Autonomous vehicles (AVs) could change all of these dynamics, if they are shared and electric.
Instead of owning a car, people could buy a mobility pass that covers everything from bus rides to scooters to a seat in a shared autonomous vehicle. Researchers estimate that autonomous vehicles could replace about 70% of the passenger cars in cities today by 2035.
ZipCar founder Robin Chase says the key to realizing those benefits is to combine car sharing and ride hailing. In "The Future of Autonomous Vehicles," she claims this approach to AVs could deliver "door-to-door travel at the speed of private car travel at the cost of a subway ticket."
First, autonomous vehicles do not need wide lanes or medians to travel safely, so this space can be freed up for pedestrians and bike riders. Also, after dropping off passengers, AVs will keep driving around or go back to home base. An office full of people won't need parking spots, so land currently dedicated to parking lots can be repurposed.
However, some urban planners think that AVs have the potential to make urban sprawl even worse.
They found self-driving vehicles could cause residents to take more trips, use transit less, and live farther out. Many of the additional trips, researchers said, would come from children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
If people can catch a ride door-to-door, they might be less likely to use public transit or pay premium rents to live or work near subway stations.
Some entrepreneurs are not waiting for AVs to be ready for the consumer market. Turo and Enterprise are testing car-sharing services around the country. Turo's platform allows car owners to rent out their vehicles during designated times. Car owners can use this income to pay down car loans. Enterprise CarShare is a membership service that allows customers to reserve a car on an hourly or daily basis. A Car Sharing Research Report predicts that the market will surpass $11 billion by 2024. UBS predicts that by 2035, 80% of people will use robotaxis where they are available, and that car ownership in urban areas will fall by 70%.
Stations have five parking spaces, five EVSE and a reservation kiosk, and two to three vehicles at each station.
The project now provides:
80 electric vehicles
130 charge points
26 charging stations
Nearly 2,000 BlueLA members
Over 12,000 trips
The city estimates that the program helped to avoid 260 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the first year. The goal is to recruit at least 7,000 new users in three years. This level of membership could result in 1,000 fewer private cars on the road, which could reduce an estimated 2,150 tons of greenhouse gases annually. The city and operator share the costs, risks, and rewards.
Testing electric shuttles in Austin
Cities are also testing electric, on-demand shuttles, another mobility service that could take more private cars off the roads.
Pecan Street wanted to understand how people would use this new service and whether this service could solve the first mile/last mile problem and increase ridership for bus and light rail lines.
"In some areas, we saw large numbers of users using this last-mile shuttle to connect to public transit, when people previously would have driven to the light rail station," Pecan Street CIO Grant Fisher said. "We wanted to make the entire trip green and lower emissions."
One of the routes was in the Mueller neighborhood, which included a housing center for older adults. Fisher said that a lot of residents in that complex used the shuttle service.
"It was a social event -- they plan trips together, and they all knew the driver," Fisher said.
"We started this project thinking in terms of how we could supplement public transit, but by the end we could see how it could be a new form of public transit," he said.
Columbus has tested one route for a self-driving electric shuttle and is making plans to test another route as part of the Smart Columbus project. May Mobility used six electric vehicles that could hold up to five passengers and an operator. The shuttles can go up to 25 miles per hour and are equipped with sensors and intelligent software. During the testing phase, an operator was always on board to oversee the operation of the vehicle. The Smart Circuit shuttle covered more than 19,118 miles and transported more than 16,062 passengers around the city's downtown Scioto Mile during the nine-month test phase.
The city is planning a new electric shuttle route to make it easier for residents to use public transportation. EasyMile will test two level-four autonomous shuttles in the Linden neighborhood. The 2.7 mile route will provide free rides to connect passengers from the Central Ohio Transit Authority Linden Transit Center to community resources at St. Stephen's Community House, Douglas Community Recreation Center, and Rosewind Resident Council. The ADA-accessible vehicles carry up to 15 passengers and travel at 15 miles per hour. Operators will be on board the vehicles at all times.
Partnerships will be the key to making the shift to new forms of mobility. Ford is counting on partnerships with cities to drive its City Insights Platform and Transloc, a software and solutions provider for transportation agencies.
Privately owned passenger cars aren't the only ones being replaced by car-sharing services. ZipCar now has a fleet management service, Local Motion. The hardware and software platform allows operators of large fleets to share vehicles, increase utilization, and streamline operations. ZipCar is targeting corporate, government, and university customers with this service.