Shifting to driverless ride-hailing services—disruption, convergence, adaptation

By Mary Ebeling

A new policy guide focusing on automated vehicle (AV) ride-hailing services argues convincingly for leaders in city government to set policies to govern this rapidly developing transportation service. AVs are not yet commercially available, but several ride-hailing, or Transit Network Companies (TNCs), are already road testing the technology. The guide makes the case that cities, counties, and states should get out in front of this coming reality with policies designed to assure the most benefits for the city and its residents.

The march toward an autonomous or driverless transportation future appears increasingly inevitable, and the TNCs are the advance guard. For example, Lyft predicts the majority of its vehicles will be driverless by 2021. Ford Motor Company plans to have a line of fully automated vehicles for commercial ridesharing in 2021. And Uber partnered with Volvo to develop driverless vehicles.

As autonomous vehicles continue to advance and evolve, cities have begun to address the need for policies on driverless shared mobility; testing the waters for how to maximize the benefit of AVs while minimizing negative consequences. To that end, the report highlights six policy priorities to get the most out of autonomous TNC vehicles. They include:

  1. Leverage technology to enhance mobility. Transit agencies and TNCs should partner to adopt or adapt transit smartcards to coordinate payment across modes.
  2. Prioritize and modernize public transit. Transit agencies can focus on high-frequency transit on dense corridors and use the automated TNCs to make the first- and last-mile connection to the system’s main corridors.
  3. Implement dynamic pricing. Dynamic road pricing helps recover the costs of using public roads and sends a clear price signal of the true cost of a trip. Autonomous TNC vehicles could be charged a variable rate depending on vehicle occupancy and/or time of day.
  4. Plan for mixed use, car-light neighborhoods. AVs could benefit those living and working in a mixed use neighborhood, whether they are urban or suburban centers, by reducing the need for auto parking, improving livability, and reducing GHG emissions.
  5. Encourage adaptable parking. If city residents embrace this new technology and own significantly fewer vehicles parking needs will change, creating space for additional residential, employment, or retail uses. New parking garages, if built, should include level floors and other design elements to make conversion to a more productive use straight forward.
  6. Promote equitable access to new jobs and services. Cities should require their own agencies and private operators to incorporate payment options for the unbanked, ride-hailing for those without smartphones, and retraining opportunities for drivers who have lost employment due to AVs.

The guide warns of not planning for and considering the implications of emerging technologies:

“Public policy will play a decisive role in shaping AV technology and guiding its impact on cities, as it did during past technological revolutions involving the railroad, the streetcar, and the automobile. Cities have a window of opportunity to shape how the autonomous vehicle is used and must act now to define policies that minimize risks and maximize the benefits of driverless technology.”

With the recent release of reports on the impact of ride-hailing services  showing increased VMT and decreased transit ridership, policies syncing AV technology with regulation of ride-hailing will be important for crafting a future transportation system that is sustainable.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.