Will automated vehicles help or hinder us?

Will automated vehicles help or hinder us?

  • first mile
  • car pooling
  • ride share
  • autonomous vehicles
  • rethink
  • last mile
  • uber
  • lyft
  • self-driving cars

In addition to grappling with the rise of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, cities will soon face the challenge of self-driving or autonomous vehicles. The role of cars for everyday transportation has already begun to change and we are fast approaching a radically transformative turning point.


Some people consider self-driving cars as the panacea to our congested streets and highways, while others fear the new technology will cannibalize the existing mass transit investments. But there is opportunity in this impending vehicle revolution, particularly if we can create a seamless, integrated system using new types of vehicles to fill existing transit gaps, like addressing the ‘last mile’ issue.  

What is the ‘last mile’?

The last mile refers to how to get someone from their final transit stop to their final destination. Conversely, the ‘first mile’ refers to the transportation gap between a person’s home (generally in a lower-density residential area) and the nearby transit hub - a gap that we envision self-driving cars could fill. Addressing the ‘first mile’ issue would have a profound impact on the transportation network, particularly in the suburbs.

City-dwellers often have the luxury of foregoing car ownership because they have a multitude of other transportation options: subways, buses, streetcars, bikes and walking. Suburban residents, however, are generally more reliant on costly car ownership and without access to their own vehicle, getting to and from work or school becomes a major issue. So, suburbanites drive. But what if a fleet of automated vehicles, that enabled people to get to and from a local transportation hub (e.g. a commuter rail line) without owning a vehicle, was available? This opens a whole new world of opportunity.

"City-dwellers often have the luxury of foregoing car ownership because they have a multitude of other transportation options"

Automated car services could also be used for running errands like grocery shopping or transporting children to school. Now, suburban areas become car-optional rather than car-dominant. This would mean fewer people driving, fewer cars on the road, greater access to transportation, more efficient use of existing transit infrastructure, and increasing economic opportunity for suburban residents.  

We envision that smarter, more efficient vehicles can become an asset of a well-functioning public transit system, as opposed to a competitor. But it requires careful, thoughtful planning; otherwise we run the risk of weakening existing mass transit and missing out on the opportunity to build a more equitable and sustainable society. Our vision is just one of many ways that cars can continue to play a positive role in the future of cities, including New York. What’s yours?

Please share your comments - we’d love to hear your thoughts!


-- Jim

Jim Venturi is the founder and prin­ci­pal designer of ReThink Studio and ReThinkNYC - a comprehensive plan to expand New York City's "car-optional" region beyond Manhattan by unifying and reconfiguring the City and the region's disparate transportation systems into a single functioning network serving the greater NYC area. 


Feature Image taken from GRAPHICAARTIS/GETTY

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