Which ‘new mobilities’ are good for your community?

This is an excerpt from “New Mobilities” by Todd Litman. Copyright 2021 Todd Litman. Reprinted with permission of Island Press, Washington, DC

Which new mobiles are good and which are bad for your community? Under what circumstances should they be mandated, encouraged, regulated, restricted or banned? These are complicated issues. New transportation technologies and services can have many effects on users and communities. As a result, we need a comprehensive analytical framework that considers different effects and perspectives.

For example, some conditions may seem beneficial to affluent travelers but undesirable to low-income travelers, especially if they displace cheaper modes of transportation or impose external costs, such as congestion, danger, or pollution, on members of society. Decision makers should consider all of these impacts and perspectives when assessing a transportation policy or program.

Towards a more comprehensive evaluation

Transport planning decisions can have many effects, including some benefits and costs that are generally overlooked or underestimated in conventional analysis. Conventional transport evaluation methods were developed to answer relatively simple questions, such as whether the cost of improving the motorway will be reimbursed through travel time and savings in vehicle operation. It is sufficient for some decisions, but it is unsuitable for comparing different states or new technologies that have different effects. When people consider a new mode of transportation, they want the comfort, the types of trips and travelers it can operate, its direct and indirect costs, safety and security, how it will affect non-users, whether it supports or conflicts with a community strategic objectives and its risk of infection.

For example, even though each drive ends up in a parking lot, parking costs and therefore savings in parking costs at non-auto options were until recently ignored in most evaluations of transportation projects. Similarly, conventional analysis assumed that everyone (at least everyone who matters) has a car that would simply sit unused if travelers switch to modes that do not require parking. In recent years, some professional organizations and public bodies have developed more comprehensive analytical frameworks that consider additional impacts and are therefore more suitable for multimodal planning. For example, the UK Transport Analysis Guide, the Australian Transport Assessment and Planning Guidelines, the New Zealand Economic Evaluation Manual, the European Union’s guide to cost-benefit analysis of investment projects and my report Transport Cost and Benefit Analysis provide detailed information on the costs and benefits of different modes of travel. as well as practical instructions for using this information for multimodal analysis.

Some new mobiles are promoted with glamorous images of happy passengers traveling in sleek, fast, clean vehicles, but the reality can be very different.

A little skepticism is appropriate when considering new technologies and services. Some new mobiles are promoted with glamorous images of happy passengers traveling in sleek, fast, clean vehicles, but the reality can be very different. In practice, autonomous taxis, tunnel roads, pneumatic pipe transport and supersonic jets will often be less comfortable than regular alternatives, and their door-to-door travel time savings are modest. Eg. Can autonomous taxi passengers find debris, stains and odors left by former residents; tunnel roads lack views and fresh air; pneumatic pipe travel is likely to make many people nauseous; and because of the high cost, supersonic jet travel will only be cost effective for travelers who appreciate travel time savings of thousands of dollars per hour. As a result, their user benefits and thus their future equestrianism and revenue are likely to be less, perhaps much less, than optimists predict.

Some influences are important but difficult to measure. For example, social equality is an important societal goal, but there are many possible ways to define and measure it. It is generally best to identify specific gender equality objectives, such as the improvement of universal design (transport facilities and services that cater for people with disabilities and special needs – such as facilities and vehicles with wheelchair and handcart features and signage suitable for people who lack of literacy), increased affordability, improvement of mobility opportunities for disadvantaged groups and reduction of external costs (displacement, risk, noise, air pollution) imposed on disadvantaged groups. This analysis should consider indirect, cumulative and long-term effects.

Effects are generally compared to what would otherwise occur (what economists call ceteris paribus). What we assume to be the alternative may affect analysis results. For example, car sharing and riding tailing tend to reduce the overall ride if they help households reduce their vehicle ownership, but can increase the overall ride if they replace walking, cycling and public transportation. Electrical benefit analyzes depend on the type of vehicle we assume motorists would otherwise use and whether we consider the induced vehicle driving that tends to be due to their low operating costs.

All too often, transportation policies and planning decisions are evaluated based on incomplete and biased analysis. For example, in the last half century, means of transport have been allocated primarily based on how expenditure could increase traffic speeds and reduce congestion, ignoring other consequences and objectives. This tended to favor highway extensions and underestimated other modes of transport and transport needs management (TDM) solutions. In the same way, environmental studies, e.g. Project Drawdown, transport policies based solely on their effects on reducing climate emissions. That type of evaluation tends to favor alternatively driven vehicle incentives, while the underestimation of vehicle travel reduction strategies provides a wider range of benefits.

Described differently, a more comprehensive analysis helps identify “win-win” transportation solutions — that is, congestion reduction strategies that also help reduce emissions, improve public health, and achieve social capital goals, called co-benefits. Road extensions can improve car comfort and reduce traffic congestion, at least for a few years, until caused travel fills the extra road capacity. More efficient and alternatively powered vehicles help save energy and reduce pollution emissions, but offer few other benefits, and by reducing the cost of driving, they tend to cause additional vehicles that exacerbate other transportation problems. However, improving resource-efficient modes and implementing TDM incentives that reduce overall driving tend to help achieve a wide range of Community objectives.


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