Massive private sector investment will bring exciting, fundamental change in how we use cars to get around.
AS Puget Sound taxpayers weigh Sound Transit’s $54 billion proposed expansion — a plan calling for 10 times the investment spent doubling the Panama Canal’s capacity — it’s important to ask whether it will be obsolete before it is done?
The light-rail and rapid-ride bus proposal called ST3 will be on the November general election ballot. As proposed, it would be constructed over the next 25 years and is projected to provide transit an additional 1 percent of daily trips by 2040. Some say “we must do something” to address the growing traffic congestion in the Puget Sound region and that ST3 is our best bet. But several major trends are fundamentally changing the nature of mobility around the world and will likely cause ST3 to be obsolete before the ribbons are cut.
At INRIX, we call these trends ACES, which stands for “autonomous, connected, electric and shared” vehicles. These four megatrends already are having a big impact around the world.
Many people are familiar with the efforts by Google, Tesla, Uber and traditional automotive manufacturers like Audi, BMW and GM to build semi- or fully autonomous vehicles. You may even own a Tesla with autopilot or a Mercedes with drive pilot.
Tens of billions of dollars are being invested across the industry to bring autonomous vehicles into the mainstream over the next decade. These projects have gone beyond research efforts, and now more than a dozen semi- or fully autonomous vehicles are in development slated to release over the next several years. Honda announced it will add these capabilities as an $1,800 option. Autonomous vehicles will not only make travel safer, but will also reduce congestion by allowing vehicles to drive more closely together and park more efficiently.
Internet-connected vehicles now account for more than 20 percent of the new vehicles shipping in the United States. These vehicles are capable of receiving real-time traffic updates, helping direct drivers around congested roads and find open parking lots much more efficiently. Real-time data collected from these vehicles is being used by cities across the world today to dynamically change traffic signals, improve infrastructure design and more efficiently manage traffic flows. Connected vehicles are already reducing traffic jams, and as the technology grows, so will the impact.
Electric vehicles now shipping from Tesla, Nissan, Chevrolet and others may not reduce congestion, but they will help decrease vehicle emissions in pollution-choked cities like Los Angeles, Beijing, São Paulo, Brazil, and Moscow.
Finally, shared vehicles are transforming how people navigate their city. Services like Uber and Lyft reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles coming into a city, decrease parking demand, and help efficiently organize carpools for people going to and from similar locations. In addition, services such as ReachNow and car2go already are allowing many drivers to ditch their car keys. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of young people (16 to 24 years) that hold a driver’s license dropped from 76 percent to 71 percent, while the number of car-sharing members in North America and Germany has grown by more than 30 percent annually over the last five years.
The point being: The ACES already have changed how we choose to move around.
An enormous amount of investment is being made in the private sector toward addressing the mobility challenges facing cities today. GM’s $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft and Saudi Arabia’s $2.5 billion investment in Uber are just a few of the headlines in the past month demonstrating the impact the market believes can be made. These investments are not happening because of government action, but rather because governments have largely failed to solve many of the problems that exist — creating an opportunity for entrepreneurial companies to address.
In light of the ACES and the transformation of urban mobility happening today, does it make sense for Puget Sound taxpayers to commit to a $54-billion, 25-year transit project that largely will be obsolete before it is complete?