americans have used taxi-hailing services but this ranged from 28% of under 50s using these services in urban areas to just 4% in rural areas. Spulber does highlight some providers’ efforts to expand their operations into small and previously unserved urban and rural communities and the growth in partnerships with public agencies to pilot new or improved paratransit services.

Attracting users

Also mentioned is a 2017 study by Schaller which revealed taxi-hailing increased total VMT in New York City by 3.5% between 2013 and 2016. These trips were found to not only displace taxi and personal car trips but to also attract users who would not have travelled otherwise. While long suspected, other studies have shown that up to a third of car share users sell one or more personal vehicles and between 7% and 71% avoid a vehicle purchase (Martin & Shaheen, 2016; Shaheen et al, 2016). Shared vehicles also tended to have a higher occupancy than private ones (Cervero et al, 2007).

Low population density areas also present a challenge for the ride-matching programmes used to arrange ridesharing (two or more people with a common origin or destination sharing a private vehicle).

Regarding the expected benefits of connected vehicle applications, the new report cites the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) estimate that by 2060 mandated vehicle-to-vehicle communication for light vehicles could prevent up to 615,000 crashes and 3% of fatalities. If nearly every vehicle were connected and coordinated, the USDoT estimates this could reduce congestion (due to fewer crashes, dynamic routing and ‘speed to green’ traffic signals) to cut travel time by up to 27% on urban corridors and 42% on highways.

Spulber adds that connected vehicle technologies could lower tolling transaction costs and make dynamic congestion pricing easier to implement. However, she adds a note of caution highlighting that the USDoT estimate “ignores the phenomenon of induced demand where increased throughput encourages more people to drive and the system returns to roughly the previous level of congestion.”

Travel demand

Travel demand simulations cited have a range of conclusions including that private CAVs could increase overall VMT by between 5% (if only high-income households purchase CAVs) and 19.6% (if all car-owning households purchased autonomous replacements). Another finding was that if all CAVs were shared and cost $1.56 per mile, VMT could drop by 35.4%.

While one shared automated vehicle could replace 12-14 personal vehicles, zero occupancy travel from shared automated vehicles is predicted to account for between 7.7% and 11% of VMT.

In terms of the potential impact of CAVs on public transport usage, the new report cites research that found if all households replaced their current car with an autonomous one, the transit share would decrease by 9% and the walk share by 21%. 

Spulber says: “If the mode shift is significant, it could negatively affect transit’s financial balance and lead to reduced service, especially in lower density areas which may exacerbate economic and societal equity issues and further widen the digital divide.” Equally, she says, if transit authorities embrace the technology semi-automated transit vehicles could improve safety and without driver costs, fully automated transit could be more affordable, allowing line extensions, increased frequency and reduced wait times for on-demand services. In low-density areas, automated transit could provide feeder services to rail or transit stops. 

Although too early to know the full effects of automated vehicles, the new report identifies factors likely to impact VMT - many of which could have an amplified effect when taken together.

Addressing the impact to wider society, the report highlights some of the concerns raised - primarily that if automated vehicles lower transportation costs and allow people to use travel time for other activities, commuters could be more willing to travel greater distances. This would encourage households and businesses to locate further from urban cores, leading to more urban sprawl and greater infrastructure costs.

Local actions

For the reasons above, Spulber says cities and regions must consider the implications of IMS and CAV deployment in all stages of their planning processes. Public agencies will need to develop and maintain expertise about the new mobility options as this will be essential when considering issues ranging from planning and infrastructure design to service operation and data management.

Her report carries an extensive list of suggestions and case studies from IMS and CAV pilots and incentives to parking and land use considerations, which can help authorities and communities fashion a local plan. The advice is to develop various deployment scenarios and adoption rates and devise performance measures to assess how policies and investments related to IMS are addressing the overarching community goals with smaller cities and regions participating in a pooled study. The need for public engagement, outreach and education, and to solicit feedback from residents, businesses and actual or prospective users, is also stressed.

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