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Reducing Transportation Costs With New Technologies

This week, we explore how much you are willing to spend for alternative transportation

choices, including ways to dramatically reduce costs or even generate income from an

underutilized car.

Transportation challenges we’ve been exploring in our blogs

We have written about increasing congestion on our roads in the Wilmington NC region. We would all like to see our commutes easier, safer and less expensive. Younger residents prefer living near work, or being able to use alternatives to car ownership, including ride-hailing services (Uber, Lyft, cabs) and electric bikes and scooters for transportation. All of these alternatives and public transportation (buses, shuttles) are offsets to the high costs of housing and medical care in our region and, for many, include student loan repayment, in a challenging economic agenda.

Postponing a car purchase can save a thousand dollars a month, in payments, depreciation, and total costs, better used for other purposes if possible.

Other ways to save:

Carpooling and Car Sharing

Carpooling as a way to go to work has dropped from 13.4% in 1990 to 9% in 2016 nationally, so has not been promising except where a “carrot and stick” transportation strategy like HOV lane access applies. We prefer driving alone in our single passenger cars in general, but there are new online services that will seek to find you a carpool now for those who wish to test this cost reduction strategy (Waze, others).

Car Sharing has worked well as a way to do one day or a few hours rental of cars available via commercial services (Zipcar, car2go). Car sharing users are said to spend only an average of $300 a month on transportation.

Turning Your Car into a Moneymaker

New efforts are now underway to have car owners put underutilized cars or newly purchased cars into a rental pool operated by manufacturers (GM, others) or service providers (Turo), Turo says its average participant earns $629 a month from that underutilized personal car. Analysts believe these innovations could be devastating to new car sales. Studies show we make very little use of the cars we own, inactive 95% of the time.

Analogy—a few years ago, few believed we would share our homes. AirBNB has changed that completely. Car sharing is in our future.

What about Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)? How do they fit into the Mix?

Surveys show that early expectations for safety and pace of progress in autonomous cars were high several years ago. However, each report of a single fatality by autonomous driving has caused substantial setbacks to public expectations and comfort levels. A 2019 survey by Deloitte found 50% of the public don’t expect AVs to be safe for at least five years. Automakers and experts on driving note how frequently human error causes accidents, and believe AVs are safer now. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) says 94% of accidents are caused by human error.

Since Tesla high tech electric cars came on the scene, features like downloadable software, and touch screen display driven controls are being copied and becoming mainstream.

Autonomous Car Safety Features Are Moving to All Cars

Car manufacturers across the world are adding features that AV advocates pioneered:

  • Automatic emergency braking when a collision is threatened.

  • Lane centering, with lane departure warning.

  • Blind spot detection, visual display and warning.

  • Adoption of centimeter accurate maps of roadways for precision control.

  • Assisted self-driving, still requiring driver hands on wheel, eyes on road for functionality. Very close to AV functionality, but keeps human intelligence focused on the driving, still important in obscure circumstances like weather or the unforeseen.

Consensus is that we are still years away from full autonomy. The good news is that

features such as the preceding will force drivers to be more careful, achieving many

benefits as we progress towards full autonomy.

Are Autonomous Shuttles Part of the Solution?

Autonomous shuttles have been operating successfully in locations in Europe and Asia for as long as three years. Some are monitored by a human and some are fully autonomous. The US is lagging in adopting technology that often was developed here. Cities in Abu Dhabi, Israel and France and private sites in the UK, Japan and Ireland are among early adopters.

So far, most US uses of autonomous shuttles are demonstrations to prove viability. Also, the vehicles are expensive due to extensive technology, including computers, sensors, radar and small scale near-custom manufacture, but these costs will come down dramatically.

Initial Autonomous Uses Keep It Simple

Early autonomous shuttle success stories are frequently for point-to-point people movement where few intersections and competing vehicles are present: They are often funded by federal or state experimental funds. Examples:

  • Connect a large work cluster to public transportation.

  • Las Vegas has a shuttle on its Strip to connect the gambling/entertainment facilities.

  • Sprawling college campuses.

  • Resort and recreational facilities and large corporate complexes.

  • Connecting remote parking to a central facility like a park, shopping center or office complex.

Conclusion about autonomous shuttles is that our region should be planning our first

demonstration or pilot projects now, gain experience and lead toward wider adoption

with a clear vision of their strengths and limitations. Expect further comment in a

following blog.

Bill Graham

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