January 26, 2018

Changes In Motordom's Fundamentals

One reigning paradigm of Motordom is that we all buy a car as soon as we can, and just keep on buying every few years for decades.  Much to the profit of those who make cars and related stuff.
But it seems this paradigm is already eroding, and undergoing change.  My suspicion is that even more change is in the works when and if autonomous vehicles (AVs) become a practical and cost-effective reality.  If this does come to pass, it’s likely that the number of active motor vehicles will shrink, and the Ubers of the world will operate large fleets of AV’s at much higher utilization that the single-digit numbers for most currently-owned private cars.   This on-demand mobility looks like it may become the new paradigm.
Thanks to VanCity for this look at car-share (17-page PDF).  It seems that Vancouver is edging towards the new paradigm.
According to VanCity’s survey and research:
Vancouver has more car-sharing vehicles per capita than any other city in N.A. That’s 3000 vehicles, 4.22 per 1000 population.
Why?  Convenience (95% of survey responders); save money (62%); environmental concern (58%).
A surprising finding:  only 44% of younger responders agreed that they liked not owning a vehicle. The report’s authors point to money savings as this group’s main reason for using car-share.
Another:   26% of respondents dumped a private vehicle in favour of car-sharing; and 40% avoided buying one.
Expanding transportation choice (options) is the major benefit the survey’s respondents like.

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The reports that General Motors  (GM) will be mass-producing a “self-driving car that has no steering wheel, pedals or any other manual controls.” This car will be on the street in 2019 and has no steering wheel, no brake or accelerator pedal, and a car dashboard that is …well, not a real dashboard. Surprisingly the interior of the car and the placement of the seats is as if someone was driving.
Pundits are already talking about the interior following “rigid interior design rules when you’re not required (or able) to drive” while GM is asking for a waiver of federal laws regarding safety because the rules are designed as if someone in the car-a human-is actually driving it.
These vehicles are being tested in San Francisco and in Phoenix, and apparently occupants will be able to “end the ride” by having a “stop request”. Waymo which used to be part of Google is also producing some autonomous vehicles without steering wheels and pedals, and have a
Waymo, a company that used to be part of Google, has also “made a limited number of autonomous vehicles without steering wheels and pedals,” according to The Associated Press. That company has a program for people to ride in self-driving cars in Phoenix which has been operating in the past year.

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I’ve been predicting for some time that we will see the rise of the Transportation Service Provider: a single company or agency that will integrate every conceivable mode of transportation that has the potential of a cash flow, and then package them in the way that telecommunications is offered – a range of services, all integrated, never separately charged, accessed with, likely, your phone, and billed monthly and almost invisibly through your credit or bank account.
Well, here we go.
From Geekwire, via Peter Berkeley:

… Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, is convinced it can also be part of the solution — if we bridge the digital-urbanist divide.
Earlier this month Sidewalk Labs secured a massive workshop to test its theory on the Toronto waterfront. The project is a partnership between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto — an organization created by the local government to represent the public’s interests. …
(Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff) used transportation as an example of a system that could be more affordable with improved technology. He envisions a network of self-driving cars, bike paths, and smart mass transit that are packaged and sold as a single service. He predicts it would save the average Canadian family $6,000 per year.


Now is the time for government to think about how this service is going to emerge and be regulated.  This should not come as an Uber-like surprise.  In particular, who will control the data? How will these services be charged for the use of public infrastructure?  How will they (or consumers) be taxed?
If the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission’s mandate was expanded and extended, these would be useful questions to address.  Road pricing is just one the issues related to TSPs, and secondary to the jursidictional ones.
The commission, for example, should as a recommendation establish the principle that TSPs, or any company like Uber, must as a condition of operating provide the public managers and regulators with their data – just as New York has.  Data is power, and without it, we’d be ceding one of the critical functions of cities to the private sector – and the behemoths like Google.

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January 16, 2018

As the age of fully-autonomous vehicles rumbles our way (seemingly unstoppable), you might feel the nag of a few questions or concerns.
Like:  when, and how, and what else will change?  And — is it all glorious?

Photo thanks to CITE

Here’s a chance, if you’re in Victoria, to find out what Todd Litman thinks (Victoria Transport Policy Institute). Sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers.
See below for a Webinar on similar content for Toronto, organized by the Transportation Association of Canada.
Planning for Autonomous Vehicles, by Todd Litman
January 24, noon to 1:30, free, Buckerfields Room, Swans Pub, Victoria.

How and how soon will autonomous vehicles affect transportation planning? Some recent reports claim that by 2030, convenient and inexpensive self-driving taxies will displace most private vehicle travel, significantly reducing traffic problems and road and parking facility demands.
However, there are good reasons to be skeptical of these optimistic projections; more technical progress will be needed before self-driving cars are reliable, affordable and legal under all normal travel conditions, and they can introduce new traffic problems and risks. Transportation professionals need comprehensive and objective information on autonomous vehicle impacts.
This presentation will explore the current status of autonomous vehicle implementation, and their implications for transportation policy and planning decisions, including the speed with which they are likely to be deployed, their travel impacts, and how we can help maximize their benefits and minimize their costs.

If you’re not in Victoria, HERE‘s a webinar (with different presenters) focussed on Toronto:
Webinar: Preparing and Planning for Autonomous Vehicles within the City of Toronto
February 7, 2017 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
This webinar will discuss the City of Toronto’s strategy to understand the opportunities and implications of autonomous and automated vehicle technology.

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As reported to the World Economic Forum  cities with large aging populations such as Singapore and Paris are trialling experimental self-driving buses.  Japan is undertaking a demonstration project in  rural Nishikata which is 115 kilometers north of Tokyo, which has limited bus and taxi services. Should the trial be successful Japan could launch these autonomous vehicles in the next 12 years, providing shuttle service for seniors.
One company which is making autonomous vehicle software noted why the autonomous transit was necessary . “Smaller towns in Japan are greying even faster than cities, and there are just not enough workers to operate buses and taxis”. 
The  driverless shuttles take seniors from a service area to a complex with multi health care services. Curiously the town of Nishikata has an age breakdown close to  the country of Japan, with one-third of residents aged 65 years or older. Seniors are increasing in population~overall population has shrunk nearly 5 per cent.
The actual shuttle goes a turtle’s pace at 10 kilometers per hour, and the vehicle is being monitored for road safety in different climactic conditions, as well as how the vehicle deals with obstacles in its path. For aging places without resiliency in younger population growth, the automated shuttle may take the place formerly occupied by family members getting seniors to and from services and shops.


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Despite all the talk (and hype) about autonomous vehicles arriving in our cities in the next decade, the problem is not so much technology as humanity.  Regulating the complex, messy spaces of a dense urban environment will also require preventing human beings from doing silly things outside the vehicles and on the streets, where they can’t be rationally programmed.  (Yes, I’m thinking of you, cyclists, who will more than ever be able to go wherever they want without fear of distracted or crazy drivers.  How long will it take the AV lobby to want to prohibit any user on the road that isn’t also rationally programmed?)
So where could AVs go now that provides exclusivity for vehicles, and physically prevents other users from sharing the space?  Why, freeways of course.  And that’s already occurred to proponents around the world, including some nearby.

From Curbed:

There’s no question that self-driving vehicles are the future. But Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group is hoping to get the jump on the autonomous car future by proposing one of the country’s first dedicated self-driving car lanes, running along I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Madrona envisions the lane completing over the next 5 to 15 years, starting with introducing autonomous cars into the HOV lane. Eventually, the lane would be entirely reserved for self-driving vehicles. …
Connecting these two centers with a dedicated autonomous vehicle lane would improve the link between the cities while costing significantly less than a proposed $30 billion high speed train line.

There’s another reason why these kind of proposals could be pushed forward aggressively: they would allow the elimination of truckers (the most common job in many U.S. states.)  That’s a huge economic incentive, regardless of the political pushback – and the single jurisdiction of most interstate freeways would make it easier to do it.  But again, it’s not the ability to invent and manage technology that matters as much as adapting and managing the humans.

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Lee Gomes writes at about driverless cars, which are occasionally touted as a panacea for traffic congestion and the appalling death and injury toll on our roads. Not so fast, he says. Expect less autonomy, and longer time to achieve even that.
He describes Google’s current state of the art, and notes that their driverless cars depend completely upon detailed route maps that are orders of magnitude more complex and expensive to create than, say, Google maps. Likewise, car sensors, he says, cannot adequately recognise and react to changes in the car’s mapped environment. He uses the example of a newly installed traffic light, such as at a construction zone.  There are other weaknesses, like parking.
But the one that interests me most is the car’s computers’ inability to have and use “everyday common sense”, a.k.a. “generalized intelligence”, which most human drivers have, and which allows them to make rapid decisions when faced with the unexpected. For humans, this consists of rules of thumb, scenarios, behaviour patterns, and other things acquired by experience, observation and the “school of hard knocks”, also known as ICBC U.

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