From Congestion to Clean: Here’s How Austin is Pioneering a Mobility Revolution

austin texas mobility revolution

Austin, Texas is one of the fastest growing cities in North America that is also a top tech center driving a decent portion of the US economy. But its transportation infrastructure is quite the opposite, being decades old and based on a car culture that’s clogging arteries and making lifestyles more frantic. You can read the full article here.

We love this article as it overlaps with our Founder, Sandra Phillips’, recent presentation on the TED stage in Frankfurt for Next Visionaries, where she discussed how electric autonomous vehicle networks can play a crucial role for the future and for social mobility.

Transit and traffic in austin

Subways and light rail systems are not the norm for this major metropolitan city, which relies largely on its buses as the means for mass public transit. Though a solo commuter rail line began running in 2010, covering a 32-mile-route from a northern suburb to the central part of the city, it’s only used by a small fraction of the city’s commuters.

Not only is there public transportation lacking, Austin also ranks as the 13thmost congested city among 240 rated across the US with roughly 450,000 people using city roads daily.

But, alas, things started coming together when Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based think tank on energy and transportation, began looking for a place to put its vision for transformational mobility change into practice. After a search that began in 2014 with 1,000 potential cities, RMI choose Austin as its proving ground.

A chronic challenge to accessing downtown parking contributes to congested streets, which is another reason planners believe significant increases in parking rates will make people re-think driving their own vehicles. Ride-hailing avoids the need for parking, which can help change the downtown landscape and eliminate the need for massive parking garages.

The city’s transportation director Rob Spillar predicts the locals will feel and see the mobility changes within 10 years.

“Austin is a micro-laboratory for the country in that the problems we have are problems that you can translate to other places,” he said.

Fixing congestion is tied to clean energy

Austin’s idea is to leverage emerging technology for mobility as a service that’s electric and autonomous and shifts from personally-owned vehicles to the shared variety, to hopefully fix what 74% of Austinites say is the most important problem facing the city: traffic, roads, and transportation.

As part of its own plan, Capital Metro aims to transform its fleet from petroleum powered to electric powered, with a focus on electric powered autonomous buses. Hemingson said the transit agency hopes to have a pilot project on the ground with 10 or fewer electric powered buses by 2019, all part of a collaboration with RMI and Austin Energy, a publicly-owned electric utility.

Plans include introducing 330 electric vehicles into the city fleet by 2020 that will help reduce CO2 emissions at an estimated cost savings of $3.5 million total over the vehicle’s lifetime. The fleet currently includes 25 plug-in electric vehicles and many that use alternative fuels and are electric hybrids.

Electrified vehicles also play into the shared part of the RMI equation, which includes ride-hailing companies, such as Uber, Lyft and RideAustin, the local, nonprofit ride-hailing service. RMI is discussing programs that would make such vehicles available to drivers. Additionally, RideAustin is collaborating to help low-income and uninsured residents get to medical appointments and pharmacies. The pilot is expected to launch this fall, with free RideAustin service courtesy of a $50,000 grant from Capital Metro.

While Austin works hard to initiate a mobility revolution, the biggest challenge will be a shift in the mindsets of the population, which will undoubtedly have to move away from the car ownership mindset.


Read the full article here.


Want more information about transportation in North America’s biggest cities? Contact us for a downloadable SMCI report here.

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