The race for space

The race for space

Francesco Ripa talks to Tim Papandreou, founder of Emerging Transport Advisors

"This isn’t about the car – it’s about automation. AV technology is form factor agnostic, meaning it can be applied to all motorized vehicles regardless of their size and occupant capacity"

FR: The urban mobility landscape is evolving rapidly. What kind of effect does it have on the way urban space is used?

TP: It’s relatively new for most cities, however we are starting to see more curb demand as this space has been traditionally been set aside for personal car parking. People are loading and unloading more from the curb as riders or to receive parcels and these have not been adequately accommodated by the existing street design. In addition, electro- and micro-mobility services are pointing to the lack of protected lanes, charging and street racks for these services.

FR: How can cities turn the hype for new mobility services into more space for sustainable transport modes?

TP: Cities have a responsibility to provide safe, affordable, efficient, accessible and inclusive transport choices. Some are starting to understand that their role is in managing the platform (that is, the public right of way). What all these new services highlight is that cities have for too long been offering up and dedicating too much of the platform to private car use for free. That discount for drivers is very expensive for the rest of the city’s residents, workers and visitors with all the associated impacts. As cities learn to partner with these new services, setting performance measures for meeting these citywide goals will start to show their value to the city. It is important to note that cities will need to reallocate the space on the platform for these services if they show they meet the city goals. What this means is that the street would be flipped to optimize walking, scooters, bicycling, e-mopeds, and pooled rides with higher-capacity public transport instead of private cars.

FR: According to the mainstream media autonomous vehicles are already a reality and cities need to adapt to them. Do you think it should be the other way around?

TP: It depends on what you see as a reality. A lot of hype is out there. There are less than a handful of AV technology companies that are at the experimental stage of allowing people in their vehicles. Only two are at the stage where they’ve made public their plans for a city service. Cities don’t need to do anything for the AV technology other than continue to maintain their streets. If companies are requiring special lanes, striping, lights etc, they may not be ready.

All the technology should be on board the vehicle. What cities should be focusing on is how to complete their contiguous protected bicycle network and dedicated transit lanes, creating more visible crosswalks and easing in new financial policies that charge per trip by mode, no new parking structures, removing parking requirements from future development and developing measures to manage and price their curbs. All the tools to make cities transport networks more efficient, effective and safer (using the 20 years of Vision Zero best practices) have been proven without the need for AV technology.

AV technologies promise to remove human error, the key cause of road fatalities and collisions, and to provide transport services in areas where the costs currently outweigh the benefits. A fleet of AVs can switch from single occupant to multiple occupants with a few lines of code. We would see a reduction in the private vehicle fleet as the AV network can optimize for use based on origin, destination and time of day.

But that’s only part of it, it’s in the combined synergies with active mobility, pooling and electrification where the transport system can be transformed. This is where cities have to really step up to the task of being platform managers. AV technology on its own can’t transform streets and user behaviour. In fact, it is an optimizer of the space it’s given.

That means cities that give all the available space to AVs will see a different outcome than those cities who allocate the space and curbs for multimodal trips and the smart land use for the AV technology to optimize. It’s important to remember that this isn’t about the car – it’s about automation. AV technology is form factor agnostic, meaning it can be applied to all motorized vehicles regardless of their size and occupant capacity.

FR: Public support is essential to ensure a wider take-up of sustainable transport modes, but there are still many people that oppose relentless pedestrianization of city centres and the construction of bike lanes, saying that they have a negative effect on traffic and reduce parking space. How can cities better sell sustainable transport options?

TP: Cities have to re-learn how to engage with their customers using new customer-centric tools. The staff do not know everything and so it is important to learn the latest tools on how to be better engagers and storytellers by utilizing new forms of data, creating stronger partnerships with the emerging mobility providers and businesses and understanding the psychology of their citizens. The combined skills of data scientists, urban psychologists, storytellers and strong partnerships who can speak in favour together will be essential for cities to make these necessary but politically challenging changes to the platform.

FR: Cooperation with private sector actors is fundamental to ensure that the introduction of new and shared mobility services benefits rather than disrupts mobility in cities. What are the key elements to make this cooperation work?

TP: Working with them earlier and setting key goals together has proven to be successful. Moving away from being prescriptive to being performance outcomes-based also helps as it gives the company a challenge to meet the goal with flexibility to iterate and try different things while aiming for the outcome. Cities have to be clear and consistent in what they’re trying to achieve while being honest and open to change.

And most difficult, admitting areas where they are contradictory. For example, asking a new mobility provider to do something that the city itself doesn’t do or unfairly pick winners and losers because there is familiarity.

Companies need consistency and a clear path to market to be able to work better with cities. And cities need to be able to trust these companies to make good on their claims of helping. That means both need to sit at the table to learn from each other and evolve together. We’re still in experimental phases - so much of what it will eventually look like is very different from these initial, early steps.


Tim Papandreou is the founder of Emerging Transport Advisors.
He previously worked at Waymo and as a Chief Innovation Officer at the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency.
Francesco Ripa is Communication and Project Officer at Polis.

Image: Getty