February 9, 2018

Lecture and Webcast: Disruption All Around – Feb 28

Public Lecture and Webcast ​Disruption All Around! How People, Platforms and Planning are Shaping the New Mobility  
Today, more than ever platforms and technologies are transforming how we work, build companies, and shape our economies. And, if that weren’t enough change, carsharing, ridesharing, integrated mobility apps, and soon self-driving vehicles all have the capacity to fundamentally change auto ownership, how we get around, and ultimately how cities and transportation networks are designed.
Join Robin Chase as she discusses the shared economy, the future of mobility, and why proactive and coordinated planning and action is needed to ensure our cities continue to grow as vibrant, livable places into the future.
This lecture and webcast is sponsored by TransLink. Learn more
Wednesday, February 28
7 – 8:30 pm
Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (Vancouver)
Lecture Admission: Free, but reservations are required. Register for lecture.
Webcast: Free but reservations required. Register for webcast.
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Alex Botta is one of the reasons why the Comment sections on Price Tags are consistently worth reading: thoughtful, researched and original.  (And he’s not the only one.)
Here’s his latest – a comment on Counterintuition: Automation, cars and jobs  – that’s worth reprinting as a separate post:

I haven’t read a cogent argument yet that provides sufficient evidence that AVs will change cities and shift transportation paradigms radically. Conjecture is not bankable when it comes to long-range urban planning.

Now it’s trucks. I wonder how many researchers actually talked to truckers, or better yet, ridden with them through varying driving conditions? A long-distance trucker cousin once regaled several of us for hours about his lifetime of experience. On one day he would deliver freight to warehouses in LA, the next to Dallas, the next Toronto.

A few things stand out as very difficult to manage with this guessing game on automated / autonomous trucks. First is shifting cargo. Transporting liquids by truck (fuel, milk, water …) is very tricky on curves at speed and takes special skill to manage. Beef is another, because carcasses are hung on hooks and swing in the opposite direction to the line of travel on a curve. When you here a trucker talking about swingin’ beef, this is what s/he is referring to.

Another element not on the AV radar for trucks is wind, specifically crosswind. The side of a long trailer presents a massive “sail” for the wind to play with. Large trailers with light loads (e.g. potato chips) or empty trailers are especially susceptible to being blown over.

Still another big concern is theft of freight. Most long-distance truckers live in their rigs while on the road, which can actually be very well appointed with audio visual equipment, comfy beds, lots of storage and so forth. The driver often stays with the truck at or near their destination if they arrive after hours and cannot dock and unload until the next day. Thieves often work in organized gangs and target high-value loads, such as frozen prepackaged meat or electronics, and are usually deterred by the presence of the driver. Sometimes not! Now and again a truck driver can be held at gunpoint while the most expensive items are off-loaded, or the truck is stolen outright leaving the driver in a god forsaken industrial warehouse complex in the middle of the night.

There is just no way all of the above situations could be preprogrammed into an autonomous truck. I believe electric vehicles will have a far greater impact on cities and demand for oil sooner, and there is a lot of data and media information out there to back that up.

Back to trucking, I urged my cousin to write a short book on his 40 years of trucking all over the continent. I felt his stories were fascinating enough to foster good sales, especially in places where country music is played night and day and where big Ram pickup trucks driven by insecure little men dominate the streets.


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Two items that add nuance to some of the current perceptions about the impact of automation on vehicles, and hence jobs.  
From the New York Times: The Big Tech Trends to Follow 

 Smarter Cars

Self-driving-car enthusiasts like Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, dream of a future where driverless cars eliminate traffic accidents while letting people do work on their commutes.

They can keep dreaming: Autonomous vehicles still have a long way to go before they become safe and properly regulated.

“Your car doesn’t drive itself, at least not reliably for a long period of time,” said Ms. Milanesi of Creative Strategies.

… carmakers like Ford, Hyundai, BMW and Audi are expected to show off the latest improvements to self-driving tech, like smarter parking assistance and less error-prone collision avoidance. These are baby steps toward truly driverless vehicles, but some features may appear in cars in the coming years.

Likely coming sooner is the so-called connected car. Tech and car companies will demonstrate new features for internet-equipped cars, like the ability to pay for parking and gas through a dashboard or cameras that enhance a driver’s side and rear vision. At the trade show, Gentex Corporation, a company that develops car technology, will demonstrate in-vehicle biometrics that scan a driver’s iris to verify his or her identity before turning on the car.

From the Washington Post, by Robert Samuelson:

… truck drivers are often cited as an example of impending job destruction wrought by automation. But the reality is more complicated. A new study by Uber argues that millions of driver jobs will survive well into the future and that the spread of driverless trucks may actually stimulate the need for more — not fewer — drivers.
The explanation lies in the plausible limits of driverless technologies. Here’s what the Uber study says:
“The biggest technical hurdles for self-driving trucks are driving on tight and crowded city streets, backing into complex loading docks and navigating through busy facilities. . . . These maneuvers require skills that will be hard for self-driving trucks to match for a long time.”
Based on this view, Uber argues that the trucking industry will split into two parts. Long-haul transportation over major highways will be performed increasingly by driverless tractor-trailers that will deliver freight to “transfer hubs” on the edges of major cities. There, local workers and drivers will reload the cargoes and make delivery to final customers.
This system, Uber argues, will be more efficient for shippers and more attractive to drivers. The study assumes that “each self-driving truck could do the work of two of today’s trucks because they can operate at all hours of day and night.” Now, trucks spend only about a third of their time on the road. By doubling this, self-driving trucks would cut costs. Lower costs in turn would stimulate more shipping. Combined with normal growth, this would require more drivers, despite the increase in driverless trucks. …
Economist Timothy Taylor, who posted the Uber study on his useful blog (“Conversable Economist”), puts it this way: “A simple ‘technology replaces jobs’ story . . . is always more complex and sometimes even counterintuitive to how it may appear at first.”


Two more implications: autonomous trucks will first be seen, if anywhere, on intercity highways.  So there will be a need for augmented technology on at least one lane – a lane that will likely have to be separated in some way from general traffic (not really an option in dense cities).  
If highways are going to be widened (as Hwy 99 is currently and more of Hwy 1 is proposed), it doesn’t make sense to do it for general-purpose traffic.  Instead, automated vehicles, including transit, only.
And the technology used for ‘connected cars’ can also be used for mobility pricing.  The current proposals coming from the Mobility Pricing Commission assume data will have to be collected externally from the vehicles, not from the vehicles themselves.  Wrong assumption.

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From Slate:

Autonomous cars have a potentially fatal flaw: They struggle to detect and react to cyclists on the road. According to a January 2017 report by IEEE Spectrum, bicycles are generally considered “the most difficult detection problem that autonomous vehicle systems face.”

… we’re increasingly learning that A.I. can amplify our own biases and human failings. If humans aren’t doing a good job of detecting and preventing vehicle-bike collisions, how can we create machines that do the job even better?

One solution presented …(is) bicycle-to-vehicle communications. Instead of just autonomous vehicles (or all motorized vehicles) on the road being able to wirelessly communicate their position and intentions with one another, bikes would be able to join the party. The proposed technology would be brand agnostic, something any cyclist could affix to herself or her bike. …
There’s one problem: This is cheating. Autonomous cars, out there beta testing on U.S. roads today, can accurately detect other vehicles, pedestrians, even big game charging suddenly across a street. Forcing cyclists alone to strap a sensor onto their backs feels like a crutch, a cop-out. …
The problem is that it requires everyone to take part, which poses several noteworthy financial and logistical questions, such as who pays for this system, how it’s deployed, how it’s enforced, and whether pedestrian and traffic laws would need to be changed in order to facilitate cooperative behavior. (For example, stricter jaywalking laws to ensure pedestrians only cross in places self-driving cars expect them to.)
In this scenario, autonomous car success hinges on a large number of difficult-to-control variables. But if the cars themselves are able to successfully sense and react to their surroundings, from a cyclist taking the lane to a toddler dashing into the street, the only variable that needs controlling is the technology itself. …
Bicycle-to-vehicle communication is a good idea and could be useful in certain scenarios, such as when visibility is low—at night or in the rain—or on tricky, twisty back roads with blind corners. But if cars are going to drive the roads without human help, they need to be able to handle all of the challenges that come with it, regardless of whether they’re wirelessly connected to the world around them.


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From Curbed:

Fifteen leading technology and transportation companies announced the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, a voluntary set of rules and principles meant to help steer the future of transportation towards solutions that address equity, environmental, and social concerns.

The initial signatories—Uber and Lyft, as well as BlaBlaCar, Citymapper, Didi, Keolis, LimeBike, Mobike, Motivate, Ofo, Ola, Scoot Networks, Via, and Zipcar—account for 77 million passenger trips per day and inform the travel decisions of 10 million people each day, according to a statement released by the World Resources Institute, the organization which facilitated the agreement.

The non-binding principles are general ideas. But they suggest a vision of a multimodal, more sustainable solution to urban mobility, especially if companies truly live up to these principles, and collaborated closely with cities to make them a reality.

Principles such as prioritizing people over vehicles, supporting the shared and efficient use of “vehicles, lanes, curbed, and land,” and pushing towards open data and fair user fees would, if followed, fulfill many wishlists for urban transit advocates. The group also pledged to “lead the transition towards a zero-emission future and renewable energy.”

City transit officials would be especially happy if Uber and Lyft, which haven’t been completely forthcoming about sharing transit information, would do more than “aim for public benefits via open data” and truly share data. During a press call yesterday, Lyft Vice President of Government Relations Joe Okpaku said ride-share companies need to figure out how to share data with partners and cities in a way that is “protecting the very legitimate privacy interests of our consumers.”

Representatives from both ride-hailing companies also said they support the use of congestion pricing to ease traffic.
Here are some of the key pledges:


The mobility of people and not vehicles shall be in the center of transportation planning and decision-making. Cities shall prioritize walking, cycling, public transport and other efficient shared mobility, as well as their interconnectivity. Cities shall discourage the use of cars, single-passenger taxis, and other oversized vehicles transporting one person.


Transportation and land use planning and policies should minimize the street and parking space used per person and maximize the use of each vehicle. We discourage overbuilding and oversized vehicles and infrastructure, as well as the oversupply of parking.


Due to the transformational potential of autonomous vehicle technology, it is critical that all AVs are part of shared fleets, well-regulated, and zero emission. Shared fleets can provide more affordable access to all, maximize public safety and emissions benefits, ensure that maintenance and software upgrades are managed by professionals, and actualize the promise of reductions in vehicles, parking, and congestion, in line with broader policy trends to reduce the use of personal cars in dense urban areas.
And importantly, this one:


The data infrastructure underpinning shared transport services must enable interoperability, competition and innovation, while ensuring privacy, security, and accountability.
Gord Price:
The requirement to provide data should not be voluntary, subject to a non-binding pledge.  It should be a condition of an operating licence for using public owned, financed and regulated roads.  
Data is power.  Whoever has it, controls it and profits from it must be regulated by the public.  If private companies can keep data proprietorial, they will soon come to control the transportation system – and hence the operations, design and purpose of our cities.

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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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