Automated vehicles are coming. This is not something we can stop. People want them, companies are developing them and most agree that at some point in the next 10 to 20 years, they will become the dominant vehicles on the road. What form they ultimately take is still in question, they could be similar to the cars we have today, they could be small buses, they could become smaller single-person transports, moving offices or even mobile retail stores.
The point of all of this is to say that AVs have the potential to completely transform our streets and it’s up to us, as a city, to think these things through. But it’s not all that far off in the future.
Consider Uber and Lyft and the current impact on the Boston area. A study of nearly 1000 ride-hailing customers by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that 40 percent would have taken public transit if not for a ride-hailing service and 12 percent would have walked or biked. Most people chose Uber or Lyft for reasons that you’d suspect: convenience and speed. “The responses to those questions provide strong evidence that TNCs are pulling from, not complementing, public transit,” said Alison Felix, the transportation planner who spearheaded the study.
But there is a ripple here in Newton already and it hit us in the same way that it hit New York: taxi medallions. Newton Yellow Cab shut down in August of 2017, then there is this is from the Public Safety and Transportation Committee meeting in December:
Officer [Rocco] Marini then stated that some companies chose not to renew their public auto or taxi licenses, other companies have downsized due to Uber, Lyft and ride share apps. These ride share companies are taking away business from Newton businesses. In Newton, the businesses carry a one million dollar insurance policy and Uber and other vehicles are not regulated.
Officer Marini then stated that according to City Ordinance, the Police Department may issue 81 taxi medallions and 17 public auto medallions according to City population. At this time, 54 medallions are issued for taxis and 4 medallions are issued for public autos. Previously, the Police Department had a 10‐year waiting list for people desiring a medallion; today, there is no waiting period. Officer Marini then stated that this year, no company chose to pay for exclusive taxi stands. These premier locations are now unoccupied, valuable parking spaces and desirable land to the City.
In that quote alone there are issues around city revenue, street use, and insurance. If we don’t take control now we will be left to scramble and catch up.
Full disclosure: I do, in fact, use Lyft (and my family members use Uber) as part of our overall transportation mix. If you are interested in understanding my full transportation mix, I’m happy to discuss.