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.
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.