Automated vehicles could provide mobility to the ‘mobility disadvantaged’

A driverless shuttle called the Olli.

By Alain Kornhauser

The following testimony was provided to the New Jersey State Assembly’s Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee on Monday, March 11.

The mobility disadvantaged are the young, the old, the physically disabled and the poor — those who can’t afford an automobile for themselves.

On a fundamental economic basis, we travel because we wish to improve our utility, our quality of life. I traveled here today because I wanted to be here with you. My quality of life, happiness is improved. Same for each of you. So improvement of mobility fundamentally improves quality of life of the individual. For those of us who are fortunate enough to own and be able to operate our own car, we have at our disposal an enormous opportunities to improve our quality of life at a moment’s notice.

For ones too young to drive, too old to drive, unable to access or control or too poor to own one those cars, opportunities are greatly diminished. Living close to a New Jersey Transit bus stop helps a little, but compared to owning a car… think about it.

Many low income individuals don’t live near a bus stop. In fact our low income housing laws talk only about the creation of low-priced housing that tends to be built on low cost land, which is low-cost, why? Because it has low accessibility to things; else, it would be high cost. If it was near a train station — high cost. Near really good bus service, high cost. Out in the middle of nowhere? Low cost.

Where did we in Princeton locate Princeton Community Village? Out on the very edge of the township on the cheapest land at the end of Bunn Drive. Certainly not close to Princeton Shopping Center. You live at Princeton Community Village, you need a car to get a quart of milk. Low cost housing plus high cost mobility does not equal low cost living.

Where we’ve ended up locating our poor, our “over 55” communities and many of our low-tech jobs are in places that conventional transit struggles to provide even minimal service.

We’ve all heard about automated vehicles. It turns out that if we can make them work well enough to safely drive down our streets by themselves, then they actually become affordable mobility machines that can easily respond to provide auto-like availability and mobility to anybody, even the poor, the physically disabled, the old and the young.

That is the real opportunity to uplift the mobility playing field for the mobility disadvantaged to a level that the rest of us auto owners currently enjoy in New Jersey.

What we need, what my ask is, that we create in New Jersey a “welcoming environment” for the research, testing and demonstration of this technology and work to focusing it on improving the mobility of the mobility disadvantaged. A group of us is preparing a proposal to United States Department of Transportation for $8 million to demonstrate the safe and efficient operation of such a system focused on serving the mobility disadvantaged. While such a demonstration is not prohibited in New Jersey, it is not permitted.

Consequently this provides excuses and hurdles to bringing such mobility to our communities and tarnishes any other welcoming efforts aimed at enabling New Jersey to lead instead of follow in what may well address the fundamental objective of this hearing.

Alain Kornhauser is a professor of operations research and financial engineering and director of the transportation program at Princeton University. He is the faculty chair of Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering, the board chair of the Advanced Transit Association, and the founding chair of the Coalition for Automated Road Transportation Safety. He is also the former vice-chair of the New Jersey Commission on Science & Technology

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1 comment
  • Please explain how “the poor” will benefit from autonomous vehicles. If you don’t own it, an autonomous vehicle is just a driverless uber. It’s still going to be an expensive way to get a quart of milk.

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