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AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES MIGHT DRIVE CITIES TO FINANCIAL RUIN WIRED/GETTY IMAGES IN ANN ARBOR, Michigan, last week, 125 mostly white, mostly male, business-card-bearing attendees crowded into a brightly lit ballroom to consider “mobility.” That’s the buzzword for a hazy vision of how tech in all forms—including smartphones, credit cards, and autonomous vehicles— will combine with the remains of traditional public transit to get urbanites where they need to go. There was a fizz in the air at the Meeting of the Minds session, advertised as a summit to prepare cities for the “autonomous revolution.” In the US, most automotive research happens within an hour of that ballroom, and attendees knew that development of “level 4” autonomous vehicles—designed to operate in limited locations, but without a human driver intervening—is accelerating. Susan Crawford (@scrawford) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED, a professor at Harvard Law School, and the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. The session raised profound questions for American cities. Namely, how to follow the money to ensure that autonomous vehicles don’t drive cities to financial ruin. The advent of driverless cars will likely mean that municipalities will have to make do with much, much less. Driverless cars, left to their own devices, will be fundamentally predatory: taking a lot, giving little, and shifting burdens to beleaguered local governments. It would be a good idea to slam on the brakes while cities work through their priorities. Otherwise, we risk creating municipalities that are utterly incapable of assisting almost anyone with anything—a series of sprawling relics where American cities used to be. The problem, as speaker Nico Larco, director of the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon, explained, is that many cities balance their budgets using money brought in by cars: gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, traffic tickets, and billions of dollars in parking revenue. But driverless cars don’t need these things: Many will be electric, will never get a ticket, and can circle the block endlessly rather than park. Because these sources account for somewhere between 15 and 50 percent of city transportation revenue in America, as autonomous vehicles become more common, huge deficits are ahead. Driverless cars, left to their own devices, will be fundamentally predatory: taking a lot, giving little, and shifting burdens to beleaguered local governments. Cities know this: They’re beginning to look at fees that could be charged for accessing pickup and dropoff zones, taxes for empty seats, fees for parking fleets of cars, and other creative assessments that might make up the difference. But many states, urged on by auto manufacturers, won’t let cities take these steps. Several have already acted to block local policies regulating self-driving cars. Michigan, for example, does not allow Detroit, a short drive away from that Ann Arbor ballroom, to make any rules about driverless cars. This loss of city revenue comes at a harrowing time. Thousands of local public entities are already struggling financially following the Great Recession. Dozens are stuck with enormous debt loads—usually pension overhangs—that force them to devote unsustainable portions of their incoming revenue to servicing debt. Cities serve as the front lines of every pressing social problem the country is battling: homelessness, illiteracy, inadequate health care, you name it. They don’t have any resources to lose. The rise of autonomous vehicles will put struggling sections of cities at a particular disadvantage. Unemployment may be low as a national matter, but it is far higher in isolated, majority-minority parts of cities. In those sharply-segregated areas, where educational and health outcomes are routinely far worse than in majority white areas, the main barrier to employment is access to transport. Social mobility depends on being able to get from point A to point B at a low cost. Take Detroit, a city where auto insurance is prohibitively expensive and transit has been cut back, making it hard for many people to get around. “The bus is just not coming,” Mark de la Vergne, Detroit’s Chief of Mobility Innovation, told the gathering last week, adding that most people in the City of Detroit make less than $57,000 a year and can’t afford a car. De la Vergne told the group in the Ann Arbor ballroom about a low-income Detroit resident who wanted a job but couldn’t even get to the interview without assistance in the form of a very expensive Lyft ride. That story is, in a nutshell, the problem for America. We have systematically underinvested in public transit: less than 1 percent of our GDP goes to transit. Private services are marketed as complements to public ways of getting around, but in reality these services are competitive. Although economic growth is usually accompanied by an uptick in public transit use, ridership is down in San Francisco, where half the residents use Uber or Lyft. Where ridership goes down, already-low levels of investment in public transit will inevitably get even lower. Although economic growth is usually accompanied by an uptick in public transit use, ridership is down in San Francisco, where half the residents use Uber or Lyft. When driverless cars take the place of Uber or Lyft, cities will be asked to take on the burden of paying for low-income residents to travel, with whatever quarters they can find lying around in city couches. Result: Cities will be even less able to serve all their residents with public spaces and high-quality services. Even rich people won’t like that. It will take great power and great leadership to head off this grim future. Here’s an idea, from France: There, the government charges 3 percent on the total gross salaries of all employees of companies with more than 11 employees, and the proceeds fund a local transport authority. (The tax is levied on the employer not the employee, and in return, employees receive subsidized or free travel on public transport.) At the Ann Arbor meeting, Andreas Mai, vice president of market development at Keolis, said that the Bordeaux transit authority charges a flat fee of about $50 per month for unlimited access to all forms of transit (trams, trains, buses, bikes, ferries, park and ride). The hard-boiled US crowd listening to him audibly gasped at that figure. Ridership is way up, the authority has brought many more buses into service, and it is recovering far more of its expenditures than any comparable US entity. Mai said it required a very strong leader to pull together 28 separate transit systems and convince them to hand over their budgets to the local authority. But it happened. It’s all just money. We have it; we just need to allocate it better. That will mean viewing public transit as a crucial element of well-being in America. And, in the meantime, we need to press Pause on aggressive plans to deploy driverless cars in cities across the United States. More Great WIRED Stories How Facebook groups became a bizarre bazaar for elephant tusks Pulling water out of air? Grab some ions or a weird sponge Larry Page’s flying-car project suddenly seems rather real Encyclopædia Britannica wants to fix false Google results PHOTO ESSAY: The trailblazing women who fight California’s fires Hungry for even more deep dives on your next favorite topic? Sign up for the Backchannel newsletter RELATED VIDEO TRANSPORTATION The Self-Driving Truck Race Heats Up With a Driverless Test Starsky heat up the competition for driverless trucks with its first closed road test of a completely driverless car. #CITY#ANN ARBOR#AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE#AMERICAN#DRIVERLESS CAR

IN ANN ARBOR, Michigan, a week, 125 mostly white, largely male, business-card-bearing attendees packed into a brightly lit ballroom to consider”mobility.” That is the buzzword to get a hazy vision of how tech in all forms–including smartphones, credit cards, and autonomous vehicles– will unite with the remains of conventional public transit to receive urbanites where they need to go.

The rise of autonomous vehicles will place struggling sections of towns at a specific disadvantage. Unemployment might be low as a federal matter, but it’s far greater in isolated, majority-minority pieces of towns. In these sharply-segregated areas, where educational and health outcomes are routinely much worse than in majority white areas, the main barrier to employment is accessibility to transportation. Social freedom is dependent on being able to get from point A to point B at a minimal price.

But a lot of states, urged on by automobile manufacturers, won’t let cities take these steps. Many have already acted to block local policies regulating self-driving cars. Michigan, for example, doesn’t let Detroit, a short drive away from this Ann Arbor ballroom, to make any rules about driverless cars.

The issue, as speaker Nico Larco, manager of this Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon, clarified, is that many cities balance their funds using money brought in by automobiles: gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, traffic tickets, and billions of dollars in parking revenue. However, driverless cars don’t need these things: Many will be electrical, won’t ever get a ticket, and will circle the block endlessly instead of park. Because these sources accounts for somewhere between 15 and 50 percent of city transportation revenue in America, as autonomous vehicles become more prevalent, huge deficits are ahead.
The session raised profound questions for American cities. Namely, how to follow the money to make sure that autonomous vehicles do not drive cities to financial ruin. The debut of driverless automobiles will probably mean that municipalities might have to contend with much, much less. Driverless cars, left to their own devices, will be basically predatory: taking a lot, providing small, and shifting burdens to beleaguered regional governments. It would be a good idea to knock on the brakes while towns work by using their priorities. We risk creating municipalities which are utterly incapable of helping almost anyone with anything–a set of sprawling relics in which American cities was.
Require Detroit, a town where auto insurance is prohibitively costly and transit has been cut back, which makes it hard for many people to get around. De la Vergne advised that the team at the Ann Arbor ballroom about a non invasive Detroit resident who wanted a job but could not even reach the meeting without assistance in the kind of a very costly Lyft ride.
Although economic growth is generally accompanied by an uptick in public transit usage, ridership is down in San Francisco, where half of the inhabitants use Uber or Lyft.
Cities know this: They’re starting to look at fees that could be charged for accessing pickup and dropoff zones, taxes for vacant chairs, fees for parking fleets of automobiles, along with other creative assessments that might constitute the gap.

That narrative is, in a nutshell, the issue for America. We’ve underinvested in public transit: less than one percent of our GDP goes to transit. Private services are advertised as complements to public methods of getting round, but the truth is these services are aggressive. Though economic growth is usually accompanied by an uptick in public transit use, ridership is down in San Francisco, in which half of the residents use Uber or Lyft. Where ridership goes , already-low levels of investment in public transit will necessarily get much lower.
There was a fizz in the air in the Meeting of the Mindssession, also advertised as a summit to prepare cities to the”autonomous revolution.” In the united states, most automotive research happens within an hour of the ballroom, and attendees understood the growth of”level 4″ autonomous vehicles–designed to operate in limited places, but with no human driver intervening–is hastening.
It is all just money. We have it; we just need to allocate it better. That will mean seeing public transit as a crucial part of well-being in the usa. And, in the meantime, we need to press Pause on aggressive strategies to deploy driverless automobiles in towns across the United States

At the Ann Arbor meeting, Andreas Mai, vice president of market development at Keolis, said that the Bordeaux transit authority charges a flat fee of approximately $50 per month for unlimited access to all forms of transit (trams, trains, buses, bikes, ferries, park and ride). The hard-boiled US audience listening to him audibly gasped at that figure. Ridership is way up, the authority has attracted many more buses into service, and it’s recovering far more of its expenditures than any comparable US entity. Mai said it took a very powerful leader to pull together 28 different transit systems and convince them to hand over their budgets to the local authority. But it occurred.
It’ll take great power and fantastic direction to head off this grim future. Here’s an idea, from France: There, the government charges 3 percent on the overall gross salaries of employees of companies with more than 11 workers, along with the profits finance a local transportation authority. (The tax is imposed on the employer not the employee, and consequently, employees receive subsidized or free travel on public transport.)

When driverless cars take the area of Uber or Lyft, cities will be asked to have the burden of paying low-income residents to travel, with whatever quarters that they can find lying around in town sofas. Result: Cities will be less able to serve each of their residents with public spaces and high quality services. Even rich people won’t like this.

This reduction of city revenue comes at a harrowing time. Dozens are stuck together with enormous debt loads–typically retirement overhangs–that force them to devote smaller parts of their incoming revenue to servicing debt. They do not have any resources to shed.

Susan Crawford (@scrawford) is a Ideas contributor for WIRED, a professor at Harvard Law School, and the writer of Captive author: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.

Updated: June 27, 2018 — 12:30 pm

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