Remaking urban transportation and service delivery

Remaking urban transportation and service delivery


Major changes are taking place in urban transportation and service delivery. There are shifts in car ownership, the development of ride-sharing services, investments in autonomous vehicles, the use of remote sensors for mobile applications, and changes in package and service delivery. New tools are being deployed to transport people, deliver products, and respond to a variety of metropolitan challenges.

Yet at the same time, these developments raise a number of questions concerning how to protect privacy, guarantee safety, manage data, and resolve liability issues. People worry that new advances will endanger important freedoms, threaten long-cherished human values, and expose people to concrete dangers.

In this paper, I examine the opportunities and risks of emerging transportation developments and make a number of recommendations for moving forward. In particular, I suggest infrastructure investments, technical standards, ride-sharing protections, oversight from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), greater consistency across federal agencies, data usage and retention rules, and legal liability clarifications. Making progress in these areas would promote a safe and responsible future.

Emerging developments

There are a number of alterations taking place in urban transportation and service delivery. As outlined below, these developments are transforming the urban landscape as well as creating new ways of doing things for consumers, businesses, and governments.

Shifts in car ownership

For many decades, car ownership has been a staple for American consumers. People purchased vehicles as a means of transportation and tout their hard-earned economic status. Automobile manufacturing was a vital part of the economy, and car companies ran ads attributing all sorts of side-benefits to having personal transportation.

Yet patterns of car ownership have started to shift, especially among young people. According to MIT economists Christopher Knittel and Elizabeth Murphy, “Millennials own approximately 0.4 fewer vehicles per household than the average Baby Boomer.” Owing to the lingering economic effects of the Great Recession, movement to urban areas, the growth of rideshare options, and a variety of lifestyle choices, young people are less likely than their parents to own a vehicle. They see other options for moving from place to place, and do not want to bear the costs of buying, maintaining, and insuring an automobile. As this trend accelerates in coming years, it will transform the nature of urban life.

The rise of ride-sharing services

At the same time, urban ride-sharing services have become quite prevalent. According to a Lyft economic impact report, 75% of its users are under the age of 50, 51% are between 25 and 34, and 35% do not own a personal vehicle. In addition, 64% say having access to ride-sharing services influenced their choice not to purchase a car or truck. For these individuals, cities offer a range of transportation options—from ride-sharing possibilities to taxis, buses, and mass transit—that serve their interests more effectively than owning a personal vehicle.

Investments in autonomous vehicle technologies

Billions are being invested in autonomous vehicle technologies. According to a Brookings Institution study, over $80 billion was invested in the United States between 2014 and 2017. And since then, additional funding has come into the sector. In the first part of 2018, a CBS insights report found over $5 billion was invested in autonomous vehicle startups. This has fueled innovation in the sector and funded autonomous vehicle pilot-testing in major cities around the world.

Remote sensors and mobile applications

Mobile technology brings many digital features to users. When combined with remote sensors, these applications expand the kind of information available to people. As examples, some of the most persistent urban transportation problems involve parking and traffic congestion. It often is hard to find parking in major cities and rush-hour traffic jams are quite common.

However, advances in mobile applications help commuters deal with these problems. For example, there are apps that identify vacant spots in city parking garages. That real-time information means drivers don’t have to circle the block looking for open spots but can go immediately to the garage with available places. In addition, traffic applications monitor vehicular flows and tell motorists where streets are more or less busy, thereby helping to alleviate traffic congestion. Finally, mobile software allows people to rent out their own vehicles or access vehicles operated by companies. These options provide the freedom of personal transportation without having to buy a car itself.

Package delivery

American retailers and delivery services are investing in drone package delivery. The shift to automated delivery has arisen in part due to the high costs of home delivery. According to business estimates, 53% of delivery costs are spent on the last-mile alone. An ARK analysis shows leading firms could charge a dollar for 30-minute delivery and break even on infrastructure costs within a year.

UPS is also experimenting with electric delivery trucks and drone delivery. It has developed electric delivery trucks with helipads atop for drone takeoff and landing. This combination of drone and human delivery from each truck can greatly increase efficiency and limit the number of stops each driver has to make. Limiting the route of each of its 66,000 drivers by 1 mile per day could save the firm $50 million annually.

In 2019, UPS was awarded a license for drone delivery, thereby paving the way for a major service expansion. With this license, the company is allowed to transport packages weighing more than 55 pounds and fly at night. Its initial service will deliver to hospitals and health-care centers, but will eventually move to other sectors as well.

The German courier company, DHL, has experimented with unmanned delivery through its third-generation “Parcelcopter.” The delivery service notes this technology intends to assist in serving difficult-to-reach locations. Just like its counterparts elsewhere, DHL hopes that limiting last-mile delivery costs can increase company efficiency and productivity.

In Switzerland, delivery drones have taken on the task of transferring laboratory samples between hospitals. With the assistance of drones, Swiss Post tested this program and decreased transport time in flying over Lake Zurich to the city of Berne. For urgent medical situations where every second counts, this airborne service saves time. The transit of medical samples via drones has also increased the efficiency of health providers in congested urban areas.

Public safety and fire-fighting

The use of unmanned aerial systems to fight crime has been taking place for some time. For example, FBI agents have been using drones as part of their investigatory practice and already have deployed drones in criminal and national security cases. More recently, the use of drones by county police, municipal police, fire and EMS services, emergency management, and statewide agencies has grown substantially. A Goldman Sachs analysis anticipates a $100 billion market for drone-based fire-fighting in the United States by 2020.

“[T]he use of drones by county police, municipal…

Transportation Services CEO Jonathan Cartu

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