Emerging Mobility: Social Revolution, Environmental Threat?

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If you live in an urban area, you may be familiar with the popular electric scooter as a form of transportation. Maybe you bike to your neighborhood rail station, and ride the train to your office. Maybe you call an Uber or Lyft every morning to get you to where you need to go, or, if you’re money conscious, maybe you share that ride with other strangers who happen to have a similar commute as you. Some of you may be fully electric – taking an electric car or bus to your place of work, with hopes to reduce emissions and your impact on your environment. And very few of you (and we mean only a few) may be driven to work by an autonomous vehicle.
If any of these sound familiar, you can consider yourself part of a revolution. A transportation revolution that is, known as the Three Revolutions – Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future by author Daniel Sperling. Sperling uses data to encourage the reader to think about the future sustainability of the transportation system.

But this transportation revolution will not be seamless nor easy. As the saying goes: “There was no shipwreck until the invention of the ship.” While emerging technologies work to reshape the transportation networks, that network’s travelers, policy-makers, transit and transportation managers, and businesses are weighing the advantages of technology and the disadvantages to the environment and communities.

Emerging Mobility Impacts

Colorado’s population and economy continue to grow — the State Demographer’s Office recently reported that Colorado’s population increased by over 487,000 people between 2010 to 2017. By 2040, the state’s population is expected to be well over 7 million people. More people means more impact on the transportation network, straining Colorado’s already-crowded highway corridors and compounding traffic delays that result in billions of dollars per year in economic impact in terms of wasted fuel and wasted time.

Emerging technologies, while providing greater mobility options, also place additional demand on the transportation network. Transportation Network Companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft use a digital network to connect riders to drivers. Forbes Magazine noted that “…. Uber and growing rival Lyft have captured 70.5% of the U.S. business traveler market.” — in other words, 7 out of 10 travelers have used a TNC. Traffic modelers and transportation planners are forecasting a sizeable impact of the potential additional vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on the transportation network due to TNC trips to pick up and deliver both passengers and parcels. For example, a recent study completed by NREL noted that for every 100 passenger vehicle miles delivered, there was an additional 69 miles of VMT. These additional miles to pick up a passenger or to drive home at the end of a shift are known as “dead-heading.”

E-commerce real-time package delivery also has a growing impact. E-commerce companies like Amazon Flex and UberEats will allow for virtually any motivated driver and vehicle to become an on-demand package or meal delivery service. Use of these new mobility and delivery platforms continues to expand in popularity, volume, and VMT.

Emerging technologies pose risk to the environment, too. Air quality issues are serious in Colorado and, in response to this challenge and that of climate change, the administration of Governor Jared Polis set a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2040. In order to achieve this goal, the administration established a strategic plan — a key aspect of which is reducing the impacts of vehicles. Strategies to reduce VMT and shift more rides from vehicles with internal combustion engines (traditional fuel-based engines) to electric vehicles will help improve air quality in Colorado.

Senate Bill 19-239

As a result of these emerging mobility changes, the Colorado Legislature passed SB19-239, charging the Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Energy Office (CEO) to convene a working group of experts and representatives to examine the emerging mobility industry and its impacts on emissions and congestion.

CDR facilitated the diverse Stakeholder Working Group (SWG), which met from early summer to October 2019. The SWG considered recommendations on how to incentivize the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, like charging stations and multiple passenger ride sharing strategies. The SWG dove into issues around equity, fees, electric vehicle adoption, reducing congestion, and safety.

Stay tuned for what the future of transportation looks like, especially the next time you take an Uber or have a package delivered.

For more information on mobility and the transportation revolution, reach out to Jonathan Bartsch at jbartsch@mediate.org, Tracy Winfree at twinfree@mediate.org, or Melissa Rary at mrary@mediate.org.