News: Self-driving buses: the future of public transportation?

News: Self-driving buses: the future of public transportation?

Your Personal Ride To the Future

More than 200 years since local public transportation appeared in European and American cities, its basic idea looks and functions pretty much the same as when it started. In most cities, trains and buses are still the primary forms of public transportation.

The French company Navya thinks they have an answer that looks different—and the answer is named Arma. Recently brought to the streets of Las Vegas, the small oval-shaped shuttle has a human attendant, but no steering wheel or brake pedal.

Using GPS, electronic curb sensors and additional technology, the Arma doesn’t need lane lines to make its way along busy Fremont Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and Eighth Street — right in the thick of regular traffic.

Not Speedy, But Neither Is Anyone Else

Navya autonomous bus

This French bus drives itself

Arma holds 12 passengers, and can reach a top speed of 27 mph. However, it will only “speed” up to 12 mph during a two-week test period, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

The vehicle has a range of about 90 miles for each electric charge and takes about five to eight hours to recharge.

Since first testing the Arma in France in late 2015, Navya vehicles have transported more than 100,000 people, and the fleet has grown to 30 and is in use in seven countries around the world, including the United States.

The U.S. Option

Navya is not the only company pioneering the future of public transportation. American company, Local Motors, showcased its self-driving bus, Olli, on the streets of Washington, DC in June of 2016.

Similar to Arma, Olli is a small, oval-shaped, fully electric and autonomous shuttle. Unlike Arma, however, the only attendant you will find in Olli is its integrated IBM Watson cloud-based cognitive computing system.

Local Motors Olli

Well, hello, Olli

Watson’s main function is to analyze and learn from high volumes of transportation data produced by more than 30 sensors embedded throughout the vehicle. Olli’s main party piece, however, is the integration of Watson into the user experience.

Much like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, Watson can understand and respond to passengers’ questions as they enter the vehicle, including questions about destinations (“Olli, can you take me downtown?”) or specific vehicle functions (“How does this feature work?” or even “Are we there yet?”).

After its successful first launch in early 2016, Local Motors plans to bring Olli to more cities around the U.S. in the near future. One unique feature of Olli is that it is designed to be produced locally with the majority of the vehicle created via 3D printing.

As start-ups and tech companies race to find the future of transportation, it sometimes seems as though innovation is pushed simply for the sake of innovation.

Are self-driving shuttles like Arma and Olli the future of public transportation, or are they simply a stepping stone to the next big thing? Only time will tell.

You Can Make a Difference – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

You Can Make a Difference – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

By John Addison

Excerpt from the Prologue of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.

You Can Make a Difference

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead

You can make a difference. Save Gas, Save the Planet tells the story of two new types of heroes: the “car-light” and the “car-free.” The car-light are the people who have dramatically reduced their gas usage, thereby helping save the planet and increasing their bank accounts. The car-light includes those that drive less, do not always drive solo, and use vehicles that get over 40 miles per gallon. The car-free are the millions of people who do not own a car. They prefer to use public transit, car sharing, bicycles, and walking.

The first chapters of Save Gas, Save the Planet will help you consider what you want in your next car. You may already have one fuel-efficient vehicle. You are debating whether the other vehicle should be replaced with a hybrid, a diesel, a flexfuel vehicle running on ethanol, or possibly a zero-emission alternative. These chapters describe the clean vehicles being driven today including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, biofuel vehicles, electric vehicles, and hydrogen vehicles. Issues are clarified. Myths are dispelled, including ones that suggest that these technologies are in the distant future.

You will find a number of ideas for improving your lifestyle in the middle chapters of Save Gas, Save the Planet. Millions reduce driving by participating in flexible work programs. People commute together and share rides. Many employers pay for these commute programs. There are many ways to reduce miles and improve fuel economy with your current car.

Each chapter concludes with suggested action that you can take as an individual and steps you can take to help save the planet. Your actions and your words will influence more people than you expect. Supported with the facts and examples in the pages that follow, you may inspire children, sway friends, and improve employer commute programs. You might even persuade your community to improve transportation.

Some of the 94 solutions contained in Save Gas, Save the Planet are free and simple. Other solutions require more thoughtful approaches to work, commuting, sharing vehicles, or making the best choice when buying a new vehicle. You may gain free hours and reduce stress by participating in flexible work programs, using a home office, and replacing some drives with bike rides and walks. None of these are all-or-nothing ideas. Consider realistic improvements for yourself, your family, your friends, and your community.

Be inspired by how people are living better and making a difference. Enjoy the journey.

Visit Amazon for free look inside or discount on paperback and kindle ebook.

© 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.

Transportation 2.0 – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

Transportation 2.0 – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

By John Addison

Excerpt from the Prologue of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.

Transportation 2.0

During the next 20 years we will witness a major shift from vehicles that are mostly mechanical to vehicles that are primarily electronic. The success of hybrids heralds this new era. Electric motors are replacing internal combustion engines. In the parlance of technology, we could call this Car 2.0.

The transition to Car 2.0 is complicated. Current batteries are not sufficient for all vehicle uses. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel cells will compete in extending the range and performance of vehicles with electric drive systems. The engines in these vehicles will be next generation biofuels blended with petroleum fuels.

Slowly but surely, electricity will replace most petroleum fuel. The source of the electricity is in transition as renewable energy replaces coal-powered generation of electricity. A smart grid will increasingly deliver solar and wind power from remote locations to the hearts of our cities.

We are also witnessing more than Car 2.0; we see the beginnings of Transportation 2.0. In 2008, use of rail and public transit set records as Americans drove 100 billion less miles than in 2007. Modern cities use electric powered light-rail. In the future much of those cities will be connected with the electric-powered high-speed rail that is common in Europe and parts of Asia.

Five million new jobs can easily be created in building electric vehicles, expanding public transportation, connecting our great nation with high-speed rail, installing solar power, wind power, other renewable energy, and building a network with smart grids. To create these jobs, however, a smaller number of jobs will be lost as fewer low-mileage vehicles are built, as electric components replace mechanical, and as renewables replace fossil fuel.

More will be required than the $17 billion provided at the end of 2008; needed is vision and a will to change. The transition to Transportation 2.0 will not be smooth; it will not be pretty. Some corporations, jobholders, and special interests tied to old paradigms will continue to fight change and continue to sue states that try to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, this will be a squandered opportunity for those corporations to be global leaders and to be job creators.

As this book goes to press, the auto industry is in a great transition. The future will be bright for those that seize the opportunity to lead in Transportation 2.0. Because automakers are financially challenged, some of the new vehicles, which are discussed, will not come to market. Some will not make it into production. Yet many exciting new vehicles will be in your immediate future. The solutions are here. They are described in the chapters that follow.

Visit Amazon for free look inside or discount on paperback and kindle ebook.

© 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.

Ten Reasons for drop in Car Ownership

Ten Reasons for drop in Car Ownership

Smartphone map app

U.S. Car Ownership Drops by 3.5 Million in 2009

In the United States, we embarrassingly have more vehicles than people with driver’s licenses. We have 246 million vehicles. AAA estimates that it costs $8,000 per year for each car owned, which creates a financial burden on cash-strapped Americans.

To the rescue are 10 positive trends that helped Americans scrap 14 million cars in 2009, while only buying 10.5 million new ones. The 2009 drop was the only large decline in the past 50 years shows the U.S. Department of Transportation.

1.    Urban Density. For the first time, most Americans live in urban areas where they need fewer cars, have better public transit, can share cars, and accomplish more trips with walking.

2.   Public Transit. Americans made 11 billion trips on U.S. transit in 2008, a 50-year record. Use dropped only slightly despite transit operators being forced to cut some routes and remove buses as the recession drove down local sales tax revenues needed for public transit.

3.    Smart Growth. Community and regional planners are making cities vibrant, with work, services, and play close at hand. Portland, Oregon, is a role model in creating urban density and great public transportation. California with SB375 is requiring regional plans that integrate development, transportation, and greenhouse gas reduction.

4.    One Car Households. The average suburban U.S. household has two vehicles. Some more. The average urban U.S. household has one vehicle. More American families and roommates are going from three cars to two cars to one car.

5.    Employer Commute and Flexwork Programs. Major employers are saving employees billions in travel costs. Employers sponsor ride sharing, last mile shuttles from transit, and guaranteed ride homes. Some employers have web sites and lunch-and-learns to help employees in the same zip codes match-up for car pooling. 57 million Americans work at home, at least part-time, with the help of flexwork programs. Employer programs have helped with reduced car ownership.

6.    Recession. The recession dispelled the myth that demand for cars and gasoline is price inelastic. When consumers are stretched, demand is elastic. About 20 percent of a U.S. carowner’s disposable income is spent on the car, maintenance, insurance, and fuel. Oil prices have more than doubled since their bottom in March 2009. The era of cheap gasoline is over as producers go to more expensive techniques such as deep oil drilling and strip mining Canada for tar sands.

7.    Cash for Clunkers removed 700,000 vehicles from the U.S. roads.

8.    Rail Connected. City transit is enhanced with regional commuter rail and with rail connected cities. Our latest World Series was dubbed the “Amtrak Series” as fans easily whisked between New York and Philadelphia. Rail connects the transit systems of cities into effective regional transportation. Fewer cars are needed. Yes, the United States lags behind Europe and Japan. Even China is implementing 5,000 miles of high speed rail. Given small hope, suburban rail and rail connected cities are on the rise in parts of the United States. APTA Center for High-Speed Rail

9.    Car Sharing. In 600 global cities, cars can be used by the hour.  Car sharing is popular with individuals and fleets. At many university and colleges, students with good grades can participate at age 18. Add transit and bicycling and many students live car free. Zipcar’s  350,000 members each take over 15 personally owned vehicles off the road. Members of Zipcar and car sharing programs report a 47% increase in public transit trips, a 10% increase in bicycling trips, and a 26% increase in walking trips. The success of car sharing has lead to success of bicycle sharing in Europe, giving millions last mile solutions between transit stations and employers and other city destinations.

10.    Intermodal Intelligence. Internet savvy people now use Google Maps, 511, car share apps, and smart phone GPS apps to compare car directions and time with public transit directions and time. With a few clicks on a social network a shared ride is arranged, or a shared car reserved. In the old millennium we got everywhere by solo driving in gridlock. In the new millennium we plan and use a mix of car driving, transit, and other modes to save time and money.

APTA 2008


Cash-strapped consumers take advantage of Transit in Record Numbers

A record number of Americans are saving thousands per year by using public transportation from one day per week to living car free. In 2007, a 50-year record of 10.3 billion trips per year, saving over 4 billion gallons of car gasoline use. 2008 will set a new record that may approach 11 billion trips as more commuters leave their cars parked to brave standing-room-only train and bus rides.

Fifteen thousand who run global transportation systems convened in San Diego from October 6 to 8 to examine a range of strategic issues and to review 800 exhibitors at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Expo.

As transportation managers accommodate record numbers of passengers, they face challenges. Most transportation funding is spent on highways, not on public transportation. Fare revenue is only a fraction of budgets. Loss of property and sales tax funding is forcing operators to cut budgets. Diesel fuel prices have increased 166 percent in four years.

Buses designed to stay on the road for 12 years are being kept in operation longer. When new buses are ordered, reduced fuel cost is a priority. 63 percent of buses ordered in 2007 were alt-powered using hybrid technology, natural gas as a fuel, or both. City light-rail is typically powered by electricity. Public transportation is increasingly using renewable energy (RE) by installing more solar power and contracting for RE with public utilities.

The shift to fewer car miles on highways and alt-powered transportation is helping the nation need less oil. U.S. use of oil refined products in transportation is estimated to be reduced 5 percent this year. Should rail and public transit resolve their budget crises, oil use will drop further.

Member organizations were encouraged to overcome all obstacles in accommodating record riders by Dr. Beverly Scott, APTA’s new Chair and also CEO of MARTA in Atlanta. When federal funding of public transportation expires in 2009, APTA will ask the new Congress for a $123 billion 6-year funding package.

Pushed to the wall, several major transit systems are making politically unpopular fare increases. Some are cutting routes, frequencies, and making layoffs.

In his speech, Jim Simpson, Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) Administrator encouraged executives to consider public-private partnerships (PPP). At the Expo, I visited with Veolia (NYSE: VE), the world leader in transportation service contracts and management. Veolia has 120 contracts to run transportation in 30 countries for annual revenues of about $8 billion.

A good example of an effective PPP since 1993 is Veolia’s partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada. I have personally been impressed in using their bus rapid transit while attending Las Vegas conferences. During the life of this partnership, ridership has increased from 15 to 60 million per year. At the APTA Expo, on of Las Vegas’ new 62-foot rapid transit vehicles was on display, looking more like a bullet train than a bus. The vehicles are designed by Wright with ISE doing the hybrid-electric drive systems using Siemens components. Fifty of the new vehicles will be delivered to Las Vegas.

For transportation operators that cannot make capital expenditures, PPP can provide a way for private corporations to buy needed equipment, then utilize the rail and buses as part of service contracts. Unfortunately, the expansion of public-private partnerships (PPP) envisioned by the FTA goes in the face of some of its obsolete legislated rules for funding.

In the long-term public transportation will serve a growing number of Americans because of increasing oil prices, plus increased preference for urban living by the young, by families, and by retiring boomers. As transit stops being a neglected child compared to highway funding, it will meet the financial challenge of expanding routes and increasing frequency by adding rail, adding buses and employing more drivers and maintenance professionals. Significant growth will reduce or oil dependency, make people more productive, and unclog the streets and freeways. Even those who never use transit will benefit from lower gasoline prices, less time in gridlock and breathing cleaner air.

Significant growth will be supported by high speed rail linking suburbs and linking transportation systems. Jim Simpson, (FTA) Administrator, regularly takes the 3 hour Amtrak Acela regularly from New York to Washington, D.C. Often he cannot get a seat as record demand soars ahead of investment in more rolling stock. Amtrak carried a record 28.7 million people in fiscal year 2008. The company has posted six years of ridership and revenue growth, recently benefiting from high gas and airline prices. The number of trips over the past year increased 11% and revenue 14%.

On November 4, voters in 33 states will be making decisions about approving transportation funding. In California, voting on Proposition 1A will decide if the nation has a second high-speed rail system that could cover 800 miles and carry forecasted ranges of 32 to 68 million annual rides by 2020. It will cost far less than the alternative of expanding highways and airports. Should voters give the system the green light, the $10 billion of California taxpayer funded bond will need to be matched with $10 billion federal and $10 billion of public-private partnership money. The system will be electric, using no petroleum.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that the average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 54.1 cents per mile. The IRS allows you to deduct 58.5 cents per mile for business. This is over $8,000 per year per vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving. Depreciation is part of that cost. Anyone who has bought a car for $20,000 and later sold it for $5,000 understands depreciation. Fuel, maintenance, tolls, parking, insurance, and tickets add up. Most households have two vehicles, costing them over $16,000 per year.

More Americans will save thousands by using public transportation. For some it will be one day per week, for others it will be the primary way that they travel. City and regional systems are offering trip-planners, dynamic maps, and realtime GPS information to those using the Internet, text messaging, and smart phone technology. I have frequently used Google Transit to plan trips that have several transit legs. Enjoy the savings of time and money from public transportation.