Autonomous, connected, electric, shared vehicles operating together can have a significant and positive impact on safety, congestion, pollution, convenience and the cost of transportation.
With carmakers from Ford to Audi expected to ship autonomous cars that can handle most freeway driving in the next three to four years, combined with the state of assisted driving in today’s newest cars from major manufacturers such as General Motors and Toyota, it is clear that driving is going to change. And it will change for the better.
Autonomous vehicles will reduce accidents — estimates are that crashes will decrease up to 90 percent. That will be a real savings of human lives, health-care time and money, and insurance costs. Most experts agree that once we reach a tipping point of enough autonomous vehicles on the road (predicted in the 20 percent range), traffic will also improve. Autonomous cars can drive closer together and smooth traffic flows. And fewer accidents also mean fewer traffic snarls.
Autonomous cars are just one of four powerful trends coming together to change our travel experience as well as the layout and enjoyment of our cities. The four trends are: Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicles (known as ACES). And the Greater Seattle region has the opportunity to be a leader in the adoption of these technologies.
Former King County Metro Director Chuck Collins writes that existing bus and light-rail transit may work for some riders, but employing a new fleet of autonomous vans could bring widespread relief to central Puget Sound-area commuters, most of whom do not work in downtown Seattle.
Already about 25 percent of new cars are connected via embedded cellular chips to provide important information services that help the car navigate, let the manufacturer know if something has gone awry and keep the software in the car always learning and up-to-date.
Electric vehicles are becoming common on Washington’s roads — we’re in the top three states for total electric-car purchases. With our hydro, solar and wind-powered electricity, electric vehicles are an incredibly clean alternative to gas and hybrid cars.
Shared-vehicle services from companies such as Uber and Lyft are enabling and growing on-demand carpools. With services such as ReachNow and car2go, vehicle use and ownership has started to shrink in some cities where these services are available, as people opt for a convenient shared-ownership model.
The power of ACES is in the integration of the trends working together. Autonomous, connected, electric, shared vehicles operating together can have a significant and positive impact on safety, congestion, pollution, convenience and the cost of transportation. Single occupant, individually owned vehicles will decline, and people will adopt transportation as a shared service to be summoned on-demand and coordinated through connected cloud capabilities for ride-sharing pickups and drop-offs to reduce congestion. These vehicles will be cleaner and safer than what we have today and will require much less parking spaces since they’ll be in use most of the time.
We’re in prime position to embrace the ACES approach to transportation at a broad regional level to not only serve our growing transportation needs and improve our environment, but also be a leader for the nation in our approach to these life and culture changing vehicles.
We have a culture of innovation that has brought the world everything from commercial flight to a computer on every desk to a retail experience that is making our lives better.
But there are things we need to do to prepare the way — and that will require changes in our transportation plans and partnerships that bridge public and private entities. Bellevue residents recently approved mobility technology funds, and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce is collaborating with local business and policy groups to start mapping roads for future autonomous bus routes that will serve city residents and the downtown core. The city of Seattle and private businesses are discussing designating safe pickup and drop-off zones strategically placed in the downtown core that can be dynamically managed by apps and shared by taxis, rideshare, buses, wheelchair vans and freight.
Collaboration of public and private entities with support from state and federal funding can provide a flexible, electric and ultimately autonomous fleet of vans, buses and autos that improves the flow of traffic within King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. Using data from companies like T-Mobile, Verizon and INRIX, this fleet can fill the holes in public transit routes in a cost-effective way by scheduling rides on demand.
Seeing a need to help develop and promote new initiatives and encourage public and private entities to work together on growing the use of ACES technologies, we have formed the ACES Northwest Network of companies located in our region who are engineering the new technologies, large employers that will benefit from better transportation for their employees and customers, and policy and legislative experts.
As the public learns more about the benefits to them — and begins to see these vehicles on the road — we believe curiosity will convert to an embrace of the changes ahead. Studios of architects, developers and engineers will create showcases of how public land and street use will change. Legislative bodies around the Sound will want to accelerate adoption of ACES because of the benefits to all their citizens, including improved availability and less costly transportation for the poor, elderly, immigrant and infirm.
An important next step is to include ACES technologies in the revisions currently being debated to the PSRC Transportation 2040 plan so as to integrate ACES with transit, bicycles and pedestrians.
ACES vehicles are coming and we have the opportunity to change the traffic gridlock in our region and be a leader in the nation in the support of these changes.