March 15, 2019 - From the March, 2019 issue

VX2019: Public Transit's Adaptation to IoT, the Shared Economy, & Ubiquitous Information

At the VerdeXchange 2019 Conference, the foremost stewards of mobility in California met to discuss coming innovations in air, train, and vehicle travel—particularly autonomous technology. In this TPR excerpt, Los Angeles World Airports CEO Deborah Flint (pictured) highlights the unmanned mobility options being piloted at LAX; LA Metro CEO Phil Washington shares how public transit agencies are exploring new on-demand models; and venture capitalist Steve Westly outlines the impacts autonomous transport could have on congestion, air quality, and the future of global cities.


Deborah Flint

"Uber has done something that no one else has been able to do: figured out how to move goods and people from Point A to Point B at $2.50 per mile... the new holy grail is going to be moving people and things at $1.50 per mile." - Steve Westly, quoting Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors

Deborah Flint: At the airport, we think about autonomous vehicles in terms of autonomous aerial vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones.

I can’t think of a better time to talk about the issues and opportunities in UAS because of recent incidents at airports across the world. Over the last few months, there have been major issues of disruption due to potential drone sightings that halted traffic at Gatwick Airport in the UK and at Newark Airport.

I serve on the Federal Drone Advisory Committee, which is advising the Federal Aviation Administration and industry on how to integrate our airspace to allow for the safe and effective operation of UAS. It’s very important that that happens. In 2016, there were approximately 320,000 unmanned aircraft registrations. As of December 2018, there were more than 1 million registrations of unmanned systems—four times as many. And the industry is still working to make sure that all of the unmanned aircraft get registered, so I suspect that that number is actually even greater.

The reality is that this new activity is happening, it is going to continue to happen, and it is going to flourish—if we let it. That means adjusting our national and local airspace systems to allow for safe operation. It means we need to provide mechanisms for flight planning, airspace planning, and communications to address this new shared airspace.

Many of us have concerns about these areas, which need to be developed and executed very well. But there are also a lot of reasons for us to be excited. At LAX, we are looking to create a pilot drone program even this year. We have a vision of using drones to do faster, more thorough, and more precise runway inspections. An unmanned aerial solution could be incredible to create more safety and efficiency. We see a number of uses that could be enabled through UAS—if all the regulatory and operational layers existed.

Today, in 2019, LAWA is doing some reflection on what 2018 was for us. It was another record year. In the last five years at LAX, we’ve had over 20 million new passengers use our facility. That’s larger than many medium hub airports across the country. We had 87.5 million annual passengers in 2018—growth of about 3.5 percent. About 5 percent of that increase came from international travelers, and we know that the collective economic impact of those flights is very substantial—to the tune of billions of dollars.

Van Nuys Airport also had another record year, and one of its top years in terms of operations in the last five years, with over 263,000 operations. This is important because Van Nuys is one of the top general aviation and business aviation airports in the United States.

That still puts [LAX] at second in the country and fifth in the world in terms of passenger ranking. We continue to be the No. 1 origin and destination airport in the country, and recently, we were ranked No. 5 in the world for on-time performance. That’s a huge feat on such a constrained footprint. But we continue to make great progress in efficiency, whether by changing how you access the airport, the experience in the terminals, or the airfield tools that we use to create on-time performance.

I’ll share three of the tools that I’m excited about. First is our Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP) and the future Automated People Mover (APM) system. This is a quarter-mile APM system that is anchored in the terminal facilities, connected by three on-airport stations. Off-airport, it’s anchored both at the 405 with our brand new Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility (CONRAC)—one of the largest rental car facilities ever built—as well as, at long last, at the connection with our transit system through the Metro through its Airport Metro Connector.

Last year was very significant for us because these three major projects—the APM, the CONRAC, and our intermodal garages—were awarded without protest. That’s over $5 billion worth of projects to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain. These projects are creating a new way of delivering infrastructure in airports and in the industry.

Last year, we were also selected as an Innovation Airport by the TSA. You have seen and experienced some of this program, like that we have the highest number of automated screening lanes of all airports in the United States, or using your face as your boarding pass. We have piloted biometric boarding at our international gates; we boarded a 400-person A380 in less than 20 minutes.

Some of the most important things to airport passengers are wayfinding, food selection, and restrooms. We’re proud that last year, we got a shoutout from Jimmy Kimmel about our pilot of new, smart restroom technology.

The future ahead of us is so much more. It’s increasing our WiFi speeds. It’s piloting gate delivery—the ability to preorder food and beverages before you even reach the airport. And it’s also smart parking. This quarter, we will release an RFP to roll out comprehensive smart parking at all our parking facilities, finally bringing pay-on-foot, free booking, and all of the amenities one expects from a modern operation.

My Innovation Officer always says that WiFi is a bit like air to most people. I believe that in our future, these tools and innovations for the airport passenger will become commonplace as well.

Phillip Washington: LA Metro is on the cutting edge of innovative transportation technologies, in large part due to the Office of Extraordinary Innovation (OEI) that we set up when I first arrived here. Through the OEI, we have received more than 150 unsolicited proposals from the private sector, bringing us ideas for innovation.

One is the Aerial Rapid Transit system—the aerial gondola that will carry baseball fans from LA Union Station to Dodger Stadium. This project came to us through an unsolicited proposal; it is being worked on right now as a public-private partnership, and it will be funded exclusively by the private sector.

The OEI portfolio is changing daily, and we are really thinking out of the box. Right now, Metro is exploring a range of high-tech mobility innovations, including microtransit, Getaround, and Via.

We are designing a new, demand-responsive service to improve the user experience for our customers. This will be an on-call service—when riders want it and where they want it— connecting people and places to our existing system. Unlike a standard bus, this service will follow turn-by-turn instructions from a navigation system that uses live traffic conditions and real-time requests for pickups and drop-offs. The goal is to generate the most efficient shared ride possible for Metro customers. We’re partnering with the firms Ride Company, Nomad, Via, and Transdev on a data-driven design for new transit offerings.

Another transportation innovation we’re piloting is called Getaround. Car-sharing services have been around for a long time, but this is a unique approach to the traditional concept: using shared, personally owned vehicles rather than company-owned fleets. By employing this business model, the service does not add any new cars to the region’s congested roadways. It’s run by an app, and is covered by insurance as well. We’re piloting this at 27 high-demand Metro stations across LA County.

As an agency that serves the public, we work hard to make absolutely sure that LA Metro serves all of the public. Just today, January 28, 2019, we started a year-long pilot with our private partner Via. Via is a ride-hailing service designed for those who have been excluded from existing Transportation Network Company services, like Uber and Lyft.

Via accepts payment by credit, debit, or prepaid card—allowing passengers without smartphones or bank accounts to use it. There’s a call center with translation services, and riders who are registered with LA Metro’s low-income fare program can ride for free. Riders with TAP cards can ride for $1.75, which is our base fare, and riders without TAP cards can ride for $3.75. Via is also fully wheelchair accessible, with special vehicles able to easily accommodate those with disabilities. It’s an exciting partnership.

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Those are a few of the projects we are working on at LA Metro. Recently, we also made a recommendation to explore congestion pricing in various areas around the county. We’re not saying that there should be congestion pricing on every street in the county; we’re saying that we want a feasibility study to see which model makes sense, and where various models might make sense. We’ve also put forth the possibility of a free transit system for everyone in the county paid for through congestion pricing. Billions of miles are driven every year in the LA County area, so it could be a substantial revenue generator.

We must do something about the congestion in this county, or we’re going to be eaten alive by it. I’ve said that if done right, congestion pricing could reduce—if not eradicate—congestion in this county. That’s a big statement, but I really believe it. The challenge is that no one is really doing anything about this congestion that is eating us up. We must do something about it.

Steve Westly: In Silicon Valley, we are doing our darndest to reinvent the new world and solve the problems we’re talking about today. Let me give you a global tour of the problems we’re facing and the solutions we think are on the way.

There are two big problem areas we have to deal with. One big problem is that global pollution levels are going through the roof. Recently, the front page of the China South Daily News reported that merely living in the city of Beijing was the equivalent of smoking 52 cigarettes per day. If you have a baby, that baby is born with a 2.5-pack-a-day cigarette habit from day one.

Now, China is moving quickly to fix this. India, unfortunately, is moving the other direction and has now passed China in terms of pollution. The problems with congestion in Los Angeles pale—they are kindergarten—compared to Mexico City, Bangkok, Tehran, Quito, and countless other cities around the world, or darn near anyplace in China. This is a global problem.

Ponder this: Just 40 years ago, there were really only three megacities on the planet. One of the sharpest, most unerring trends in global history is the move toward cities. We’re heading toward 25 megacities now, and that will double again. This is the way of the world, and that puts more pressure on us to think beyond the horizon.

We need to think through what cities in the future will look like. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing in places like Mexico City and Lagos. It is not sustainable. The sheer magnitude of people squashed into small places—like in Chongqing, with 25 million people in one metropolitan area—cannot go on. That’s forcing us to get smart. We’re trying to figure out how to reimagine cities of the future and how to make places like Lagos, Chongqing, Mexico City, and other supercities around the globe sustainable.

My firm reviews about 1,200 different companies every year, or about four a day. We have people responsible for each sector, looking at the leading companies. I’m here to tell you that what’s changing all of this is three global trends coming together. One is the Internet of Things: Everything is getting intelligence. Second is the ability to have all the computing power in the world at your fingertips: Big data is changing everything. Finally is the concept of the sharing economy.

Those three things turn up in just about every one of the 1,200 companies we see every year, regardless of sector. And therein lies the solution to some of the most vexing problems before us: It is the rise of the smart city in every sector.

Let’s look at things we’re familiar with today and what they might look like later. First: When it comes to cross-city transport, public transportation is going to look completely different in the decades ahead. Subways are really expensive stuff, and the challenge is to reduce the cost of moving goods and services as much as possible.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, said recently that Uber has done something that no one else has been able to do: figured out how to move goods and people from Point A to Point B at $2.50 per mile. She also said that the new holy grail is going to be moving people and things at $1.50 per mile—and that GM plans to get there first by removing the driver from the equation with autonomous vehicles. That is the way the world is going.

I want to suggest that not only are we in the midst of a massive shift to all-electric vehicles—with every automaker in the world going all-electric now—but right behind it, we’re also moving to autonomous vehicles. Waymo, Google’s company, is putting over 62,000 AVs on the street over the next year, starting in Arizona (a relatively flat place with grid-like streets) and expanding from there.

This shift is also going to apply to first- and last-mile transport, like buses.  And we’re going to see a changing landscape for inter-city transport. Everybody is saying, “We’ve got to have the bullet train.” No, we don’t—that’s 50-year-old technology! We want something cleaner, faster, and cheaper—like a hyperloop, whether it’s Richard Branson’s or Elon Musk’s. That’s the way of the world.

Parking will be completely changed. The state of the art today is putting quarters into meters, or if you’re really lucky, going to a kiosk and then going back to your car to put a paper on your dashboard. That is all going away with sensor-driven parking.

In the future, we will see more last-mile delivery. Mailboxes have only been the way they are—about three feet off the ground—for about 100 years. It’s a function of the US Postal Service. Mailboxes in the future may be lower and geared toward accepting packages from above.

The big issue is: Who’s going to own cars in the future? Today, the average automobile is driven 3 percent of the day. That’s not sustainable. As we move to an autonomous ride-hailing world, they will be used 60-70 percent of the time. So who will own them? The auto companies are working overtime to make sure it’s them. Uber and Lyft are jumping into the game, and moving quickly. But I question that. I’m here to tell you that utilities have a pretty big balance sheet, they’re regulated, and they’re looking at this carefully. Municipalities could potentially become the owners of most vehicles.

There’s going to be a handshake between the public and the private sector for sure, with new models like Elon Musk’s Boring Company, which has a project opening up in 24 months in Chicago. If you’ve ever tried to get to O’Hare in Chicago, it takes an hour if you’re lucky; on the new Boring Company transport, it will be nine minutes.

Electric flying vehicles are coming now. You can buy one today for $300,000 from a company in China called EHANG. Norway has already passed legislation saying that any commercial flight of less than one hour is mandated to use an electric commercial passenger vehicle. They’re not only requiring their cars to be electric, but their passenger planes as well.

We’re creating a whole new world.

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.