Jeff Wood: Shared, Electric Autonomous Mobility Coming, but Not as Quick as Some Think

08.16.17 | Podcast | By:

I met Jeff Wood at the Fuels Institute’s annual meeting, where we shared the stage and a panel to discuss the impact of urbanization and what it could mean for the fuels industry. Jeff is an urban planning specialist who runs his own consultancy, The Overhead Wire.

On the panel, Jeff discussed comprehensive planning strategies that would take advantage of existing city structures and employ diverse mobility options to reduce the impact of transportation. I focused on different measures cities are taking to reduce pollution and mitigate traffic and climate change and the impacts we can expect on fuels. Read a post on the conference here.

Jeff and I hit it off and I appreciated his insights on mobility, so I asked whether he would be interviewed for the podcast, and lucky for us all, he agreed.  You can listen to or download the podcast below or listen to it in ITunes.

On How Autonomous Shared Electric Vehicles Could Evolve in Different Types of Cities:

What will happen is that cities like Tokyo or Vienna or San Francisco or New York City or those types of places will have urban cores and the surrounding areas where the vehicles are autonomous and they’re able to get around places and you can share. You’ll have automated buses and trains and all these great things, which is great, but it’s not going to happen everywhere. There’s two other cities types as well. The second city type is going to be a place where there’s an urban core and then there’s the suburbs, which are a bit different and lower density, which means that you’re going to have vehicles that are shared and electric.

 

Outside of downtowns, you’ll have people who own their own autonomous vehicles because they need to get around and the density is less. Then you’ll have a third type of city, which is basically those in the developing world that have traffic chaos on a daily basis where the vehicles aren’t necessarily going to be able to tell all this chaos of humanity that’s running around. You’re going to have electric vehicles and they’re probably going to be shared, but they probably won’t be autonomous because of the just pure competing power that will take place to get through thousands of motor scooters in Vietnam or wherever else.

 

You’re going to have those three different types of city. I think it is an interesting way to look at it. I don’t know if it is actually true or not. Whether this is going to happen, I think it is a good typology or a way to think about these things because not every place is going to be the same and places are going to be much different based on how many rules and laws they implement.

 

I think there’s going to be a transition period as well and take longer than we expect. I don’t think this is anywhere near coming to fruition. I want to make that abundantly clear that [this kind of shared electric autonomous mobility] is not going to be here tomorrow. Maybe within 20 or 25 years. I know that the car companies are very optimistic about the next 5 years, we’re going to have an autonomous vehicle on the road. Well, maybe you’ll have 1 or 2 and they’ll be testing and all that stuff. The technology is probably going to be there at some point in the next 10 years, but at the same time, people aren’t going to just openly adopt this kind of vehicle that drives you around. It’s a little scary for them.”

On City Efforts to Ban Cars and Eliminate Parking to Mitigate Traffic Congestion & Reduce Pollution:

“They’re going to try to ban parking because it does mean that when you do put up a parking space in a city, you’re bringing another car into the city. This is something that I always get on my old adopted home town of Austin about. They complain incessantly about traffic, but then nobody talks about all the parking spaces they’re building downtown. They might have a four-story parking garage underneath a new building. They have plenty of parking for all cars that are needed downtown, but everybody wants to drive their individual car and park outside of their individual office. If we can figure out a smarter way to allocate spaces, then you’d have less vehicles on the road because then you have better transit and you have better bike access, etc.

 

Cities are going to do congestion pricing as well, which is basically charging to get into the center of the city. They do this in London and they do this in other cities around the world. Singapore is another example where they’re just not going to allow as many vehicles in the center anymore because it is a mobility issue to have people stuck. You don’t want to have a 50-person bus stuck behind a one-person car because the vehicle that you’re driving is getting in the way of 50 other people’s trips. It’s making everybody slower. That’s something that’s going to happen a lot. Restrictions downtown.

 

At the same time, cities and urban areas are going to have to figure out ways to get people around faster because people’s time is important and the speed at which they get places is important. Everybody should be treated equally in that sense. That’s kind of where I’m coming at it from because I know here in San Francisco, we just actually released a new study about Lyft and Uber that stated that 20 percent of VMT [vehicle miles traveled] in the city is from Lyft and Uber. That’s a huge change I imagine from just 5, 10 years ago when Lyft and Uber didn’t exist. Taxis were somewhat limited. People used private automobiles or they used the buses more frequently. Those are things that are going to be changing as the mobility environment changes, as autonomous vehicles come and even as new mobility changes.”

On the Most Challenging Issues City Planners Face When It Comes to Mobility:

Well, I think you can probably throw climate change in there and pollution and particulate matter that causes asthma and cancer and other things, but mobility is such a big issue because it is an equity issue for the economy as a whole. I recently did a YouTube show for Google where we talked about the equity issue of people not able to get to school or work because they can’t afford transportation or they can’t get to where they need to go in a timely manner. If you’re late to your clock in, clock out job, your boss is going to be really upset. Even if you left at 3 am and your bus broke down, they’re not going to care. They’re just going to try to find somebody else. This is actually an equity issue and an issue for folks that really need access to places. We don’t think about that as much if we have a car or if we have access to really good transportation or we know that our boss might let us off the hook if we’re late a couple times, but there’s people that actually have to face this all the time. The same thing with education as well.”