Daniel Sperling is a distinguished professor of civil engineering and environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis, where he is also founding director of the school’s Institute of Transportation Studies. Sperling, a member of the California Air Resources Board, recently gave a talk at MITEI detailing major technological and societal developments that have the potential to change transportation for the better—or worse. Following the event, Sperling spoke to MITEI about policy, science, and how to harness these change agents for the public good.
Q: What are the downsides of the “car-centric monoculture,” as you put it, that we find ourselves living in?
A: Cars provide great value, which is why they are so popular. But too much of a good thing can be destructive. We’ve gone too far. We’ve created a transportation system made up of massive road systems and parking infrastructure that is incredibly expensive for travelers and for society to build and maintain. It is also very energy- and carbon-intensive, and disadvantages those unable to buy and drive cars.
Q: Can you tell me about the three transportation revolutions that you say are going to transform mobility over the next few decades?
A: The three revolutions are electrification, automation, and pooling. Electrification is already under way, with increasing numbers of pure battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles that combine batteries and combustion engines, and fuel cell electric vehicles that run on hydrogen. I currently own a hydrogen car (Toyota Mirai) and have owned two different battery electric cars (Nissan Leaf and Tesla).
A second revolution, automation, is not yet under way, at least in the form of driverless cars. But it is poised to be truly transformational and disruptive for many industries—including automakers, rental cars, infrastructure providers, and transit operators. While partially automated cars are already here, true transformations await fully driverless vehicles, which are not likely to exist in significant numbers for a decade or more.
Perhaps the most pivotal revolution, at least in terms of assuring that the automation revolution serves the public interest, is pooling, or sharing. Automation without pooling would lead to large increases in vehicle use. With pooling, though, automation would lead to reductions in vehicle use, but increases in mobility (passenger miles traveled) by mobility-disadvantaged travelers who are too poor or disabled to drive.
Q: You’ve mentioned that how these revolutions play out depends on which cost factor dominates—money or time. The result would either be “heaven” or “hell” for our environment and cities. Explain the nuances of that situation.
A: With pooled, automated and electric cars, the cost of travel would drop precipitously—as a result of using cars intensively (spreading costs over 100,000 miles or more per year), having no driver costs, and having multiple riders share the cost. The monetary cost could be as little as $0.15 per mile, versus $0.60 per mile for an individually owned automated car traveling 15,000 miles per year. The time cost of car occupants, on the other hand, is near zero because they don’t need to pay attention to driving. They can work, sleep, text, drink, and read. Thus, even if the cost of owning and operating the vehicle is substantial, the time savings would be so beneficial that many, perhaps most, would choose car ownership over subscribing to an on-demand service. In fact, most people in affluent countries would likely choose the huge time savings, worth $10, $20, or more per hour, over low travel costs. Thus, policy will be needed to assure that the public interest—environmental externalities, urban livability, access by the mobility disadvantaged—is favored over the gains of a minority of individuals.
This event was supported by IHS Markit.
Listen as a podcast:
Hi, everybody. My name’s David Keith. I’m on the faculty here at the Sloan School. It’s my pleasure to welcome you here for this seminar with Professor Dan Sperling from UC Davis, sponsored by the MIT Energy Initiative and IHS Markit. For those of us who work in transportation and energy, Dan Sperling’s reputation precedes him. Dan’s the founding director of the Institute for Transport Studies at UC Davis. He’s a member of the California Air Resources board. He’s on the executive committee of the Transportation Resources Board. So Dan has a very active role in the transportation policy agenda in this country and globally. Dan comes to us today on the launch of his new book called Three Revolutions– Steering Automated Shared and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future. The book is so fresh that Dan hadn’t actually seen the hard copy until we produced a box of them about minutes ago. So I need not tell you that there’s very rapid technological change occurring in the automotive industry and the potential for fundamental reshaping of how we use cars in the st century. But it’s very much an open question of whether these technologies improve our lives or make them worse. And I think the goal of this book by Dan and his co-authors is to dig into some of those issues and to explore the role of technology and policy in achieving outcomes that are good for society. So please join me in welcoming Dan Sperling. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you very much. It really is exciting. At one level it’s exciting because, as David just said, this the first time I’ve seen the book right now. So its official release is not for a few more weeks. So now you are the very first people to get this book. So that makes it exciting, number one. And it’s also fun to come back here to MIT and to Boston and Cambridge. It’s like lots of old friends. Chris Knittel here was my colleague for many years. And we had lots of lively conversations about these topics. He promises– he’s leaving at : so won’t have time to engage too much this time, but we’ll see if he can control himself. But this really is a great opportunity. So this is a really, really important topic that we’re dealing with. So I’ve spent my career in the transportation world, touching on energy and climate and other things. But this has been my world. And I suffered for years with almost nothing happening in the transportation world. We tried to make mountains out of molehills. But basically there’s been very little innovation. And now innovation at a systems level, the cars as artifacts are much higher quality than they were. But functionally, they’re the same. Transit is functionally the same. Cars carry the same number of people, travel the same speed, run on oil. Roads are functionally the same, the design. Transit is basically the same. And now we’re seeing so much innovation, some of it already happening. Some of it we’re just on the cusp of. And the story line here, and why this is so important, is that this can play out in different ways. It can play out in a way that’s really aligned with the public interest. Or it can play out in a very different way that’s not in the public interest. In both cases, it’ll be in the interest of individuals. But the larger public interest is still a big question. So just to frame this whole discussion, we have created a transportation system– is this still working? No. It kind of turned off. It’s still not on. I’ll talk a little louder. I guess they’re recording it, so. Is it OK? Keep talking? All right, so– [LAUGHTER] You have a right to remain silent. [LAUGHTER] Sometimes when I come here, I feel like that. [LAUGHTER] So we’ve created this transportation system over decade after decade. And it’s become more and more car-centric. And that’s not necessarily bad. Cars provide a lot of value. But we’ve started building our cities around the car, our lifestyles around the car. And really where we ended up is a place that’s not sustainable. So you see there some of the images. So you see the freeway. Actually, I want to point out the freeway that doesn’t have so many vehicles on it, which must have been at Sunday at : AM or something, in Los Angeles. Much of that freeway interchange there are carpool lanes, flyovers, HOV flyover lanes. Because, you know, if you’re in the HOV lane, then if you were going to get off normally, you’d have to cut across four or five or six lanes of traffic. So they built these flyover lanes. Just for this intersection, billions and billions and billions of dollars. And I’m going to show you in a moment that probably had zero effect and cost a fortune. But, yeah, so the image there of that little SUV with a dog is we’ve created a trend. In the United States, in particular, we see it, or many people see it, as cars being a right not a privilege, a right. And the idea of reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled, VMT, or reducing car ownership in many parts is seen as un-American. So that image up there is for those people. It says that if that person would get out of that car and walk that dog, there’d be less energy use, less greenhouse gases, and they’d be healthier. So we’ve ended up with this transportation monoculture. And this is just to give a few numbers to highlight it. So this is just for work commute trips. The blue is for people that drive alone to work. And you can see there it’s up around %. There’s two parts there that are especially important to notice is that the amount of carpooling has gone down from over % in the s to less than % now. And that is at a time where we’ve built all these HOV lanes, where we put so much effort into transportation demand management. And under almost any metric or criteria used, it’s been a failure. You spend a lot of money, and ridership goes down. In fact, of those % or %, probably about half of them are really just families, spouses and kids traveling together. And the other statistic there is public transportation. Today, in the United States, of all the passenger miles traveled, only about % is transit. Almost no one has ever acknowledged this because it’s just politically incorrect. And we don’t want to be politically incorrect because transit plays a really important role. But it’s gotten to the point– and many of us that knew this never said anything because we didn’t have any better answer. So what are you going to do about it? So I’m here now because we have something to do about it, and so therefore I’m going to call attention to that fact. There’s another fact– I didn’t put it on this slide, but buses, on average, in the US are worse than cars in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases per passenger mile travel is worse for cars than for buses. And again, this is something that most of us that cared about transit would never have said. But again, now we have options, and so now we do need to start talking about this. So we’ve created this car-centric monoculture. It’s very expensive. It’s very resource intensive. And I couldn’t help but put up that the Time magazine article. It’s from about climate change, about being very worried. Here we are years later have made very little progress. So we should have been worried then. We should be catatonic now about this. So just run through some of these numbers here. The amount of money and resources we devote to transportation in this country for road infrastructure, just how much we pay as individuals to owning and operate a car, depending on how much we drive and how new, $ , to $ , per vehicle to own and operate a vehicle per year. The vast majority of our oil goes for transportation for vehicles. Climate change, about a third of that is due to transportation, air pollution, a lot of that. So this is what we’ve created. And it’s not just we’ve created here in US. By the way, I call myself a Californian now. And this all started really in LA, Los Angeles, this idea of car-centric living and car-centric cities. Los Angeles had about , people in . Now it has million or more. And they built the whole city around the freeway. If you want to see a model of how to have a major city built around cars, Los Angeles is best. Houston’s doing pretty well on that front, Arizona cities also. And that’s Brasilia. Back in the s, they actually designed the city around the car. So this is a model that’s spreading around the world. Oh, and this photo here, OK, so I showed the one about the dog and the person walking their dog. So someone from MIT, when I was last here at MIT, gave me that photo. And I think this person’s name was Kennedy. And I never wrote it down. And I was hoping someone could identify who that person is. I guess not. OK, If anyone has any hypothesis, come see me afterward. So in the past, there’s been tremendous innovation for the transportation sector, for both on the passenger side and the freight side. So I’m going to talk mostly about passenger. But we can do some discussion about freight as well, if you’re interested. But the passenger side is a lot clearer, at least in my mind, how this is playing out and what are the critical issues. But what you see here is there were these massive system innovations, but none since s. We’ve gone , years with almost no real innovation in transportation sector. This is what I devoted my career to. So now it’s really exciting. And for all the young people coming into transportation, it couldn’t be better because we’ve got, what, calling these three sets of revolutions. So the question is, how to create a cheaper, better, more sustainable transportation system? And I have to say it was near the beginning of this book where I really had the epiphany. It all came together for me. I was sitting in Los Angeles in a car, traffic. And I think for the weekend, did about or miles total of errands all over the city. Six hours were spent in the car to do those or miles of errands. It was like that street, road, there. And I said, this is ridiculous. I mean, it’s like that frog that you put in water and you turn up the heat, and it doesn’t really notice what’s happening until it gets boiled and killed. It’s like that seems to be what’s happening to us. We’re not appreciating how unsustainable we’re allowing our transportation system to become. So my epiphany was, OK, we’ve got to do something. And so I’m immersed. I head up a Transportation Research Institute. I interact with many of the transportation researchers here at MIT and many other places. And what’s the solution to our congestion? Let’s just focus on congestion. What’s the focus? Well, carpooling failed, right? Well, we could do pricing. So every once in a while we try a little bit of pricing. But the politicians usually are thrown out of office or lose their backbone. In California, even in California– even in California– we just raised the gas tax last year $ . a gallon. And now there’s a ballot proposition to rescind that, even in California, $ . a gallon. The roads are falling apart. Forget everything else you care about in terms of sustainability. The roads are falling apart, need maintenance. And it becomes a political issue a lot of times. So my epiphany was, OK, nothing we talk about in academia is working. We need some new ideas. And the idea I kind of settled on is what I call pooling. Pooling is the answer. We’ve got to increase– for those in the transportation world, we’ve got to increase the load factors in our vehicles, especially in our cars and especially in the suburban areas and other lower density areas, where conventional transit doesn’t work well. But you can’t do pooling– and we’re going to talk about how some of the policies are not supporting it right now. But we do need to restructure our policy. So above everything here, I’ve really become a policy wonk. And I work actually on the California Air Resources Board, where we’re making all the decisions, almost all of them about climate policies for California. And so I’m really immersed in it and the politics and the policy side of it. And I am so convinced that a desperate need for some changes in policies. And so I’m going to come back, and I’m not going to talk about it too much in the talk, but think about those policy questions. And we can talk about it in Q&A more. So the epiphany is pooling, but pooling’s only going to work with pricing. In other words, we’ve got to incentivize people to get in a Uberpool or a Lyft Line or some of the micro-transit services, Via, companies like that, and conventional transit as well. And the question’s, how to do that? But I think at the end of the day, that’s our best chance, with all due respect to the economists. We’ll get to your issues eventually. I know you love pricing. And that’s kind of the point is we can’t do pricing right now. Just politically we’re not ready. But when we create more choice, then we’ll have the political window to be able to do pricing. But we can’t even use the word pricing, though, when we do it. So we’ve got to get clever– incentives and disincentives and different pieces of the system– if we really want to do it. So that’s it, pooling and pricing. That’s the message here. And it’s really in the context of these three revolutions. And so the three revolutions are automation of vehicles, often called autonomous cars, but erroneously from an English-language perspective. They are not autonomous. They are connected. So automated cars are cars that are already connected. So the automotive world likes to use the word connected because it gives them something to do and technology to sell. But what we’re really talking about is the automation of vehicles. We’re talking about the electrification of vehicles, because otherwise we’re going to see so much energy consumed, so much greenhouse gases emitted. And third, and in many ways the key to this, is what’s sometimes called sharing, part of the sharing economy. But I’m calling pooling because I think that describes it better. But the pooling is what’s needed to make all of this work, and I’ll explain that in a moment. So we start with electric vehicles. So I know a lot about electric vehicles. I oversee the Zero-Emission Vehicle Mandate in California. I’ve written many books on electric vehicles. This has been my world. But I’m not going to focus on that very much here, except that it is part of these synergies that we’re looking for, and it’s a crucial part of it. But I’m going to make the point here that it’s now gotten to the point with electric vehicles that this is not a question of if. It’s a question of when. And these are just announcements that have been made just in the last six to eight months. Most of the major car companies are all saying, we’re rolling out , models. We’re spending tens of billions of dollars. Countries and politicians around the world are talking about banning internal combustion engines. So the momentum is there. It’s not clear, though, how fast it’s going to happen, exactly what way. And I’ll try to come back at the end of this, and we can have a more full discussion. But the point here for us is it’s happening. There’s no doubt about it. The automobile companies all know. You would be hard pressed to find someone at an automobile company that would argue with the idea that their future vehicles are going to all be electric propulsion. Is John here? Sitting right in front of you. There’s John, yeah. We’ll see if he argues with me. The other revolution– hi, John. The other revolution is the automated vehicles. And so the electric vehicle, it’s underway. It’s kind of starting out slowly, but it’s underway, and it’s definitely here. It’s definitely happening. The automated vehicle revolution, in some ways, is here in terms of every car now has some amount of partial automation in it. But really for it to make a difference it has to be fully automated in terms of getting the benefits for society out of it. And if you listen to the automakers, if you listen to the Googles and the Ubers and the Lyfts of the world and the Apples, then automated vehicles are just about here. And some of them would say they’re here already. So my wife has a Tesla with automation. And supposedly that’s automated. But as she says the first time we turned it on, that was more challenging and that was more scary than the first time I took my -year-old for driving test. So the technology is not here. And I know there’s been a lot of work at MIT and Nutonomy and others. But the technology is still quite a ways away from giving us the confidence that we can implement it broadly. But anyway, there’s a lot of hype. I call it hype. Automakers are hyping it because they see companies like Uber and Lyft with these tremendous stock valuations. They see Tesla. And so they know they’ve got to do something different. And so hyping their automation is the easiest thing they can do, and they talk about it, make grand pronouncements. And the Silicon Valley companies, who are doing a lot of the technology, they have a lot of interest in hyping it also, the media, the politicians. So anyway, there’s a lot of hype. But just like with electric vehicles, again, this is not a question of if. This is a question of when and in what form. So just as a little primer for everyone that’s– so how many of you know what these five levels of automation are? About / of you. All right, so just very quickly, we characterize– it came from the Society of Automotive Engineers. We characterize the amount of technology, automation technology in a company, according to scale up to level five. Think of a level five as a car that drives itself in the sense that you don’t need a steering wheel. You don’t need brakes, and you don’t even need a driver. The vehicle will operate all by itself. Level four is a vehicle that I’ll call drive– so the words I use in the book and here is driverless means level five. Meaning you can go anywhere, anytime, no driver. Level four I call self-driving. And what that means is it drives by itself but only within a circumscribed area. And within that area, it’s been mapped out well, but you can’t drive it. You can’t let it go outside that area. And so most level-four cars are therefore going to still have the steering wheel and the brake pedals and so on, with one possible exception that I’ll mention. The level three is kind of where Tesla and Volvo and Mercedes are almost there. It’s like that Tesla. I do have a neighbor, a -year-old kid– I call him a kid. His rich parents gave him a Tesla X. He took it down an interstate, and he says he fell asleep for minutes going down the interstate. That was one of the stupidest things any human being could do. You drive in that so-called state-of-the-art automated car. If the lane striping are changed– those DOT people are always doing maintenance and so on. If you change the stripings, if you have exit ramps where the markings are done in a funny kind of way, the car gets very confused. And that’s just on the freeways. Don’t even think about driving on any other roads. It does not see traffic signals, for instance. So that wouldn’t be a good idea. So that’s what we have here. And so it’s really the level five that we’re aiming for, because it’s the level five where we can get the driver out. And as I’ll describe in a moment, that’s where you can have these mobility service companies running this. You take the driver out. You run the vehicle all day. You really lower the cost dramatically, and you make it accessible to almost anyone to use. The level four is probably going to be coming in within a few years, but in a very circumscribed area. So Lyfts and Ubers of the world like the idea because they can mark off maybe a part of a city, map it really well, and they can run it around eventually without a driver. So these are the kind of vehicles you see there now. The one on the left is a little automated, small shuttle bus. Quite a few companies are doing those now. The one on the bottom is actually an automated truck. So those of you who follow the news, this is the truck auto, where a guy, an engineer that had been at Google, left Google, started up this company, eight months later sold it to Uber for $ million. But then apparently he took a lot of trade secrets, and he’s been sued and fired. But that’s kind of the Silicon Valley world. It really sums up. The other picture on the right, upper right, now, that’s an interesting photo because it implies these are people that want to sit and talk to each other and be friendly, maybe a family. And we’re going to get into this sharing, pooling question, because that, as I said, is really a key to a lot of this. That’s probably not what the vehicles will look like. And just to set the stage a little, these vehicles, these automated vehicles, they’re really highly complex. So this is from a study that was done years ago. And I don’t know if it’s still correct, but it shows how much lines of code there are in a– this was a modern gasoline car compared to a jetliner or a fighter jet. So the vehicles are clearly– the amount of computing that’s going into them– they’re putting all these ECUs into– LIDAR technology is coming in and radar, cameras. All of it, new software, all the new hardware, it’s like we’re raising the level of technological sophistication to a whole other level as we talk about automated cars. And with all this automation– again, this is an old chart, but it kind of highlights how vulnerable. any kind of vehicle with this technology is going to be to cyber attack and, of course, privacy issues as well. So I’m kind of laying this out for you to say, the reason it’s hype is that there’s so many forces that are going to slow down these fully driverless cars actually coming into mass usage. And so there all these forces that are going to slow it down. So I don’t know exactly when you can count on having a fully driverless car. For very limited applications, probably pretty soon. For broader applications, it could be decades from now. Probably the first application will be the Ubers and Lyfts of the world that have so much to gain by getting these drivers out of the car and running the cars more intensively. They have the potential to vastly expand their markets by doing so. And so they are the most likely early users of these automated vehicles. Really central to this is the cost issue, but not always in the way you think about it. So one way to think about it is that if your car is automated, that means you can do anything you want in that car. You can drink. You can text. You can sleep. You can party, right? You can do anything. It can be your office. You can use it for any purpose. So those of us in the transportation world, we’ve always calculated– we do cost benefit analysis for new highways and infrastructure. We say, OK, what are the benefits and costs? And something like / of the benefits are time savings when we’re deciding– or more– when we’re deciding whether to build a new road or a new lane. Well, now, poof, that’s all gone because now our time in the car is not a negative thing, or it’s a very minor negative thing. We do calculations of what is cost of time. It’s $ , $ , $ , $ an hour, depending on the person and the situation. Now it’s close to zero. So if you’re in that car, you don’t really care that much if you’re in that car for a long time. You can commute long distances. And you don’t even care if you’re not in the car. So for instance, you could come to this seminar and don’t want to pay for parking for the car. You could just have it circle around the block for a couple hours. And it’d be a lot cheaper than paying for parking here, right, for sure. So that would be a zero-occupant vehicle. So the value of an automated car to an individual is really, really high. I think I did a calculation somewhere else. If you value your time at just $ or $ an hour, you’re saving thousands and thousands of dollars every year, more than pays for that car many times over for that automation and for having that car. So there’s a lot of motivation to buy an automated car as an individual and to use it. So that’s one. The other economic force at work here is, though, if you make that automated car, you put it in a Lyft- or Uber-type service, get rid of the driver, run it all day, maybe , miles a year, spread out the cost over those , miles, reduce the insurance, you end up with a cost dramatically lower. So this is a graph. Just way to the left is what Lyft or Uber X costs. It’s about $ . a passenger mile. A car, a normal car that you drive is about $ . a passenger mile. By the way, mass transit is about $ . a mile full cost, not what you pay, but full cost. And then we end up all the way down at the end with these cars that cost maybe $ . , $ . to run. But if you put two or three people in it, you’re down to $ . a mile. $ . a mile, think about that. Think of some -mile trip you would take or even a -mile trip, $ . And it’s even worse, well, worse or better than that, depending on how you look at it. A lot of those Silicon Valley companies now, a lot of the advertising information companies, already are coming up with business models where they will pay you to use these services. They’ll say, if you stop at a Starbucks, we’ll pay for your trip. If you make a reservation during your trip at a restaurant, we’ll pay for your trip. If you buy a ticket to a movie theater, we’ll pay for your trip because they’ve got you captured. That means it’s free to the individual. It’s zero. What’s that going to do to our behavior and our usage? So clearly the point I’m going to get to is policy is going to be really critical here if we want to direct these revolutions towards the public interest. So sharing, pooling, that’s the key to this story, because, as I said, if a person owns an automated car and they just drive it, they’re going to double or triple the amount of usage they get out of the vehicle. We’ve got lots of studies being done that are starting to show that. But then we look at car– so, OK, I’m talking about pooling. Well, no one carpools. As I said, our work trips are down to under %, and that’s just for work trips. If you took it total trips, that’s like % of our trips. And then if you took in time, which are families, really families, they’re not really carpools. It’s like there’s very few people carpooling. So we’ve got to somehow fix that in a way. We’ve got to respond. We’ve got to make pooling more attractive. Now, making it zero cost, that’s one way. People have their price, right? Chris, right? That’s the economist’s mantra. So that’s an important factor in this. Now, the question is probably, how do we deal with the cars that have single occupants or zero occupants? And that’s where we need to bring a lot of policy to bear. So the point of this is that automation, like with single-occupant users or zero-occupant users. We’re talking about a dramatic increase in VMT, in Vehicle Miles Traveled, which means a dramatic increase in energy use, of greenhouse gases. But there’s so many ways that automation can be used to greatly reduce, and there’s been, I know, a group at MIT that’s simulated for New York City. If you had a completely on-demand, automated service in New York, you would end up with– I forgot the number, but a dramatically reduced amount of VMT, reduced number of vehicles. So with automation, you can have vehicles close together, narrower lanes. You don’t need parking. It’s another big benefit; you don’t need parking. Right now like in Los Angeles, about % of Los Angeles is for parking. There’s about three parking spots for every car. You get rid of most of that. But these three revolutions are not going to happen easily. They’re going to be very disruptive. So I’m going to show you. I’ll talk just a bit about taxis and transit. But it’s disruptive to all of these industries, and it’s disruptive to rental cars. They’re already being disrupted. They’re losing market share a lot, especially at airports, insurance, parking, vehicle service. So taxis, this is as of a few years ago. It’s even worse. This is for San Francisco, the number of taxi rides per cab in San Francisco. And San Francisco is where Uber and Lyft got started and where they’re headquartered. So they’ve been kind of ground zero. Transit– so this is a quote. I was talking to a CEO recently. And this is an exact quote. I didn’t want to leave his name because he might be embarrassed by that. “We’re losing ridership. We have no money. And we have no idea what to do.” That’s not much of an exaggeration of where the transit industry is these days. They’re in decline. And they’ve got to get their act together, in some way, just like taxis. Taxis are starting to come back a little because they’re learning some lessons from the Lyfts and Ubers of the world. But transit’s a different kind of organization. And so this is a study some of my colleagues– actually, one of them is at MIT, Regina Clulo. Some of you probably know her. Basically shows that– you know, the transit operators like to say, Lyft the Uber are taking away our riders. And that’s not really true. It’s taking away some of them. But it’s also adding some riders that are for first-and-last mile service. So the net effect is negative so far for a single occupant Uber and Lyft rides. So, OK, here is one thing for those of you especially involved in both on the research side and local government is that you hear over and over again that Uber and Lyft are crowding the streets and creating more congestion and more pollution in the streets and at the airports. You hear that over and– I was told it was on NPR this morning, actually. And that’s true with single occupant Uber and Lyft services. Basically, they’re a high-quality service that more people are going to use it. But what we’re talking about is pooling. So we’re talking about Lyft Line, Uberpool. So the goal of transportation planners, of policy makers, mayors should be create the incentives for the pooling and either leave alone or disincentives for the single-occupant services, the Uber X’s of the world. What do we do with legacy transit? So there’s so many things transit can do. But basically it comes down, it’s got to figure out how to work better with these new types of on-demand app-based services and learn from them. These services, what they’re really good at is they pay attention to their customer. Transit has never been very good at really paying attention to the user. They don’t have a lot of data. It’s mostly aggregated. They haven’t really thought about exactly how do they attract more riders. And with car ownership going up, it’s even more critical that they think in that way. And the auto industry is threatened. Auto industry has no idea what to do either. The auto industry approaches this, the way they think about it is selling a car. In good years, they get a % to % return. And then they look at service companies that get %, %, % returns. And they say, we want to be like that. And so they’re thinking about how do they run these mobility service companies? Why can’t they get the benefits and get the returns on that? And at the same time they’re scared as can be about those Silicon Valley companies and some Boston Cambridge companies as well. I use Silicon Valley just because it’s an easy expression. But it represents the high-tech information-technology type companies out there, software companies. They’re the ones doing a lot of this innovating for these automated cars, for the mobility service type companies. And car companies are afraid this is going to be another repeat of IBM and Microsoft, where IBM almost went bankrupt, and Microsoft had % returns. And they don’t want that. They’re afraid of that happening. This is supposed to be for the Energy Initiative. And I have lots of ideas about energy. But I think in the spirit of saving some time, I’ll skip over this, except to say the oil industry is really threatened. They’re not feeling as threatened as these others. But they’re all starting to try to come up with new business models. We’re basically telling them, we’re going to put you out of business. Oil is unacceptable. You figure it out. And you can imagine that’s not a very comfortable position to be in. So we ended up with this idea that we need to integrate these innovations together. And if we do, there’s so many benefits that come out of it. There’s, of course, all the safety benefits. So the reality is any level, almost any level of safety car– a level three, there’s some questions about. But almost any amount of automation you put in a car is good because robots are much safer than drivers. They don’t drink. They don’t smoke. They don’t sleep. They’re much safer, not always, but in general. So we’ll have much more safety. You’ll have much more access for disadvantaged, physically disadvantaged, socioeconomically disadvantaged people to get access. created this car-mono culture, which really leaves out a lot of people. My sister lives here in Cambridge. She had an accident early in her life, and she doesn’t have peripheral vision on one side. She can’t drive a car. That’s very limiting in this modern world. And then it saves costs. We don’t need as much infrastructure. There’s less congestion. There’s less climate change. It’s almost tiresome reading through that list because it’s so long and so important. And let me highlight, though, the last one because this is another controversial point is automation. That means chasing away jobs. It fits into the modern narrative about technology and what’s happening to the haves and have-nots. I think, on the passenger side, what’s going to happen here is we’re going to create a lot of new jobs, more jobs, and often better jobs. So here’s why. Think about it this way. Right now owning a car and driving a car, it’s all a personal experience. We drive it. We’re not compensated. We have to take care of the car, the registration, bring it to get it repaired. All of that is uncompensated. Now we’re converting all of that into a compensated activity, a commercial business. We’re going to have all these companies providing all these mobility services. So now, yes, you give up some drivers that you have now. But how many drivers do we have? Well maybe % of our travel is handled by personal drivers. Mass transit’s about % of passenger miles. Throw in taxis and limousines and a few other things, so %, maybe %. We’re going from that % now up to %, %, %. So we’re going to lose the drivers for % of the travel and replace it with commercial businesses for % or %, many, many fold increase. As an analogy, think about homemaking. Back in the old days, in the kitchen you made everything, you cooked everything laboriously. Now what happens? First of all, a lot of that has been outsourced. We go to restaurants all the time, generates huge amount of jobs. All of our equipment in the house now is automated, all kinds of devices. So there’s all those workers, all that manufacturing to make all those devices. And so that’s another case where we’ve taken uncompensated activities and turned them into compensated. And we’re going to do the same thing with mobility, and the net effect will be a whole bunch of new jobs. Some of them will also not be high quality, but many of them will be high quality, running all these companies and all the technology that goes along with it. So policy is central [INAUDIBLE].. So let me reiterate the main point. So the reason– so I am going to be giving a lot of talks about the book– is not to sell the book actually. I’m not going to make any money off it because I’m devoting it all to my university program, or at least personally. But I’m doing it because we have gotten to a point in our transportation system where we’ve got to start making some changes. And a lot of these changes are at the local level. It’s how do we encourage pooling, and how do we bring pricing into it. And so the message is, boil it down, to the mayor’s is, your job is not just to accommodate or support Uberpool, Lyft Line. Your job is to champion it. Your job is to champion these micro-transit services that are coming in. Create the incentives, create the bully pulpit that supports it, get it out there. And I’ll be interested, all you smart people in the room, does anyone have a better idea? I haven’t come up with it in years. But maybe there are smarter people here. So thank you. And I should acknowledge, these are all some of the co-authors on the different chapters that helped a lot. So some of them you’ll recognize that are leading. Robin Chase, who’s from this area, well-known, she helped out a little bit with it. Susan Shaheen, Brian Taylor, a bunch of other people. So thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] So we’ve got minutes for a few questions. So we’ll start down here. Thank you. In December, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollock was on a panel at a Northeastern North American Climate Policy Summit hosted at MIT. She had a number of very interesting things to say. But two of them really stuck in my mind and connect to what you’ve been talking about. I’d love to get your response to it. She said, first of all, it’s an illusion that there is such a thing as the transportation sector. Secondly, the thing that all the primary actors in this car-centered culture are acting from is really not about the miles traveled or the congestion, but that productivity while you’re traveling, which suggests to me she kind of believes in that hell scenario that you laid out. And if that’s where you’re starting from, what might an effective response look like? Thanks. I’ve become a policy nerd over the years. And I like to think big picture, visionary. But really we’ve got to turn into actionable items. So like if I was looking at transit, the problem is transit does operate as a silo for the most part. It shouldn’t. It should operate as a mobility provider. It should be integrated with other options. But for the most part, it doesn’t. Boston’s pretty good as far as transit, but for the most part, not. So we need to think about, just for using that example, people that have a single app, where all the information comes through with it. They can be able to manage their transportation very easily through that one app, even throw taxis in there, help them out. And so it’s good to talk about the big vision, and that vision is exactly right. But our challenge is to come up with specific actions. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in transportation and energy, there’s no single, silver bullet. The carbon tax by itself is not going to get us where we need to be. You need a whole suite of policies and actions. Hi. Thanks for the presentation. My name’s Dan Gaudium with the Union of Concerned Scientists. So I just have a really quick, sort of, political analysis that I’m curious to see if you agree with coming out of this. So congestion pricing is impossible, right? And it’s impossible because people are used to being able to access roads for free. And once people are used to being able to provide that service for free, they’re used to sacrificing time during times of high congestion, they’re not used to having to pay for roads, or pay for the impact of congestion on roads anyway. So politically it becomes extremely difficult to get them to support that. On the other hand, consumers are about to get a big windfall from the automated and ride-sharing revolutions, right? And they’re not used to necessarily not paying for congestion in that context. So right now it seems like we have an opportunity with AVs not yet on the road to be able to introduce congestion pricing in a way that won’t necessarily be automatically rejected by the public in the same way that congestion pricing would be in a more robust universal sense. What do you think of that? Yeah, exactly right. So that’s why I say pooling and then pricing. Because with pooling, you’re creating choice in options. Now people, if you impose a gas tax or a congestion tax, they just see it as punishment because they say, I have no alternatives. So it’s a punishment. So if you create choice and options, it’s much easier to come back with pricing. And I’ll give you one example where it’s been done badly. I think someone told me it’s happening in Boston also. It’s that in Chicago, they imposed a large fee on every trip, every Lyft or Uber trip and even the micro-transit, VIA, as well. That is exactly wrong. It should have been that if those rides are pooled, there should be no fee. Who knows, maybe even an incentive or a subsidy to go along with it. And I understand Boston is just doing that same thing by the ride. So that’s exactly the wrong message, exactly the wrong price signal to be sending. So I have a question about how fast this transition can go, and what your view is on this. And in particular, some of the more aggressive forecasters that say by or even ‘ , we’ll all be doing this. I’m worried. Or the question is, what happens to all the used cars, all the gasoline-powered, ICE, non-automated, not-smart, not-connected vehicles that people will be trading in? Won’t that just drive the price of those cars down until it reaches a point where somebody’s got to find it attractive to keep it on the road and slow down the transition? And this would be true whether those cars are driven and hurt the climate, whether those cars are driven in the US or shipped off to Mexico, Belize, or the Middle East. So what do you think how fast this can go? And what can we do? What can car do to deal with those used cars, that flood of used cars, so we can speed this up? As a regulator– so that’s my part-time, I call it, my moonlighting job– I’ve come to appreciate that the regulations are getting way out of alignment with market forces, and whether it’s the greenhouse gas standards as a mandate, all of these regulations. And we use regulations because they’re more hidden from the consumer and the taxpayer. And so it’s an easier way to get things done, with all due respect to economic efficiency. So all I can say is the analogous situation is oil. We’re making vehicles more energy efficient. The price of oil is going to go down or certainly not go up. And so we’re going to have the same problem there with low gasoline prices, low used car prices. So that’s where we’ve got to figure out– we’ve got to figure out the pricing side of it sooner rather than later. So we have a little bit of time. We have time to incentivize pooling. We have time to incentivize the mobility service applications. We have time to disincentive some of these things. But we’ve got to get started now. Because if we don’t get it going now, it’s going to run over us. Automation, the market force inertia on automation is huge. And as those engineers get it better and better, it’s going to swamp, flow right through the market. And if we don’t have the right incentives and disincentives in place, it’s going to be pretty ugly. Hi. Look forward to reading your book, very interesting topic. My concern– I’m Steve Russell from the Mass Clean Cities Coalition. My concern is I’m not sure that automated vehicles are going to reduce petroleum. Unless they’re all going to be electric AVs, then my concern is we’re not going to really get off petroleum. The other piece is the VMT hell. I really think that people are going to take advantage of this one-person, one-car VMT. We’re going to increase. I don’t know if you’ve been driving around Boston in the last couple of weeks, you probably haven’t, but it takes you and / hours to go three miles in the city. And it is pretty pathetic. So we’ve got to do something about the VMTs when it comes to this automated vehicle. Well, that’s why I told you my epiphany came through the congestion frame of thinking, just like what you’re saying. I think that’s the one way we can get a lot of political support. Individuals are going to engage in this storyline. And that brings the politicians along. Otherwise I agree. Your thesis is the transit has no future almost. And I like, you critized– I didn’t say that, but go ahead. Well, you, kind of, almost said that. Chicago example, where they’re putting a fee on each rider, I kind of agree with you. Yeah, if it truly is pooled, you should have a lower fee on the pooling. But the issue is we got to come up with money for transit. Because transit– what we’re trading off here is the wait time for a trip with these on-demand services versus the frequency of a transit trip, which basically, as you said, the transit operators say they have no money. They have the conflict. So we have to use the pricing to give better service for transit, especially in the larger cities. And I kind of hate to see these statistics about % because those statistics aren’t right for the large cities. And the larger cities will die if they don’t have transit. So I think we need to address a little bit more where do we get the money to improve transit services so that the large cities can continue to thrive. And I agree. The New York subway system is an equally good example of how starved it is for resources and how it’s affecting quality of service. So, yeah, there’s a big, big problem. Should we let people go that need to go? Because I can see a little– I think we’re all going to move on. So maybe we’ll take any other questions we can offline. So I’ll finish this, and then– OK, so I do want to get the attention of the transit operators because they’ve been asleep. And it’s not their– with all due respect, it’s not their fault. They’ve been starved for so long in this country and atrophied so much. Most transit operators, they don’t have the capacity and capability. They’re just trying to get those buses and trains running on time. And they barely have the capability to be thinking about all these new types of innovations and technologies. And yet we need them to do that. So I was just in Europe two days ago, yesterday actually. And they’re way ahead of us in that. But they have the same problem there is that they’re also needing to figure out how to engage with these new revolutions, innovations taking place. They’re much more robust. They’ve got more capabilities. They’re in better shape financially. But it’s the same challenge. And so, yes, get the money. But two, these transit operators need– somehow they need to deal with this new world, or they’re going to lose more. This is my vision of how that plays out is the transit operators do have a lot of pressure, political pressure, to serve lower density suburban areas and so on. Pull back focus on the more dense corridors, the more dense routes, create the partnerships where you have a lot of the first-last-mile services, whether through micro-transit or Lyft Line and Uberpool and other ways. And then they can increase their ridership and do it much more efficiently and also fix the paratransit problem along the way. Well, we made it to o’clock. I know we’ve got classes starting for a bunch of you soon. So I think you’ll agree it was a very interesting and stimulating talk. So thanks, Dan Sperling. [APPLAUSE]
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