Centralised control of driverless cars versus autonomous cars (11/11)

Any issues or areas the interviewer has noted down to return to?

11. I think what I found fascinating was your take on the centralised control of driverless cars versus the autonomous cars, because I’ve heard quite a few American observers say the same sort of thing, whereas I think in the UK and Europe it’s kind of the opposite, we think this central system, because otherwise, how do you get a lot of the benefits? But that’s kind of an interesting one.

That’s more of a cultural difference in part. The US government has been funding connected vehicles in one form or another for, at this point 25 years since the first ITS [Intelligent Transportation Systems] program. The early  IVHS [Intelligent Vehicle/Highway Systems] programs were out in the early 90’s and they are sort of stuck on this centralized role, and they keep bringing it back, and the world is changing around them, but they can’t get off of this mindset.

If you think about where did the best automated vehicle research come from, it came from roboticists at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford because they were responding to a Department of Defence research program (DARPA Urban Challenge). Not a Department of Transportation research program, but a Department of Defense research program.

And then these roboticists from Stanford and CMU get hired by Google (and others more recently by Uber), a firm in the Information Technology sector, not a traditional carmakers or infrastructure agency.

I don’t want to say that the existing firms will all go out of business, but some of them certainly will. What’s the advantage that General Motors or Ford has in this world?  Maybe they will still be able to manufacture cheaply, I don’t know. I’m not even convinced of that. If you think about it, you’re simultaneously changing what the entire car is, the sensors are replacing the control functions, electrification is changing the entire motor system, it’s simpler to manufacture. It is possible there is not even going to be a role for all the traditional manufacturers, and you can just assemble these vehicles in many different places, on automated assembly lines. There’s no special advantage that General Motors has with its traditional internal combustion engine has on these new types of vehicles.

The roads will still have to exist for a while, at least until we get to the flying car stage, but that’s a ways off. And in the roads sector you might see some consolidation, I mean we have many layers of governments operating roads in the US and I guess in other countries too, and we don’t do that with other public utilities in the same way. So the question is, why are there 4 layers of government operating roads, can we get that down to one or two, one which is operating the backbone, and one which is operating the local streets. I think there might be some reorganization there, but that’s largely independent of automated vehicles. There might be some advantages to consolidation by getting the technology deployed to dynamically reconfigure lanes. They are nice thoughts but the guys at local Departments of Public Works are still backwards generally in the US.

What key factors do you see driving these changes over the next 30 years? (10/11)

10. What key factors do you see driving these changes over the next 30 years (could be political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental, other?)? AND Please briefly explain how you see these factors influencing future public transport service configurations.

 All of those.

I think the political system is going to have to play catch up with the technological system, and legal system is also going to be playing catch up. And the example of Uber just proves this, where Uber decided what service they were going to provide, and they did it illegally, and they got away with it. Tesla turning on auto-pilot proves this also, they did this without getting regulatory approval. So I think this is going to happen, and then there will be an attempt to catch up in regulations, which basically codify technological practices,  but it’s going to be completely come from behind.

From an economic perspective, at the point where it’s cheaper to provide an automated vehicle than it is to provide a manually driven vehicle, people will switch over. There will always be people who will be reluctant to give up control, but eventually they will die out. I think a 25 year timeframe is probably enough for the last manually driven car to be prohibited from driving on streets or public roads most of the time. The example I’d cite would be, just as we have a Ciclovia in some places on Sunday afternoon, there will be a Motorvia. So on Sunday afternoons oldtimers can drive their old car, but the rest of the week they will have to keep it in the garage.

The cost curves on automation are going to go way down. That a car will be less likely to be in a crash will significantly reduce insurance costs, which are pretty close to the cost of vehicle ownership for smaller cars today.

The cost curves of electrification are coming way way down, electricity is getting much cheaper, and even batteries are making some progress.

I think the social issues will explore what Tesla can do with new kinds of regulations, if the car is programmed not to hit people, a teenager will be really tempted to step in front of the car, and so how is society going to deal with that? It’s going to have to be made some sort of criminal activity in order for it to be restricted, cars will have cameras and they will take a picture of whoever’s being a jerk, and send it to the police and the police will come by and have a conversation with the guy.

There will be many unforeseen interactions between humans and AVs, and no one can know them all at this point, that’s just one of the most obvious ones. But people will try to exploit the system, if other people see that it’s socially bad they will try to reign that in, we will have to think about new ways to reign this stuff in. Most people aren’t going to be jerks with AVs, and once AVs becomes common, it will just be boring. There will be new laws in response to harassing an automated vehicle with passengers, but if it’s a robot and there’s nobody inside, and the teenager still steps in front of it intentionally to delay it, is that still a crime? I don’t know, but it might still get classified as a nuisance or something like that.

So this is mostly about what we will think of as private transportation, public transport agencies might declare that mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) as public transportation (just as some have claimed walking, biking, and carpooling are ‘public transport’) declare victory and move on.

But MaaS really isn’t public transportation in most cases. So I think this is one of those things where we are going to have to reframe it so we don’t hurt people’s feelings, but in actuality, public transportation is going to be in a far worse position than it is today, because the alternatives will be so much better.

Now, if people give up ownership of the car, they might realign their use so that public transportation serves a few backbone trips. Going into the city some people will in the future use public transportation, whereas today they might not have, because they owned a car. but I think that will be dominated by the number of trips that no longer use public transportation because they have a new MaaS option.

How might the role of local and central government be different in 2045? (9/11)

9. How might the role of local and central government be different in 2045?

  • What will be different about the way the government invests in or subsidises transport (in particular, public transport) in the future?
  • Will there be any changes in the way that public and passenger transport is regulated?
  • Will there be any changes to the way that public and passenger transport networks are planned and organised?

It depends on the size of the country. I think in the US the federal government will have very little to say about urban public transportation, it will be supporting research to some extent, there will be some redistribution of money, but I think by and large, transport is going to be delivered at the local, rather than the national, level.

For a small country like New Zealand, I’m not sure that that’s true, because New Zealand does not have the same problem, the same remoteness of the government, that the US has. Local governments in the US won’t be getting money from Washington DC to pay for capital expenditures, so they will be making fewer capital expenditures, and will have spent more money on operations and services, and they will try to focus on things that increase efficiency in most places.

So I think once people recognise, for instance, that Lyft and Uber types of services can serve as transport for many people in that it’s more cost effective than a local bus line, there goes the local bus lines.

But getting tens of thousands of people into a central city can’t be easily done one car at a time, even if it’s a skinny car.

The answer depends on the city, large cities will still require public transport.

And now all of this will still need to be regulated, and so there will be local regulators, ensuring that the price structure is agreed upon and posted. What the prices are, the price function, the algorithm that determines the prices, some combination of fixed charge plus the variable cost will have to go through a taxi utility. It depends on how many competitors there are, if there are enough competitors, the local governments might be more willing to let the market decide this, but if there is only one or two players in this field, and I’m not sure how that pans out.  I’m not sure there’s economies of scale in a large way, in the taxi services, the way there is, it’s a transit. So a city with a lot of players, does not necessarily need to regulate the price, it just needs to make sure that everybody posts their price publically, and the competition will take care of that. But if there are only one or two players, the city wants to make sure that they are not colluding to raise prices.

So how public and private transport services are planned and organized. Whatever infrastructure is there today, will be stuck there and I don’t think there will be a lot of improvements to that, just because it will be a lot more expensive to build new lines and no one will be interested in that with the technology changing so quickly. The idea of making a $50-$100 billion investment in a city that’s changing as rapidly as it is will be forgotten. I think people will start looking at shorter term problems that can be solved in 10 year rather than 50 year timeframes.


What types of operator will deliver public and passenger transport services in 2045? (8/11)

What types of operator will deliver public and passenger transport services in 2045?


I think public transport services will mostly be contracted out in most places, rather than being operated by the public sector, and so there will be a set of global companies that operate transit in various cities, just as a few companies do today in many European cities.

And this is an institutional change not a technological change, so how quickly this happens, depends on a lot of things. But at some point people will see the advantages of having a public regulator of the services, identifying when services need to be provided, but will realise that they are not the best providers of the service There are economies of scale to be had in the industry somewhere, global firms will be able to deliver that in a way most local agencies cannot.

In the US, I think a large part of this is about the unions and especially the Northern US. Minnesota is going to be the last place to change, other places I think, will be much more aggressive about it. Europe is much more aggressive about contracting out service provision than the US is, which is interesting.

How will passenger needs and expectations change in the future? (7/11)

7. How will passenger needs and expectations change in the future, and how will these aspects influence the design of public and passenger transport services in 2045?

So in terms of needs, there will be fewer needs to travel – point blank – because more things will be brought to the consumer, because the potential traveler can do more via audio and video conference. I think public transport will  scale back, so it will be focused on the markets where it’s actually, I dare say profitable, to operate public transport services. So  where the service is not at least break even, it will be shut down.

While there might be some subsidy, I don’t think the subsidy will have to be very large. That is, even if it’s not officially profitable – it could be profitable if it adjusted fares. For instance, today public transport in New York isn’t profitable, but it could be if it just raised its fares. It chooses not to. There would be a few services that are like that, and a lot that aren’t.

Also the cost structure will go down, if a city has automated its transit services, it will have lower labour costs in general, so hopefully that will help the lower the break even point. Electricity should be cheaper than fuel by that point in the future.

Who will be using public and passenger transport in 2045? (6/11)

6. Who will be using public and passenger transport in 2045?

  • Will there be differences among different groups? (e.g. based on age, gender, wealth, trip type, location
  • What differences would there be between public/passenger transport in metropolitan areas, compared to suburban or rural areas?

Who will be using public transport — Anybody who is going to high density areas. So if a traveler is going  downtown, driving will be enough of a hassle that people will generally avoid it, as today in large cities, but probably even moreso. Cities will hopefully have some sort of realistic pricing in place by then, so the cost of travel into the central city will be even more reflective of true costs, and higher than today for private motorised transportation. The choice of mode depends on where the traveler is and her income. In London where 70% of people going into central city that use public transport today, that number will probably be stable, in New York that number will be stable, and downtown Minneapolis it’s even 40% into the central city for work trips (The region has a very low transit mode share,  but into the center of downtown, it will still be high.)  The wealthy will always have their helicopters.

The other thing to remember, is that  in most cities, downtown is generally a less-and-less important part of the region as a whole. In the US, the total share of jobs in downtown peaked some time between 1920 and 1960, and has been declining ever since and will probably continue to decline.

Downtown will still remain important for entertainment services, and maybe a few headquarters types of functions. I think going into work every day and having the traditional 9-5 schedule is going to become less common. Already more than half the people don’t have that kind of schedule, but that ‘traditional schedule’ will become less important over time.

Yes I think the demand for high frequency services, high capacity services, into high density areas, is going to exist but it will be a smaller share than it is today in the US. Comparing public transport in metropolitan areas to suburban and rural areas, suburban and rural areas will all be point-to-point services aside from radial services into downtown. People will either own their own vehicle or use mobility-as-a-service, depending on where they live (how urban it is), and how expensive it is to own and operate a car vs. rent.

The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport

The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.

The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport is now on sale until the end of the year via a Countdown Deal for a limited time only at Amazon Kindle. Act quickly.

Chappy Channukah everybody.



The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport, by David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek

We are pleased to announce the publication of our latest book The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport on Kindle Editions (KindleiPad, iPhoneAndroidPCMac) and at the iBookstore (iPadiPhoneMac). The list price is $8.99.

Table of Contents

  • Preface: The Lost Joy of Automobility
  • Climbing Mount Auto: The Rise of Cars in the 20th Century
  • Less Traffic is a Good Thing
  • What Killed America’s Traffic?
  • Pace of Change
  • Transitioning Toward Electric Vehicles
  • Autonomous Autos
  • MaaS Transport
  • Transit
  • Up and Out: The Future of Travel Demand and Where We Live
  • Adapting the Built Environment
  • Reduce, Reuse, Bicycle
  • Accelerating the End of Traffic via Pricing
  • Redeeming Transport
  • Post-script 1: What Happened to Traffic?
  • Post-script 2: Now extinct: the Traditional Transport Engineer

In this book we propose the welcome notion that traffic—as most people have come to know it—is ending and why. We depict a transport context in most communities where new opportunities are created by the collision of slow, medium, and fast moving technologies. We then unfold a framework to think more broadly about concepts of transport and accessibility. In this framework, transport systems are being augmented with a range of information technologies; it invokes fresh flows of goods and information. We discuss large scale trends that are revolutionizing the transport landscape: electrification, automation, the sharing economy, and big data. Based on all of this, the final chapters offer strategies to shape the future of infrastructure needs and priorities.

We aim for a quick read—and to encourage you and other readers to think outside your immediate realm. By the end of this book (today, if you so choose) you will appreciate the changing times in which you live, what is new about transport discussions, and how definitions of accessibility are being reframed. You will be provided with new ways of thinking about the planning of transport infrastructure that coincide with this changing landscape. Even if transport is not your bailiwick, we like to think there is something interesting for you here. We aim to share new perspectives and reframe debates about the future of transport in cities.

Transportist – Top 21 Posts of 2016

These were the most popular posts written in 2016 on this blog. You should read them all before the year is out, or before next year is out.

  1. Not in our Name
  2. The A Line – A Review
  3. The Era of Big Infrastructure is Over
  4. On Why Bike Lanes Might Appear Underutilized
  5. Car2Gone: On the decline of carsharing in the late 2010s
  6. What Do We Know About the “First Mile/Last Mile” Problem (by David King)
  7. The Hierarchy of Roads: 7 Axioms on street design
  8. Urban Scaffording: 6 transport technologies which will be largely removed in the coming decades
  9. Police Shootings are a transport matter
  10. 21 Strategies to Solve Congestion
  11. On Academic Rankings
  12. The Timeless Way of Building Roads
  13. The best show about urban planning, economic development, and transportation that you are not watching
  14. The Shapes of Streets to Come
  15. Follow the Red Brick Road
  16. On ‘Smart Cities’ and ‘Smart Growth’
  17. #NoNewParking
  18. The Economics of Academic Self-Promotion
  19. AVs After Alphabet
  20. Cars, People, Buses, Bikes
  21. 5 Ways to Reduce Racial Bias in Traffic Stops

The top post was 8 times more widely read than the 20th. Total readership in 2016 was 33% higher than 2015, and the number of visitors set a record (indicating more people reading posts one-off rather than returning).

I have been doing this for 10 years. I still cannot figure out what makes a popular post. Obviously the academic announcements of papers published are less popular, but still worth doing.

Last year’s post: Transportationist – Most Popular Posts of 2015 was not a huge performer, but it may have driven additional traffic to last year’s winners. I named this year’s “Top 21” on the theory that people like numbered lists, and posts with numbers do well (4 of the top 21 had numbers in them, not including Car2Gone).

How will users interface with the transport system in 2045? (5/11)

5. How will users interface with the transport system in 2045?

  • How will people pay for transport? What sort of ticketing system will be used? How will journeys be priced?
  • Will services be provided on a point-to-point or hub-and-spoke network? (or a combination of the two)
  • Will passengers still use timetables? How will they access information?
  • Will public transport still operate to a schedule and/or a fixed route?
  • What will the onboard experience look like?

To enter a vehicle, I assume that there will be some sort of biometric device that will identify the person and be connected to an account. I don’t know that it will be fingerprints, because those might be forgeable by then, but some sort of ‘this is me’ and for this payment the vehicle can, if it has identified me, debit this account.

I don’t think people will have to get out their phone and touch their phone to a thing, and I don’t think we will have to get out a smart card, and I don’t think it will be handled with cash.  I don’t want to speak about developing countries, or the United States, which is especially backwards in payments, but I think that’s where the cutting edge of payment deployment will be at that point.  I don’t know how accounts will be managed, whether there will still be traditional credit and debit accounts, or what the future of money looks like, but there will be some sort of account system.

The journeys will be priced probably with fixed charge plus some distance or spatial coverage charge, possibly with a time-of-day premium for peak hours.

I think we will move towards the best practice type of pricing that can still be explained to people. Comprehensibility is important.  I think that multi modal journeys will be priced as if they were a single mode, as long as there is a single operator like for public transport, That will be the case. But I don’t think that taking a taxi to public transport system will get any particular kind of discount.

Maybe transport organizations (transit providers, taxi services) will be able to negotiate that on a case-by-case basis. I just think that in general those agencies are a little bit on the backwards side to work it out, and there’s just too many players involved. All the high frequency services will basically be hub-and-spoke, and the mobility-as-a-service will basically be point-to-point.

Recall, all the bus routes that we now use so agencies can provide spatial coverage will just get cancelled and be replaced by some sort of mobility-as-a-service. These replacement services might get some special price treatment (discount) from the agency that canceled the less expensive (though less good) transit service.

Will passengers still use timetables? Probably not, because the ‘high frequency services’ are, by definition, high frequency and people will just show up, and the low frequency services will be replaced by point-to-point, on-demand, mobility-as-a-service providers.

I’m guessing that timetables aren’t going to matter, there might be real-time information at the stations telling the customer that the train will be here in 2 minutes, or 4 minutes, or whatever it is, and that will be posted, and the customer can get that on his phone, or his smart glasses, or whatever the replacement user interface is by that point.

To look at 2045, go back to 1985, and think about the changes in user interfaces between 1985 and today. We all can imagine what they might look like. Next year they will look the same as this year but they might be voice controlled with audio information, eventually they might be displaying information on glasses or in a holographic projection. I don’t know (nor does anyone) what that’s all going to look like. We all can imagine things, we see things in science fiction movies that are interesting, those sort of interfaces, I don’t know how practical they all are.

I think most of the public transport facilities in 30 years are already here today, so the onboard experience will be similar. But in terms of getting in, the platform experience might differ. There might not be paid gates as such. It’s likely we are just scanning everybody there and debit their accounts. Agencies will do this not only to get payment, but also as a security measure.  If there is somebody that doesn’t have an account somehow and is ‘off-the-grid’, then the transit police will pull them aside and ask them for their ‘papers’ and to figure out payment. Most people will have accounts.