The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) will explore sustainability and equity in mobility at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars (MBS) in 2021. We recently asked CAR’s CEO, Carla Bailo, a series of questions about the critical role the automotive industry can play in increasing equity in our communities and society through mobility initiatives.
Why is mobility a critical factor in creating more equity in communities? And, why should the automotive industry care?
Carla – Mobility provides ladders of opportunity for health care, education, and jobs. Meeting these needs is the backbone of any economy, and the cost of not providing mobility for these key elements is higher than the cost to provide it. The positive economic outcome of meeting these needs is often difficult to explain with typical economics, including intrinsic numbers, but this equation utilizes intrinsic and extrinsic numbers. For example, a healthy resident means reduced health care, better school learning, and less absenteeism. A healthy population bodes well for any municipality in the long run, but it is hard to prove on a short-term basis. We need to think in much longer terms than the typical span, which is the length of our elected officials. The auto industry is part of every community in some way and can play a considerable role in promoting equity for ladders of opportunity. The industry is struggling with workforce issues today, which will only be exacerbated if they don’t promote education and employment in affordable terms. Other organizations will start to provide mobility solutions for those who can’t afford to purchase or lease a vehicle. They will likely win in the world of transit equity unless the automotive industry truly finds affordable solutions for all. Nobody is better poised to do this than the automotives.
What role can employers play in building a more equitable future in transportation? Will work from home (WFH) play a role in this?
Carla – Many employers globally make transit a part of an employment package. Although this seems quite costly, the cost of not doing this in terms of re-hiring and re-training can’t be overemphasized. Today, there are many ideas in the marketplace, including incentives for ride sharing of personal vehicles, incentivizing bicycle or mass transit, and more. If work from home continues post-pandemic at the rates currently predicted, mobility may become a moot point for certain jobs. Employees can work from anywhere and not have to commute at all. However, this is not true for some positions such as manufacturing, health care, and more. Employers need to know where their staff are commuting from and see where it makes sense to provide options rather than personal vehicles.
What role can startups play in efforts towards centering equity on mobility initiatives? Who’s doing it right?
Carla – As I already mentioned, there are mobility service companies already starting to provide alternatives to vehicle ownership. These include RideCell, Via, and Hytch, to name a few. Each of these is slightly different in terms of types of solutions, but all provide incentives and/or relatively cheap mobility.
Why are sustainable cities important for achieving a more equitable future? How do sustainability efforts impact disadvantaged communities?
Carla – We have to look at what sustainability means and broaden our definition. Often, people understand sustainability in terms of a circular economy. But, this is short-sighted. Sustainability provides economic opportunity and resilience. It provides a community where people want to live, and companies want to locate. Underserved communities are often located where the most food deserts, health care deserts, and job deserts exist. These people are the least able to afford mobility to obtain these services. Mobility doesn’t always mean getting people OUT to obtain, but it should mean bringing these services to the communities. When there is opportunity for all citizens, the community as a whole will thrive. Just imagine if every community in a city or city in a state was productive and attracting business and residents. This outcome is an unbeatable economic engine.
Many mobility services that often benefit disadvantaged communities were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (public transportation, ride-sharing); where are we now? What lessons could we learn from this?
Carla – We learned how vital public transit is to our communities, and we need to make it more resilient. Rather than quickly finding ways to keep our buses and subways moving, we shut them down. PPE, filtration, and hands-free payment solutions took too long in our public transit systems. Compared to private businesses who quickly managed PPE, social distancing, digital solutions, the public systems moved at a snail’s pace. This pace tells us that government moves entirely too slow, and pivot needs to be expanded in government sectors.
By the way, public transit is now nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Ridesharing is back at 75%.
What role does policy play in using autonomous systems to benefit disadvantaged communities? Will we see more highly automated vehicles (HAVs) used for equity initiatives before they are readily available to the average consumer?
Carla – HAVs will be primarily utilized to deliver goods faster, and then people will be comfortable with engaging in more situations. Trust is key whether the user is disadvantaged or not. I often say and honestly believe that HAVs should first be used for those who lost or never could drive…we need to get the quality of life equal for all, and HAVs will be a significant enabler for this. HAVs aren’t just for convenience but for quality of life. Ride-sharing services will utilize HAVs in great numbers before the average consumer (if the average consumer ever considers the purchase of an HAV), as these services can virtually eliminate downtime. This elimination by delivery and ride-sharing services offsets the cost of these systems much faster than other uses. We need to be very careful about policy for HAVs to avoid unintended consequences, which could mean up to 150% more congestion. If we don’t layout our roadways properly or think about managing the “empty” HAVs, we could have full and empty HAVs basically at a standstill on our roadways. Another thought to consider is the timing of deliveries, etc. There is no reason deliveries need to be made during the day to most businesses – let’s deliver and stock at night and manage the “flow” of our transit system.
What role does public perception play in using autonomous systems for a more equitable future? How can companies change disadvantaged communities’ perception of autonomous systems? Will they need more education than the average consumer?
Carla – Trust is paramount for autonomous vehicles. But, before we start educating about autonomous vehicles, we need to start with electric vehicles. The industry has done a great job of getting the cost of EVs down and bringing out excellent technology and performance. BUT, the industry needs to concentrate on educating the consumer about how these products can easily fit into their lives. The total cost of ownership needs to be explained and stressed. In terms of disadvantaged communities, again, let’s start with EVs. Underprivileged communities often are those with some of the worst air quality, and the health benefits of reduced emissions for the citizens of these communities can’t be stressed enough. Let’s start there and then move to autonomy. However, first, companies need to listen to the citizens about their pain points, and as each community requires a “custom” solution. There is no “one size fits all” in the work of mobility and equity.
Electric vehicles are currently priced out of the range of the average American; how can Government incentives make EVs more accessible for all as we work towards a sustainable future?
Carla – Well, this is the question of the day for our current government who is working so hard to generate incentives. The current incentives are helping the purchase of EVs, but the vast majority of citizens benefiting are in the income range of those that don’t need the support. There is no easy solution, but these factors should be considered: 1) Price of the EV (perhaps those over xxK, should receive no incentive or there should be a graduated incentive); 2) Income level of the buyer (those over XX household income should receive no incentive or graduated incentive); 3) Infrastructure readiness – those without an excellent statewide infrastructure should be considered to receive support for their home charging and companies should receive support for workplace charging. Beyond these incentives for personal buyers, incentives for companies to build batteries, battery components, conduct battery research, and/or facilitated battery recycling should be pondered. This list is far from comprehensive but would be a start in the right direction.
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