February 05, 2017

“Time, money and energy” critical as future with driverless cars speeds up, say panelists

Visions of a future with autonomous cars, ride-sharing and new rules of the road were shared at “Road Rage: The Future of Transportation Management in Big Cities,” a program held on Feb. 3 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Miami and sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division.

Brian Willis, a real estate lawyer, grew up in Tampa Bay. He went to law school in Washington, D.C., where he enjoyed the transportation options. After he graduated and returned to his hometown in 2007, he lamented that Tampa Bay had no rail network and got involved in transportation planning.

For Willis, the question is not whether driverless cars will happen but rather how to set up the regulatory framework to make them as successful as possible.

He can see one working that is similar to that of condominiums and time-shares. It would consist of a regulatory structure where you buy a car or a car and quarter or half share of another, like a time-share. He sees that as more socially positive and more like the shared economy.

Willis noted that there is a renewal and resurgence of urbanism – and it’s not just millennials flocking to cities, but baby boomers, too.

The reality in providing transportation options within cities is that you’re dealing with confined spaces, he noted, and a regulatory structure is not going to fix that, so it should encourage the use of shared vehicles, or it will just result in increased traffic.

Willis pointed to two business models:

·       The Uber model, which operates on a contractual basis. The customer pays by the unit, and it provides transportation as an on-demand service.

·       Another model is ZipCar, which is a by-the-hour rental service, and a driverless service. It costs more per hour to use than Uber and Lyft, but those two are heavily subsidized by their investors, he said.

Andrew M. Korge, vice president of strategic development at the Lynx Companies in Coral Gables, said he’s a “victim of traffic” here in Miami, and he has no doubt that “our future is driverless, and it’s just a matter of when.”

Korge thinks it’s coming sooner rather than later, and noted that Tesla, BMW and Audi are all working on fully autonomous vehicles.

This driverless future will require a fundamental rethinking of how we plan infrastructure, he said, including considering such things as one-way highways at rush hour, so driverless cars can zip through.

Korge said government is not investing enough time, money and energy in this, and that on a conceptual level we need to do more high-level thinking on all these issues. He said it will take the collective will that once helped the U.S. go to the moon to figure this out.

There will be lots of resistance to driverless cars, Korge said, which you can already see in news reports that say driverless cars will increase traffic because more cars will be on the road.

Mike Suarez, chairman of the Tampa City Council, said a lot of people love the technology of autonomous cars but they have not grappled with the cost of this major shift, the liability issues or the equity issues (i.e., will these cars be accessible to everyone in society?). He also worried that since smartphones don’t always work, will autonomous cars also malfunction and sometimes start running into each other?

Suarez said the largest part of the HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) budget —more than 50 percent —goes to drivers and benefits, to which Willis responded that we need to prepare our transit agencies for a driverless future.

Korge agreed. “We have a huge set of problems that we need to think about conceptually,” including that technology and automation are taking away jobs at a rapid rate, he said, which could leave millions unemployed and possibly unemployable. That’s why he advocates that every child have access to afterschool programs in coding, robotics, 3-D printers, etc. “We need to start to doing that now,” he emphasized, or we will have big social problems.

Still, not everyone is looking forward to the driverless future. Willis noted that 49 percent of the U.S. population responded to a survey saying they do not want to give up driving.

But he foresees a future where you still own a car and have ownership in driverless car as needed, so that you have the flexibility to go driverless when you need it. Moderator Justin Day, director, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners in Tampa, likened the situation to a three-legged stool: you have your own car, a car-sharing option and an autonomous option.

Korge thinks bigger: he foresees a day when an autonomous car could pick up the groceries, freeing up time and fundamentally changing the way we live.

The panelists agreed that economic incentives will be key to getting many Americans to adopt the new transportation methods, and Korge was confident that millennials will usher in this new era.