Autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, ride sharing, mass transit. With the future of transportation evolving quickly, these words and those still unknown could play into the ways Peoria residents get around in the years to come.
By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
For this reason, city staff is keeping a close eye on transportation trends and specifically how they could manifest themselves in the West Valley. Additionally, the subject of mobility is part of the city’s general plan draft, which residents can view and provide input at planpeoriaaz.com. Deputy City Manager Erik Strunk said the city needs to know where transportation trends are heading, and how they could impact Peoria in the coming decades.
“Our goal is to share the enhancements and what we call disruptions to transportation as they are occurring in the world. They will eventually find their way to Peoria and with that, one of our goals is to be ready for them,” Mr. Strunk said.
Public Works Director Kevin Burke said demographic disruptions include millennials getting their driver’s license later than 16 years old and living in more urban, walkable areas such as Roosevelt Row or P83. In 1983, 93% of 16 year olds got their drivers license, while in 2014, only 77% did.
People are using cars less due to the advent of online retail as well as grocery and restaurant delivery, he said.
Many cities are dealing with the rapid pace of change in urban transportation trends over the last few years that has left them uncertain as to how it will all play out.
“But we in the public works transit division aim to challenge that assertion about not being nimble,” Mr. Burke said.
Mobility as a service is an emerging opportunity to move further away from single-occupant, self-driven vehicles. Mr. Burke said this is likely to come in the form of ride sharing, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.
Electric vehicles are expected to grow from 3 million to 125 million by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. Also expect to see autonomous vehicles play more into transit over the coming years. Spending on autonomous technology could reach $100 billion over the next 10 years, according to some estimates. And the technology is continuing to develop.
Industry experts use six levels of automation when it comes to describing driverless cars. Today the industry is somewhere between levels three and four, in which a car can be driverless in some environments with some intervention needed. Some estimate fully autonomous vehicles will become more of a reality when vehicles reach level five, or fully autonomous, somewhere between 2025 and 2035.
“We know these trends are coming and we know companies are investing big money in them,” Burke said.
When it comes to gauging the assimilation of autonomous vehicles into society, there is more of an unknown.
Devon McAslan, with ASU Center for Smart Cities and Regions in the school for the Future of Innovation, said there is uncertainty in how these technologies will evolve and mature as well as how quickly people will adopt and use them for different purposes.
Mr. McAslan said the trend is moving toward a private-car-ride share model vs. autonomous model, in other words ride-share companies like Lyft or Uber will transition into the driverless model.
Car manufacturers Ford and General Motors have been working on this model and companies like Waymo and Intel have been testing their autonomous models in the Valley.
But one of the main obstacles to this is public perception. McAslan said numerous surveys over the last few years have said that half to two-thirds of Americans do not view the technology positively.
“The biggest reasons for this are lack of trust in the technology itself and concerns over safety on the road. But recent evidence has been increasing showing that people are willing to try the technology,” he said. “So as time goes by more people are becoming more aware of it, hearing about it on the news. People are interacting with it on our streets, and becoming more comfortable with it.”
As for the city of Peoria, officials are open to new mobility technology. Peoria experienced a nearly $300,000 shortfall in budgeting for gas for its fleet services division earlier this year, and the use of electric vehicles in its fleet services division could be an option in planning for the city mid- to long-term. Peoria could consider future models of electric pick-up trucks that will get up to a 400-mile range per full charge.
The city has 210 pick-ups in its fleet, at about $30,000 per truck, vs. about $70,000 for an electric truck, Burke said.
“At 210 vehicles, that is about an $8.5 million hit,” he said “So we really need to look at the return on investment and how we grow into this space as we move forward.”
Also looking to the future, autonomous vehicles or scooters could be a solution to Peoria’s “first mile last mile” obstacle — the beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by public transportation. Burke said 53% of transit systems are interested in testing autonomous vehicles to fill the “first mile last mile” need, according to a survey by mobility company TransDev.
“We think P83 is probably our best candidate for starting that conversation,” he said.
Moving forward, Peoria officials say the city should approach transit as a series of pilot projects while the industry sorts outs the winners, loser or trends. Mayor Cathy Carlat said the city is going to need to incorporate flexibility and adaptability into Peoria’s long-term plan regarding transportation.
“As cities, we are used to planning 20 years ahead, 30 years ahead, 40 years ahead. So not being able to plan at this time is very frustrating. This is taxpayer dollars and we have to be judicious. That’s our responsibility — to envision what is going to happen and plan for it. We don’t really have the ability to sit back and wait for innovation to occur. We are going to have to make some commitments.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, [email protected], or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.