13 Replies to “Podcast #21: Way Outside the Home Area”

  1. That’s a great point about “golf-cart” sized autonomous vehicles being a real possibility. I do think many trends in transportation point to a need for far less parking. However with last-mile hail-able autonomous ‘golf-cart’ (and minibus) services, it also opens up more areas to be practically designated car-free.

    These autonomous ride-hailing demonstration projects tend to be deployed on “campuses” in the last few years (Universities, office parks, botanical gardens, malls, tourist zones, etc.). Assuming those services reach a certain level of maturity, there would be no reason not to simply make the area a car-free zone served by transit hubs and a small remote parking structure or two.



    After the easy pickings (“campuses”) are done, existing city neighborhoods and even sprawling suburbs could be added as new modules. Once you get a critical mass of neighborhoods and “campuses” along a major travel route it’s that much easier to take a travel lane for true Bus Rapid Transit or invest in grade-separated rail, because your “last mile” access is so much more effective.

    So hail-able autonomous “golf carts” are not only an argument for removing parking, but they also should start us thinking about wider car-free zones (which will also benefit bike safety, walking to school and building housing rather than parking), re-purposing travel lanes to dedicated transit and redirecting investment to high-quality rail.

      1. A 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4). STB is currently organized as a c4, which allows them to endorse candidates and take political positions and such. A c3 can’t do those things, it has to be strictly charitable. Donations to c3’s are tax deductible, while donations to c4’s aren’t.

        It is possible to organize yourself with both, although you need separate entities (Seattle Transit Blog as a c4, and Seattle Transit Blog Foundation as a c3, for example), but you need to keep the money separate and properly accounted for. It is kind of a pain, frankly.

      2. What jason said. Big pain for small orgs to maintain double structure. We decided it wasn’t worth the tradeoff.

  2. With respect to the Everett trip, your observation of 20 people on the Seattle->Everett bus at 8 AM on a Sunday morning is consistent with my experience riding the bus out to Everett to catch the 8:30 Amtrak train. A good number of the riders appear to have had on hospital uniforms, so it could be night-shift hospital workers heading home after work.

    Combining ST express with Uber is often a great way to balance time/money, and has allowed me to spend $10-20 on what 10 years ago would have been a $80-90 Zipcar rental.

    Out of curiosity, I wonder how many times per day Uber and Lyft pick up or drop off riders at the UW Link Station. Considering that Link goes to the airport that people with luggage may not to walk very far, I would expect this to be quite common. Hopefully, it doesn’t get too common because the pick-up/drop-off environment at the UW Station is not designed to scale well for large numbers of cars.

    1. I’ve never used rideshares or Car2go out of fear of getting stuck somewhere with no car available when I want to return and being miles from a bus stop. Do you always find a car available when you want it even in outer places like Snohomish County? Because there are events I’d like to attend, usually Saturday evenings, in Everett, Edmonds CC, Arlington, and the casinos (Quilceda, Emerald Queen, Snoqualmie). The last ST Express buses leave at 10:15pm and after that there’s nothing unless you can get to Aurora Village or Federal Way some other way.

      1. Yes. I would have never thought that it would be easy to get a trip to the middle of nowhere from the middle of nowhere so far from anywhere. The Everett Gravel Pits hardly seem like a place where you would be able to find a ride hailing service.

        Can you schedule these several days in advance rather than trying to do this at moment of need? That way you know if you found someone or not.

    2. Oh, and I don’t really want to give money to Uber in particular because of its business practices (taking all the profits for itself and externalizing its costs onto everybody else, both its drivers and the cities and public).

  3. Thanks for a great podcast! I thought your thoughts on driverless cars were particularly interesting. I love how you say – it’s overhyped and way off in the future and people speculate wildly about it too much because it’s fun… and then proceed to do the same. Because it’s fun, I’ll join.

    I agree that freeways are way easier solved than urban areas, regulatory environment and liability will be huge, and it won’t solve congestion and very much won’t obviate mass transit, but will increase street utilization by reducing parking needs, which is great.

    I’ll add a few thoughts of my own. From the perspective of somebody who has been sued for liability in a car accident (not a fun story), the lawsuit is already against a giant, deep-pocketed corporation: my insurance company. I actually came out ahead, financially, because the insurance company paid for several flights for me to give depositions, etc. The process was incredibly wasteful – most of the money went to lawyers, and the amount of the lawsuit was absurd when you look at the actual lack of injury that occurred. But it was already a massive company being sued (that could afford the kind of legal protection that disincentives lawsuits, as Google could, too). So I don’t see this as as huge of an issue for driverless cars as it could be.

    That said, corporations will want to avoid both the liability and the bad PR in a way that individuals are unlikely to, and this could lead to issues. When traffic gets bad, autonomous cars won’t get more aggressive like people do – they’ll strictly obey the rules (and protect themselves from liability). Which is great – it will massively reduce accidents. But what happens taking a left at a downtown intersection when there is a constant stream of pedestrians in one and then the other intersection that you have to cross? Will it ever move? The backlash could be big if autonomous cars wait for five light cycles until the intersections happen to be clear at the same time (which would become less likely, as I’d sure jaywalk more if I knew the car wasn’t going to be driven aggressively).

    I’ll also put an asterisk on Martin and Frank’s observation that driverless cars won’t give us congestion pricing, because we could already do that. I agree – I don’t think the political environment will change enough that governments will start putting congestion pricing on every road. People want to be allowed to go where they want, when they want, demand be damned. However, under the car as a service model, the service provider would be wise to charge by the minute as well as by the mile, so that their cars aren’t sitting in traffic making negligible revenue. Similarly, they’d provide deep discounts to reverse commutes, because the car is already going to make the trip after an early commuter to go pick up a late one. This means built in demand-pricing. Of course, the revenues aren’t helpful for balancing city budgets like congestion taxes would be, and the fees max out at whatever amount makes people just decide to own their own car and use it. But the price of sitting in traffic would be greater than just time.

    The risk, I think, is if people continue to own their own car. If you own your own, you may as well nap, eat, get some work done on the way, and live way out where the land is cheap. What’s the difference?

    But in a shared car model, which I think will win out because of the car utilization potential is so much higher, especially with spontaneous carpool formation, there are some big benefits for existing suburbs. First, as Martin and Frank mentioned, is the last mile problem for transit. A shared car + Link could become the quickest and the cheapest way to get from kid-soccer camp to the city. The other is a massive reduction in parking needs in strip mall/big box land. A big grocery store could do with space for 5-10 cars if people don’t need the same car to take them home as they took to the store.

    This will invite those places to both increase in density, big time, and even more importantly, to not have huge setbacks because of all the parking in front. This in turn invites pedestrian friendly environments, which invite local businesses whose appeal doesn’t derive from a nationally advertised brand but from looking inviting from the window. I could see a lot of superblocks rearranged to have internal pedestrian-friendly streets with businesses on both sides, and car loading zones rather than parking.

    Jarrett Walker et al are right that autonomous cars have nothing on crush-loaded buses and trains their ability to move lots of people. What they miss, though, is that if they can double our utilization of street space (which between parking and carpooling, should be easy), they can provide the bridge to get car-dependent places up to the densities where transit starts to really work.

    1. There may be a move back to one-car families before people go to zero cars. I can’t see zero cars in the cul-de-sacs anytime soon because you need a car to get out of the house; the nearest supermarket is a mile or more away. In the 1950s families had one car, and in the 1970s they had two. Maybe it will be the reverse if families decide they don’t need the second car, because there’s always a neighborhood autocar, and one family member will be more willing to take it or is just going to the train station anyway.

  4. Seems to me that you could have done a day rental at a standard car rental company for less than what you paid for the Car2Go.

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