Vehicle automation, for which safety and mobility have been the central focus to date, touches on almost everything. Some of these things are visible and exciting to contemplate such as its seemingly magical technology and its promise of easy riding, more productivity, and relief from the tedium of traffic congestion — the last of which suffers from a lack of practical evidence. Other elements include regulatory concerns about privacy and security and social concerns for jobs and sprawl. Technology issues are dwarfed by regulatory issues, and those, in turn, are dwarfed by societal issues.

Our society’s infrastructure, planning, livability, land value, and transportation funding sources all take on new and poorly-understood dimensions. We are absorbed by the hype from Tesla but little focused on urban structure. This is like seeing the inventions of the internal combustion engine and the assembly line as definitive for the history of consumption and industry while ignoring their city-building and urban economic effects.

We worship the primary effects, largely ignore the secondary effects and can barely conceive tertiary effects.

All technologies bring at least as many surprises as promises and many of the surprises are, well, surprising when they reveal themselves. Because motorized mobility has become fundamental for so many humans and so many cities, we can expect the number of secondary and tertiary effects of automation to be numerous, if not uncountable.

After the critical issue of safety, some of the most important outcomes of this new digitization of mobility are social: availability, congestion, livability, social equity, sprawl, and transit viability. These problems and others can now be approached in new ways, enabled by the same digital technologies that will give us AVs and MaaS.

The process of identifying and planning for these digital approaches can begin now. Many can be prepared in advance. Some — especially MaaS – can be deployed immediately.

To wait in the face of the upcoming changes is to invite a new and likely a worse status quo. To apply the same digital technologies in a bid for a new transit role and a new urban vision that matches the promise of automated and connected cars is not only possible but also responsible.

Leave a Reply