Autonomous vehicles and public transportation could be allies.
HITCHING A RIDE TO HITCH A RIDE. The self-driving revolution is making a pit stop at the bus station before it hits your garage.
Last week, autonomous car developer Waymo (a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet) announced plans to conduct a two-stage experiment in Phoenix, AZ, by teaming up with Valley Metro, the region's public transit system.
The goal: figure out if Waymo's autonomous cars can increase access to public transportation. If people have a low-cost way to hail a ride to a bus/light rail station that is maybe a bit too far to walk to, they’ll be more inclined to use public transportation (rather than just making sure they have their own car to drive to work or wherever). Autonomous ride-hailing is expected to cost less than today’s ride hailing (since companies won’t have to pay a driver). This experiment could help us figure out if people might embrace the service.
A TWO-PART PLAN. Public transit in Phoenix isn't awful, but it's not great, either — it's ranked 38th nationwide.
Both stages of Waymo's public transportation experiment focus on first- and last-mile travel — the distance between a person's home or work and the nearest public transportation option.
In the first stage of the experiment, which will begin in August, 30 to 50 Valley Metro workers will have the opportunity to make this journey in one of Waymo's autonomous vehicles. All they have to do is simply hail a ride via the company's app (whether or not riders will have to pay is not clear).
In the second stage of Waymo's public transportation experiment, the company will open up this service to Valley Metro RideChoice travelers, typically seniors and people with disabilities for whom using the standard public transportation system might be too expensive or impractical.
ALLIES, NOT FOES. While some see the rise of autonomous vehicles as a threat to public transportation, Waymo and Valley Metro believe the two can be allies.
In a blog post, Waymo has four goals as a company. One of them: connecting people with public transportation (the other three are developing autonomous trucks, autonomous vehicles for personal use, and an autonomous ride-hail service).
Waymo views this partnership with Valley Metro as a step toward achieving that goal, and Valley Metro appears to be just as gung-ho about it.
“We’re not trying to disrupt each others’ industries, we’re trying to complement,” Valley Metro’s COO Rob Antoniak told Wired. “We’re trying to leverage each others’ investments in this space, to make the best use of public infrastructure.”
And how will the organization know if their experiment worked? Simply if people use Waymo's service.
The first phase of the experiment will likely take several months, during which Waymo will collect data to inform the second phase. If all goes well, it might not be that long before people can hitch a ride to the bus stop aboard a driverless car.
READ MORE: Can Waymo Self-Driving Cars Help Fix Phoenix's Public Transit? [Wired]
More on Waymo: Waymo Plans to Deploy the Largest Fleet of Autonomous Vehicles by 2020