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Level 4 AVs as a transit solution: It takes balance

AVs stand to become a unique long-term transit solution for cities looking to fill the gaps in labor and/or reach

A May Mobility vehicle drives along a tree-lined road in Grand Rapids, Minnesota

by Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Strategy Analyst, May Mobility

The biggest promises of autonomous vehicles (AVs) —cleaner mobility, more access, less infrastructure– won’t come to fruition simply because a vehicle can drive itself. That is why we love to partner with transit agencies. They are focused on optimizing shared mobility, creating access for people throughout their community, and tackling climate change!

But here in the U.S., few people live close enough to high-frequency buses for them to become regular transit users. To be truly useful to most people, we need transit systems that have high access, convenience, and frequency for many more people. That’s a great goal, which many transit agencies are striving toward. Unfortunately, many agencies are also hamstrung due to high costs, levels of funding, and challenges in finding drivers.

Transit challenges

Public transit improves mobility and access within cities, but it is increasingly difficult for transit authorities to meet the various needs of those they are trying to serve. For example, more dense and populous areas typically have transit options with better speed and frequency, whereas the cost of serving low-density areas results in a drop in quality and frequency of transit services. As metropolitan areas grow and spread out, it gets harder and harder to run high-quality transit. Both high- and low-density areas need transit but it can be difficult to find the right balance to serve both adequately.

And, there are new challenges: transit agencies are experiencing significant labor shortages that are impacting service reliability. Thirty percent of transit professionals reported that their vehicle operator rosters are “severely understaffed” at two-thirds capacity or under. And more than 70 percent of transit agencies report canceled or delayed services because of being understaffed, often in low-density areas. There are no easy solutions, and it is likely that transit agencies will see enduring labor shortages, and/or a need for significantly higher budgets.

And this is where AVs stand to become a unique long-term transit solution for cities looking to fill the gaps in labor and/or reach in areas where buses struggle.

So…where do autonomous vehicles fit in?

We at May Mobility are so excited about autonomous vehicles. Sure, it’s amazing tech, but, even better is that our AVs can help transit agencies bring more access to more places. We make it easier to develop extensive, useful, affordable networks. On-demand AVs cannot, and should not, become the entire transit system, but AVs are key to helping communities make the big mode shifts.

Microtransit has already started to make a dent in the hard-to-serve, lower densities, but it’s challenging to justify the cost of the driver and the inadequate productivity service (up to 6 riders an hour) versus a decent bus route (10+ riders an hour). A Level 4 autonomous vehicle fleet, owned by the transit agency, will lower the operating costs and unlock ample opportunities to add extensive zones of microtransit in the edges and neighborhoods of the community that don’t make sense for a bus. Our AV microtransit solution can connect riders to a larger Mobility as a Service (MaaS) network.

Shared autonomous vehicles help strike a balance that allows community members to select the best mobility option for their needs that day. Working together, we can help people break up with personal cars as the singular tool, and put walking, biking and transit into better balance. And, instead of 1.2 vehicles per driver in the U.S., MaaS can get us to 1 vehicle for every 8-10 people–fundamentally changing how we use energy, space and resources.

Mobility as a Service

A robust and diverse MaaS system that includes AVs, buses, bikes and trains has the potential to emerge as the first serious competitor to personally-owned automobiles over the last 80 years. A personally owned vehicle will no longer be a prerequisite for the “good life.” More people, especially those who cannot afford or are unable to operate a vehicle, will have better access to opportunity and the ability to meet life's needs efficiently and effectively.

We all win when we can get most of our trips done without our own car. Contact us and let’s allow Level 4 AVs to change how we move, together.

A photo of May Mobility team member Sarah Gryniewicz

About the Author

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz is a senior strategy analyst at May Mobility. She focuses on how autonomous vehicles can complement Public Transportation and achieve an equitable and sustainable mobility environment for all members of society. Sarah worked for several years in public transit Southeastern Michigan in strategy leadership, organizational development, and community engagement. Through her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin, West Africa, she became passionate about infrastructure and “community of place.” She has a BA in History and Economics from the University of Michigan and a Masters of Regional Planning from Cornell University.

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