How many thousands of car crashes could be prevented each year with a little planning and better roads? How can we successfully make the transition to electric vehicles without leaving people behind? And most importantly, what does the future of transit look like?
Those are big questions, and we wanted answers. So we sat down with five noted transportation experts, researchers and innovators to conceptualize what a safer, smarter, more equitable transportation future could look like.
Ready for the future? These experts weigh in on how to shape it.
What are some of the biggest opportunities to make streets safer, more sustainable and accessible?
Some of the greatest opportunities we have are really to include the people we have not been [including]. And not just from a vehicular or traffic safety perspective, but an environment and personal safety perspective. Communities where transportation has contributed to high particulates and pollution, because we built highways right through neighborhoods—many of them were communities of color.
From an accessibility perspective, we typically think of accessibility in terms of people of all abilities being able to access transportation, but there are other kinds of accessibility: language accessibility, cost accessibility. Those are some of the biggest opportunities we have, around equity-centered design, and I think we’re seeing more work in this vein.
The big picture thing we need to do is move away from single occupant vehicles with one person driving around in a diesel or gasoline vehicle. There’s a lot of things we can do; increased access to EVs, car sharing, increased vehicle occupancy, scooters, transit—there’re many different ways we can do that. As long as we’re doing something in the right direction.
That requires us to build infrastructure that makes it safe to use modes other than cars, and use smaller and lighter electric vehicles, from scooters and eBikes to EVs, that are energy efficient, cheap to operate, and have fewer GHGs
In terms of electric vehicles (EVs) and even electric scooters, how do we make sure lower-income citizens aren’t left behind?
The first thing we think about is that only a third of Americans buy new vehicles. We need to create a supply of used vehicles. If we don’t do that, if we don’t have a supply of both new and used vehicles, this transition isn’t going to work.
We’re also going to need to provide incentives. Most incentives you get after you buy a vehicle, so you need access to cash or the ability to finance. We need to start thinking about incentives that lower the price where you buy it. If you go to a used car lot, there’s a very small chance there will be an electric vehicle. Those won’t have an impact unless we have a supply of vehicles. And it will take time.
The used EV market is pretty thin today. One concrete step we could make is to provide means-tested incentives for the purchase of used EVs to make EV ownership more affordable.
We hear a lot about micro-mobility as a solution to congestion, pollution and safety on public streets. Can you define what that is?
Micro mobility is the suite of human-sized vehicles that are either electric or human powered. They’re basically bikes, e-bikes, scooters, e-scooters, mopeds, even things like electric skateboards. Those are all ways of getting around in small-form vehicles made for one or maybe two people. They are far less strain on the road network, as well as the environment.
How can increased EV usage positively affect marginalized communities that live in areas with more pollution?
No greenhouse gas emissions will be a huge boon to communities that have been living in high-traffic areas, because of the ways in which the transportation highway system has been built. The transition of the economy, moving into this space, is going to potentially have a transformative effect for marginalized communities. The job piece I think will be really important. Who benefits from the green economy? Something we need to ensure is that it will benefit marginalized communities.
So electric vehicles aren’t a silver bullet solution, right?
Right now there is a benefit to gas purchasing, the price of gas in the United States is artificially low. However, EVs only do so much for the environment because we still have to pave over land and maintain roads, which is resource-intensive, and doesn’t necessarily benefit the environment in the end.
EVs in and of themselves are not something that we think, from a transportation perspective, should be supplanting the backbone of transportation, which is transit.
We’ve heard of road pricing and congestion pricing, which can offer incentives to drivers to take transit instead. How does that work?
Have you ever taken an Uber before? Then you are familiar with road pricing, or road charging, it just happens that the private sector is the one doing all the innovation.
You have some sort of device plugged in or you’re using your GPS or smartphone or dashboard. That transition to charging for driving based on data from the vehicle is an exciting shift. That enables you to one, get rid of the physical infrastructure on the roadways, or greatly minimize the amount it’s necessary, but two it opens up much more policy. Nimbler, fairer, whatever impact you want to have you can do with different pricing policies. Right now in urban circles congestion pricing is a hot ticket item.
New York is poised to implement a charge for entering downtown, and that should greatly reduce the traffic coming in, but also provide a consistent funding stream for transit. Cities are excited about that type of congestion pricing.
How does the data help make positive change without sacrificing individual drivers’ personal security or identity?
It comes down to trust and regulation. With the connected vehicle future, with the plug-in devices, the data is being generated, but for our purposes we don’t need all the data. Being very conscious about what data we’re ingesting is a key component, but then also, we don’t see ourselves as a data company.
You also have a smartphone, you have your digital license plate, also your dash cam—you can choose which you want to be the source of the data for your participation. You get to decide.
It is a platform for digital management of the roads, and that’s the thing that excites me.
Written by Abby Lee Hood