Autonomous vehicles offer opportunity to radically rethink mass transport

Autonomous vehicles offer opportunity to radically rethink mass transport

Autonomous vehicles offer the opportunity to radically rethink how we implement mass transport in the future, and save billions of dollars in public infrastructure spend. But the challenge in our current way of thinking for all involved, from OEM’s to government, is how best to implement this technology into real world applications, and what economic model will best serve the general population and manufacturers/operators simultaneously, says a white paper published earlier this year.

It proposes that a paradigm shift is needed in our terminology, from mass transit to human transit —a minor change in terminology with major implications. We need to be thinking in terms of moving a human, not a mass of humans, says the author of the paper, the Nashville, Tennessee councilman Robert Swope. He adds that we, collectively and individually, need to begin to re-think what mass transit really means in the age of autonomous vehicles.

He says we need to leverage efficient transit technology, namely the autonomous vehicle (AV) to 1) realize huge governmental cost savings through public‐private partnerships, 2) increase traffic efficiency, and 3) create freedom of movement not dependent upon any socioeconomic status.

We publish extracts from his paper here:

“I believe that we, as a society, have reached a critical point in the evolution of transportation. A point where small change is not going to satisfy the demand for efficiency, or move the economic dial substantially in any manner. We have reached a point where only a true paradigm shift in the way we address both local transportation and national infrastructure funding has to occur. I suggest we adopt these changes before we needlessly spend trillions of taxpayer dollars across the national spectrum.

There are a dozen implementation models currently being tested throughout the world. From personal vehicle ownership and ridesharing applications to bus rapid transit lanes and fleet service operations, all of which have existed relatively unchanged for over 70 years. It is time for a change, a new way of moving from point to point, a new way of creating the financial structure to construct the necessary infrastructure, and a new manner of societal thought. Within this paper, I submit a model that I believe will create this paradigm shift for the betterment of all.

The first reality to understand is that transportation, whether personal, mass or freight, affects every aspect of our lives. Affordable housing, transit equality, urban design, cost efficiency, equalizing the disabled, creating a cleaner environment, shortening freight delivery times, and overall quality of life are just the surface of the issues transportation addresses. They are far too great to list, but in short, transportation affects every person, every day, in countless ways.

The second issue to evaluate is the immediate critical need for rebuilding the infrastructure in America, and the world. Most of the highways and bridges in the United States were built in the fifties. 60 years ago. While Eisenhower had great intentions in 1956, we are now at the point where our transportation infrastructure is beginning to fail. The USDOT, state and local governments have spent trillions of dollars of public funds on this crisis and have done little except increase municipal, state and federal debt. And that debt is increasing exponentially as we move forward. I believe that to increase the level of publicly funded spending to facilitate infrastructure rebuilding is an outdated model we should reject in the future.

When one looks into creating a new model, one has to ignore the current status quo entirely. Most road projects are funded in the same manner they have been for over a century. The USDOT provides an estimated 80 percent of the funding for federal highway projects, with each state and municipality sharing the remaining 20 percent of the construction expense. As for state roads, the USDOT funds an estimated 50 percent with each state and local municipality sharing the remainder. This is the case for most, if not all, federal and state highway and road systems.

‘Human Transit’ proposes a different approach

For hundreds of years in urban environments around the world, man has attempted to create efficient mass transit systems through which members of society can safely and cost effectively move from point A to point B; most notably, trains, trolleys, buses, and monorails. While these have been relatively effective in very high-density areas, (NYC, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo) they have failed to provide an effective efficiency in less dense areas. Cities that did not construct these mass transit options before their population density exploded are left with very few, and very expensive options. Herein lies the real problem with transportation moving forward. It is too late to cost effectively construct trains or monorails, and the time frame needed to do so is measured in decades, not years. Traffic will become total gridlock in most cities before any of these initiatives can be realized.

Knowing that the simple construct of a private citizen never owning a personal vehicle in the future is a hard pill to swallow, and keeping in mind that the current transportation industry will not change unless demand is created for a new option: ‘Human Transit’ proposes a phased approach to this enigma.

Infrastructure on a national scale

Currently, the USDOT spends billions of taxpayer dollars for transportation infrastructure allocations to state and local municipalities on an annual basis. Each of these allocations requires years of requests, beginning on a local level, combined with the state DOT’s, and finally to the USDOT. In some cases, funding for even state projects can take decades to approve and implement. Much like budgeting for light rail when one is fully aware that it will be too little and far too late in the decade(s) it takes to complete, this operational funding model is an outdated and extremely inefficient system. Not to mention, an incredibly expensive one as well.

According to the current 2017 USDOT budget, federal funding (taxpayer collected) from the USDOT exceeds $98 billion. When one excludes FAA, railroad, maritime and other non-transit related allocations, the US taxpayer is still spending a whopping $72.6 billion annually on transportation infrastructure. And as we are all painfully aware of, the United States is in critical need of spending more taxpayer dollars, quickly, to repair and replace our aging infrastructure.

Currently, the federal government (USDOT) is relied upon to provide upwards of 80 percent of all transportation infrastructure funding in each state across America.

If the human transit model of autonomous vehicle implementation were to succeed on even a conservative basis, it would mean a total reversal of how roads, bridges, and all other infrastructure were funded moving forward. Rebuilding America would be accomplished in far less time than the current USDOT – state – local funding model, and in a far more efficient and effective manner.

Knowing that local governments are far more in touch with the needs and issues within their communities, human transit posits a change in this current funding scenario.

According to The Federal Highway Administration, in 2016, Americans drove a total of 3.17 trillion miles on US roads. If a mere 25 percent of this total were to be traveled in the human transit model, it means that 792.5 billion miles would be revenue generating for each municipality that participated.

At the same revenue estimate of $.03 per mile, paid by a P3 (public private partnership) fleet operations partner, a total of $23.77 billion dollars would be raised for local governments infrastructure annually. Additionally, if the top 50 cities in America, per census population metrics, were to save the same mass transit subsidies as Nashville, an estimated $50 million per year; that equals another $2.5 billion dollars in realized local revenue. This creates a total of $26.27 Billion annually without any form of tax increase either local, state or federal.

While no hard numbers exist to relate the real-world value of federal dollars versus local dollars spent, it has been surmised in countless studies that federally funded projects cost an average of 30 percent more than the same initiatives funded on a local basis. With that in mind, and comparing apples to apples, the same $26.27 billion in local dollars equates to $34.14 billion dollars in a federal spend.

What this means is that with a modest 25 percent of the country utilizing autonomous vehicles within the human transit model, half of the total DOT budget for infrastructure nationwide will be generated and invested on a local basis annually, without raising one dime in taxpayer funding. Imagine what would happen if 50 percent or more of society embraced the technologies of the future? At that moment, most all infrastructure needs would be enacted on a local level, and the current $72 billion being spent annually by the USDOT could now be used to directly reduce the ever-increasing US national debt.

Implementing the human transit model creates an opportunity to not only rebuild the infrastructure of America at no expense to the taxpayer, but to simultaneously begin to pay down the national debt with the billions in USDOT savings each year. As we, as a society begin to embrace this new technology, and as we slowly make the change from owning and operating our own personal vehicles to the fleet service operated P3 model presented herein, we have the chance to change the future of our great nation for generations to come.”

The full paper is entitled ‘Human Transit: an implementation model for autonomous fleet operations,’ and the detailed paper from 2015 outlining the human transit system is entitled ‘Human Transit: a societal change in how we address mass transit.’ For a copy of the papers, contact us via the contact form on this web site.

[Image: Navya]

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