What is our plan for zero-occupancy vehicles?

This opinion piece was written by Carma’s Chief Product Officer and initially appeared in Fast Company.


In the transportation world, there has always been consensus that there is nothing worse than the single-occupancy vehicle. But there soon could be.

A common techno-utopian vision of the near-future city is one where automated vehicles come when called and whisk you to your destination, as you sit, relaxed and untroubled by traffic. But consider the opposite vision, that gridlock will be made worse by autonomous vehicles, which will spend much of their time driving around the city with no passengers. There is simply nothing about a vehicle being autonomous that makes it more likely to achieve higher occupancy. In fact, the current trajectory of AV deployment roadmaps and our transportation policy response ensures its average occupancy will be lower.

Car occupancy has always been pretty stable, with an average of 1.1 occupants at peak travel times. Outside of a limited number of areas where there are high-occupancy vehicles lanes or toll discounts, little effort has been made to incentivize a behavioral change. A small upward change of average vehicle occupancy (to, say, 1.2 or 1.3) would completely eradicate traffic congestion in our cities. Similarly, a small downward change (say 1.0 or 0.9) will be devastating.

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Now consider our driverless utopia: a fleet of cars that we can summon at the touch of a button. Consider that these cars will be empty most of the time –repositioning, waiting, traveling on deadhead return trips. Consider that travel demand spikes predictably two times per day, that cars are idle 95% of the time, and that most people live in suburbs or exurbs. How do empty AVs sitting in traffic impact our largest transportation problem? They make it much worse. Faith in driving pattern algorithms alone reducing traffic is misplaced given the relative sensitivity of congestion to occupancy versus to driving skill. And so a correction of priorities is required.

LEVEL 5 IS THE WRONG DESTINATION

Today the dominant framework for understanding the development of AVs is what’s called the SAE Levels of Automation. It has been wholeheartedly adopted by everyone from auto companies to the highest levels of transportation authorities, including the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). It is a staple of almost every presentation you will see on AVs. And level 5 autonomy is presented in our media as the pinnacle of disruptive mobility ,  as though we are more likely to carpool simply because a car is autonomous.

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However, it’s important to note that SAE stands for the Society of Automobile Engineers. The prism through which we view the development of autonomous mobility is an engineering framework. It simply describes a roadmap for the technical features of a vehicle, as they progress through stages of development. Its relevance is limited to auto company development teams and their competitive positioning, not to transportation authorities and their planning priorities.

We already have a long-standing hierarchy with which to guide our transportation planning decisions. It prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists over transit, which it in turn prioritizes over cars. The SOV sits appropriately on the bottom rung. And yet now our traditional frameworks and rules are being bypassed in an attempt to accelerate the introduction of autonomous mobility. AVs are not discussed in relation to their level in a hierarchy. This risks diverting our focus from planning a smart, efficient transportation ecosystem.

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Governments today compete over deregulation measures for AV deployments, creating an express lane for the SAE vision. USDOT’s latest policy document, now a “de facto global standard”for AV deployments, has prioritized modernizing or eliminating “outdated regulations that unnecessarily impede the development of automated vehicles.” It describes “voluntary technical standards” and “voluntary guidance,” as well as an AV “exemption process” from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. USDOT’s new Nontraditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council further aims to cut any red tape that may impede AV deployments.

All this is part of an understandable step toward enabling technological advancement, but it is a huge mistake to omit a strengthening of core transportation planning principles. While USDOT briefly acknowledges this risk in its voluntary guidance for state and local governments to “consider the potential for increased congestion, and how it might be managed,” it is negligent in applying traditional measures for mitigating this risk. Federally funded transit or vanpool projects, for example, are required to regularly submit NTD reports on performance, including vehicle occupancy.

REINVENTING THE PYRAMID

And so we risk a transportation system that elevates AVs, including those with zero occupants, to the tippy-top of our planning hierarchy. AV manufacturers are accelerating toward this goal, as evident in our vehicle-centered connected infrastructure terminology such as “vehicle-to-everything” and a vehicle “green wave.” To avoid a likely negative impact on traffic congestion, transportation planners should commit to a renewed emphasis on occupancy-based planning for all modes, new and old – a re-affirmation, rather than an-upending, of the existing rules of the game.

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There is simply no excuse today for not enforcing occupancy-based performance measures for all transportation modes, including AV deployments. A vehicle with zero occupants should not be treated the same as a vehicle with one occupant, or two occupants, regardless of its level of automation. The existence of reliable consumer technology for verifying occupancy means that there is no longer any excuse for federally sponsored AV deployments to be exempt from reporting on occupancy. Such a course correction will result in new opportunities for local and state agencies to safeguard and improve the performance of their road networks, and for auto companies to fully participate in solving the problem of traffic congestion.

GoCarma Featured in Latest Issue of Traffic Technology International

GoCarma is featured in the latest issue of Traffic Technology International, in an article entitled “Are HOT frauds laughing at you?”.

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High-occupancy vehicle and toll (HOV and HOT) lanes are designed to reward passenger-carrying drivers with faster journey times and discounts. But cheating is rife. Paul Willis looks at the enforcement solutions authorities can use to fight back, from manual checks to automated cameras and the latest in smartphone-based systems.

Read the full article here.


GoCarma is a smartphone app that automatically detects and reports its presence in a registered vehicle. With GoCarma, road users opt in to verify their vehicle occupancy so as to earn HOV toll discounts. Unlike traditional enforcement solutions, GoCarma does not attempt to count the number of people inside cars passing at high speeds. GoCarma’s approach more successfully verifies HOVs, identifies violators and preserves road user privacy. For more information, please contact sales@gocarma.com.

A Course Correction for Autonomous Mobility

In the transportation world, there has always been consensus that there is nothing worse than the Single-Occupancy Vehicle (SOV). Well, now there is.


The Arrival of the Zero Occupancy Vehicle

Afew years ago I wrote an article about the Zero Occupancy Vehicle (ZOV) — how gridlock will be augmented by empty autonomous vehicles (AVs). There is simply nothing about a vehicle being autonomous that makes it more likely to achieve higher occupancy. In fact, the current trajectory of AV deployment roadmaps and our transportation policy response ensures its average occupancy will be lower.


Why Occupancy Matters

Car occupancy has always been pretty stable, with an average of 1.1 occupants at peak travel times. Outside of a limited number of areas where there are high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes or toll discounts, little effort has been made to incentivize a behavioral change. A small upward change of average vehicle occupancy (say 1.2 or 1.3) would completely eradicate traffic congestion in our cities. Similarly, a small downward change (say 1.0 or 0.9) will be devastating.

Vehicle throughput versus person throughput

Now consider our driverless utopia — a fleet of cars that we can summon at the touch of a button. Consider that these cars will be empty most of the time — repositioning, waiting, traveling on deadhead return trips. Consider that travel demand spikes predictably 2 times per day, that cars are idle 95% of the time, and that most people live in suburbs or exurbs. How do empty AVs sitting in traffic impact our largest transportation problem? They make it much worse. Faith in driving pattern algorithms alone reducing traffic is misplaced given the relative sensitivity of congestion to occupancy versus to driving skill. And so a correction of priorities is required.


Level 5 is the Wrong Destination

Today the dominant framework for understanding the development of AVs is the SAE Levels of Automation. It has been wholeheartedly adopted by everyone from auto companies to the highest levels of transportation authorities, including the US Department of Transportation (USDOT). It is a staple of almost every presentation you will see on AVs. And level 5 autonomy is presented in our media as the pinnacle of disruptive mobility — as though we are more likely to carpool simply because a car is autonomous.

SAE Levels of Automation

However, it’s important to note that SAE stands for the Society of Automobile Engineers. The prism through which we view the development of autonomous mobility is an engineering framework. It simply describes a roadmap for the technical features of a vehicle, as they progress through stages of development. Its relevance is limited to auto company development teams and their competitive positioning, not to transportation authorities and their planning priorities.

We already have a long-standing hierarchy with which to guide our transportation planning decisions. It prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists over transit, which it in turn prioritizes over cars. The SOV sits appropriately on the bottom rung. And yet now our traditional frameworks and rules are being bypassed in an attempt to accelerate the introduction of autonomous mobility. AVs are not discussed in relation to their level in a hierarchy. This risks diverting our focus from planning a smart, efficient transportation ecosystem.

Which way to intelligent autonomous mobility?


A Crossroads for Transportation Authorities

Governments today compete over deregulation measures for AV deployments, creating an express lane for the SAE vision. USDOT’s latest policy document, now a “de facto global standard” for AV deployments, has prioritized modernizing or eliminating “outdated regulations that unnecessarily impede the development of automated vehicles”. It describes “voluntary technical standards” and “voluntary guidance”, as well as an AV “exemption process” from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. USDOT’s new Nontraditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council furtheraims to cut any red tape that may impede AV deployments.

All this is part of an understandable step towards enabling technological advancement, but it is a huge mistake to omit a strengthening of core transportation planning principles. While USDOT briefly acknowledges this risk in its voluntary guidance for state and local governments to “consider the potential for increased congestion, and how it might be managed”, it is negligent in applying traditional measures for mitigating this risk. Federally-funded transit or vanpool projects, for example, are required to regularly submit NTD reports on performance, including vehicle occupancy.


Reinventing the Pyramid

And so we risk a transportation system that elevates AVs, including those with zero occupants, to the tippy-top of our planning hierarchy. AV manufacturers are accelerating towards this goal, as evident in our vehicle-centered connected infrastructure terminology such as “vehicle-to-everything (V2X)” and a vehicle “green wave”. To avoid a likely negative impact on traffic congestion, transportation planners should commit to a renewed emphasis on occupancy-based planning for all modes, new and old — a re-affirmation, rather than an-upending, of the existing rules of the game.

Extending the transportation hierarchy.

There is simply no excuse today for not enforcing occupancy-based performance measures for all transportation modes, including AV deployments. A vehicle with zero occupants should not be treated the same as a vehicle with one occupant, or two occupants, regardless of its level of automation. The existence of reliable consumer technology for verifying occupancy means that there is no longer any excuse for federally sponsored AV deployments to be exempt from reporting on occupancy. Such a course correction will result in new opportunities for local and state agencies to safeguard and improve the performance of their road networks, and for auto companies to fully participate in solving the problem of traffic congestion.


10 Policy Changes for a Better Climate

A multi-agency government report released last week provides a stark reminder about the impact climate change will have on the global economy. That report signaled that unless immediate steps are taken, the impacts of climate change could reduce GDP by as much as 10%, or twice that of the 2008 recession. The report outlines not only the far-reaching impacts on our economy, but also how climate change will impact our health, transportation system, and military capabilities.

This report follows the publication last month of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, with its stark description of a rapid acceleration in global warming and the urgent need for emissions to reach net zero.

Transportation remains the single largest greenhouse gas (GHG) polluter, responsible for 28.5% of all emissions in the United States (EPA, 2016). Making our transportation system more efficient will not only aid the climate, but it will also improve the transportation system, reduce congestion, and enhance our quality of life.

While steps are being taken to make transportation cleaner, there are actions policy makers need to take to begin reducing GHG emissions immediately.  

Here are 10 policies lawmakers should implement

Reduce GHG emissions by increasing average vehicle occupancy - Incentivizing carpooling and vanpooling will increase average vehicle occupancy. Fewer cars on the roads means less GHG being emitted, it also means less congestion which benefits everyone. Policy makers should expand regional vanpool programs and create incentive programs that reward commuters who carpool

1. Municipal governments with tolled or priced facilities should provide preferential pricing for verified carpools.

2. Cities that do not have tolled or priced facilities should consider implementing a rewards program that financially (or otherwise) rewards individuals who carpool or vanpool to work.

Make sure autonomous doesn't mean empty

3. Initiate a verification system which requires autonomous vehicle operators to periodically report on average vehicle occupancy. As policy makers look to move away from a gas tax and towards a vehicle miles travelled tax, the policy should incentivize higher occupancy and deter vehicles with zero or one passenger.

Integrate and enhance transit operations with shared services such as bikeshare, carshare, and other shared mobility options.

4. Creating integrated and multimodal networks will provide people with options other than driving alone. Numerous studies have shown that access to carshare, bikeshare, and other mobility-on-demand services, coupled with transit, leads to reduced driving.

Price transportation – reward high occupancy vehicles

5. Pricing is a critical tool that can impact transportation usage. Integrating pricing strategies that reward high occupancy vehicles will encourage shared rides and reduce the burden placed on the transit system.

Work with Employers

6. How and when people commute to work can be influenced by employers. Employers should be provided with the tools and resources to encourage non-solo commutes. A number of policies and resources should be provided to employers including

a. Telework resources and training

b. Transit benefit ordinances and tools

c. Incentives to encourage non-solo commutes

d. On-site information for employees to choose the best way to travel

Electrify

7. Continue to build out electric infrastructure and incentivize developers, employers, and even gas stations to include recharging facilities for electric vehicles.

8. Continue to expand tax incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles including in fleet operations.

Land-Use and Parking

9. Reduce parking limits and instead reward developers for integrating multi-modal transportation options such as carshare, bikeshare, transit, and other services that get drivers out of a car.

Work with the private sector

10. Work collaboratively with companies that can provide solutions to congestion and improved transportation. Create procurements that look to solve problems, not purchase products.

These 10 policies and solutions are common sense steps that any municipal governments can take to make an impact.  

Carma app, detect passengers for automatic HOV-lane toll refunds

Drivers in North Texas could soon use an app to qualify for HOV lanes and receive a toll refund.

Using a system called VeriRide, the Carma app automatically counts each person in a vehicle who has the app downloaded on his or her phone as an occupant when traveling the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on toll roads.

“Current methods of manual enforcement are unsafe, contribute to network degradation  and erode public trust in lanes that are intended be premium lanes that serve as a faster alternative to general purpose lanes,” says Carma’s website. “Carma’s VeriRide technology removes the high risk of road side enforcement and changes the focus from enforcement to verification in the most intuitive hands-off way that technology allows.”

Click here to read the full article.

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HOV rewards considered on Dallas-Fort Worth tolled lanes

ARLINGTON — A radical change is coming for North Texas drivers who rely on high-occupancy-vehicle discounts.

Currently, drivers with TollTags can register their cars as high-occupancy vehicles, which gives them a 50-percent discount on the region's tolled express lanes and makes LBJ East toll express lanes free. About 2 million vehicles use the discount annually.

The new rewards program will eliminate that upfront discount. Instead, drivers will receive the same savings in the form of an e-credit, Visa prepaid cards, cash or direct deposit.

Read the full article here.

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New Toll Road Idea A ‘Game-Changer’ Say Transportation Leaders

HURST, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – An app that automatically detects how many people are in one vehicle, could help more drivers take advantage of discounted toll rates for high occupancy vehicles North Texas highways.

The technology would also eliminate the need for police enforcement of HOV violators.

It could roll out in early 2019 for toll roads in North Texas, and TxDOT is watching the program to see if it could be implemented statewide.

Read the full article here.

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Carma and Toyota Double Car Occupancy

Carma and Toyota Double Car Occupancy

PLANO, TX (Nov. 13, 2018) – Carma Technology Corporation and Toyota Motors North America are successfully concluding a pilot demonstration of traffic-busting technology that provided shared transportation services for team members at Toyota’s North American headquarters in Plano. The pilot focuses on measuring and growing car occupancy rates, thereby reducing impact on local traffic congestion, air pollution and parking demand.

Carpooling Co-Workers Simplify Their Commute

In honor of National Simplify Your Life week, our Carma team is spending time at the Toyota Motors North America headquarters in order to help more of their team members take a step towards simplifying the way they get to work.

Carma Share commuters say sharing the ride with Carma helps them save time, money and aggravation. And with 29 easy-access departure locations, Carma’s all-inclusive commute service offers many other noteworthy benefits:  

  • In-app registration, license verification and booking
  • Tolls, gas, insurance and maintenance are all included
  • A friendly voice on the phone to assist commuters during any step along the way—from registration to locking the car
  • Premium parking in all four Toyota garages
  • Predictable work schedule leading to increased work/life balance
  • Guaranteed ride home in case of emergency or late meetings
  • Networking and meeting other team members who live in the same communities
  • Midday vehicles available for lunches and appointments during the work day through Carma Errand

Life is full of challenges. At Carma, we don’t believe your commute has to be one of them. 

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