How will cities be impacted by the first wave of autonomous cars?

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In the future, everything about cars as we know them may change. Aviva is preparing for that future by conducting tests on connected and autonomous vehicle technologies through extensive real-world trials.

Imagine this scene: It’s the year 2040, and Tom’s home virtual personal assistant has summoned an autonomous car to his home in Edinburgh. He will be attending a meeting in London in a couple of hours. The autonomous car is taking him to a mobility hub, where he will board a pre-booked seat on a Hyperloop. Half an hour later he’ll arrive in London. Tom will walk the rest of the way, or he may even get into a shared shuttle to get to his ultimate destination.

There are incremental steps to get to this future – ten, twenty, and thirty steps along the way that are easier to imagine – and one step we can see happening in the future is fully autonomous vehicles. However, understanding the impact of these vehicles and how people might use them is a challenge. We know that cars with semi-autonomous features are available, but drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take control in all cases.  

Autonomous cars today

There are no autonomous vehicles currently available to buy. We haven’t reached the stage where a truly autonomous vehicle has been designed, tested, manufactured, approved, priced or marketed. Until that happens, along with the development of legislation and infrastructure, we will see trials aiming to find answers to the huge number of questions we all have. New ways of accessing transport are emerging and subscription services and shared mobility models mean private consumers may not be the car owners of the future. Fleet operators are more likely to purchase or lease autonomous vehicles.

There are vehicles being tested in a variety of situations around the world. Most notable is Waymo’s ‘robotaxi’ service in Phoenix, Arizona. The company has deployed self-driving cars onto public roads, aiming to integrate the service with a commercial ride-hailing network. There are also trials happening in the UK. In fact, Aviva is a Founder Member of the Smart Mobility Living Lab: London.

The Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMML), based in Greenwich, provides a real-life environment to test and evaluate new technology, including connected and autonomous vehicles. Along with Honda, BP, Centrica and Hastings Direct, we’re on a journey to answer the burning questions around the future of mobility. The autonomous vehicle trials will be taking place around Woolwich in London.

Autonomous cars will change cities

It’s hard to predict what will change in cities once fully autonomous cars become available, but I’ve had the luxury of being able to create personas and run them through a series of future scenarios for my job. Sometimes they seem far-fetched and technically improbable. More often than not, the scenarios are realistic – and when based on facts like environmental factors, technological innovation, legislation, and manufacturing plans and predictions – a picture of the future slowly emerges. One such scenario is the story of Tom’s morning I invited you to imagine above.

The real certainty for how cities will change is that public transport has to evolve dramatically and blend into a mixed mobility ecosystem. This should see fewer individual vehicles congesting our living spaces and more advanced shared systems, freeing up parking spaces. Oh, and of course: more trees!


The transition to autonomous cities

It’s not so much a question of ‘when’ cities become fully autonomous, but a question of how autonomous and connected services will become integrated into our cities – and how will they work seamlessly with people and businesses. Do we have a flexible infrastructure and are we receptive to the major transformation, disruption and cost that some of these changes will require?

Already, we’re seeing new buildings being built with the tech required for connected living, together with charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Scale this up to communal living spaces and mixed commercial properties and you start to see the challenges faced in planning such an environment. I’m certain though, the first thing we’ll notice about our cities is cleaner air. Beyond that, who knows?

I wouldn’t consider the evolution of mobility as a ‘change over’ to connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), more an adoption and integration of CAVs in certain aspects of life. Mobility is about moving people, goods and services and CAVs are a component of this. To get to the point of having CAVs working ubiquitously in a city environment, one has a multi-faceted set of impacts to address.

Some are positive and others less so. Imagine for example, if all taxis were robotaxis. Where would the former drivers work? If all connected vehicles were also able to predict their need for repair… and fix themselves. And what if cars cleaned themselves, and they never crashed into each other, accidents were a thing of the past, what impact would that have on society?

I’m asked when we’ll see autonomous vehicles in everyday life almost every day, but that’s a very hard question to answer. The adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles depends on the circumstances. Personal individual mobility and commercial industrial mobility will dramatically differ. The latter has already adopted autonomous vehicles over the last few decades, from the Docklands Light Railway to heavy industrial mining trucks. These don’t hit the headlines, but have been successfully used to improve movement, efficiency and safety.

So, we’re already starting to see autonomous vehicles in everyday life – they just aren’t the ones you may have noticed.

Andreas Mavroudis is Senior Mobility Futures Manager at Aviva.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.