Future of mobility? It depends who you ask

Tue, 2015-09-22 15:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Americans take more trips a week – in private cars – than they did a decade ago. In fact, 96% of the American public travels by private car, says Rasheq Zarif, head of the Business Innovation Division for Mercedes-Benz, a subsidiary of Council Lead Partner Daimler.

But increasingly, that private car may belong to someone else.

With today's sharing economy, millennials have lost interest in owning anything, suggests Ryan Chin, Managing Director and Research Scientist with the MIT Media Lab's City Science Initiative. Home ownership and car ownership may be the old American dream, he said during a session on transportation convergence at the recent Smart Cities Week conference. "You don't even have to own a dog," Chin said.

Disruptive technologies
The emergence of disruptive technologies in cities – notably in the transportation arena – raise as many questions as they do answers. Chin highlighted the convergence of self-driving cars, electric vehicles and new ownership models – and wondered aloud if the three are complementary and how it all fits together in a multi-modal system.

Other panelists provided a peek at what the urban mobility scene may look like in the future.

  • BoostbyBenz: Zarif mentioned the new on-demand Boost service Mercedes-Benz started in the Silicon Valley to shuttle children between activities; he said it can also be used by commuters who want a ride from home to work and back again.
  • LA's EV fleet: Los Angeles CTO Peter Marx noted that his city just announced it will lease 160 battery-electric vehicles and 128 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, making it the nation's largest EV fleet. City departments will lease the cars to replace older model vehicles.
  • San Diego's free rides: Stephanie Shook, project manager with Civic San Diego, said the city is about to launch an on-demand circulator shuttle – basically a glorified electric golf cart that seats eight – that's integrated with a mobile app. They eventually want to have 20 of them.
  • Smart stops:Gary Miskell, Senior Advisory, Business Development, for the Santa Clara (CA) Valley Transportation Authority said that the industry is way behind on payment systems. What's needed is a way to pay that works everywhere – and works for everyone – even those who are unbanked or don't have smartphones. One approach is to create "smart stops" where people can request a bus or an Uber and at the same time notify a driver that someone is waiting.

Car first mentality
Miskell suggested that today cities tend to be car first and public transportation last. But as cities get more congested, they are going to be forced to rethink these ideas. He believes we are at the cusp of transit being a greater priority with cities.

If done correctly and done efficiently, Miskell added, transit is the place for moving lots of people. Autonomous vehicles will be for the first and last mile. Marx mentioned that Los Angeles is currently building five subways that will get riders within a mile of where they want to go.

Miskell agreed that no single solution will work everywhere or for everybody. But giving people more choices is the way to go. Marx noted that carpooling is bubbling back as an option and Shook said that San Diego is encouraging walking.

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