How private and public bodies must cooperate to ease mobility woes – Part I

Los Angeles is renowned for its infamous gridlock and difficult commutes yet Ford’s Mike Tinskey joined a panel addressing these very issues at Ford's Smart Mobility plan during its road show presented in the Californian city before a modest audience of media and residents.

Tinskey, director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure, doubles as a chief evangelist and interpreter for Ford’s Smart Mobility plan findings.

He says the company is trying to figure out “what can we do about it?” He added, “Behaviour change has to happen and connected vehicles can change it.”

Technology dominated the wide-ranging panel discussion but Ford also shared some fun facts from its research about the LA market, the omnipresent parking problem and the road to total autonomy also figured heavily into the conversation.

ADAS: levelling up

Tinskey discussed Ford’s ADAS improvements, many of which were on display for demonstrations including perpendicular parking and assisted towing.

“We’re raising awareness of technology, we need to make sure people realise that technology exists today that can solve some problems: adaptive cruise control, visibility solutions… lane keeping is one of my favourites. Those kinds of technologies are getting better.”

Ford also showed off its three eBike prototypes:

  • MoDe:Pro: built for urban commercial use, can be folded up and stowed in commercial vehicles including the Ford Transit Connect;
  • MoDE:Me: urban commuter cycle, can be taken onto public transportation such as trains, subways, many buses in LA have bike racks;
  • MoDe:Flex: versatile, lifestyle eBike can be custom configured for road, mountain, or city cycling. It folds up and can be charged while inside a Ford vehicle.

The manufacturer only has a few prototypes but has shown it’s willing to think outside of the box with this line-up. Tinskey says one situation where the Mode:Pro works well is in congested urban areas such as LA: “You could drive a Ford Transit here (to an outdoor subway station) with three drivers and eBikes folded in the back and drop the delivery guys at Metro. They could then ride to the neighbourhood for their delivery and ride the eBike.”

This obviously would be a small package or load but may be good for couriering.  The MoDe:Link app includes safety notifications including hazards ahead and a “no sweat” mode that increases electric pedal assist linked to the driver’s heart rate.

While Ford’s advancements in technology are well-documented there are issues yet to be resolved with the current infrastructure.

Tinskey noted that “a lot of public money has been spent up until now but it hasn’t been put in the right spots where it’s needed. From an electric vehicle perspective, the industry is moving to next generation products that will require new infrastructure.” The Ford executive added there will need to be political will to upgrade infrastructure to support next generation vehicles.

That may mean higher taxes but that has become a point of contention in California. “The problem with general instruments of taxation, they are regressive to lower income folks,” asserts UCLA professor of urban planning Brian Taylor, adding: “The more you drive the more you pay, if you drive less you pay less. If they raise the sales tax [to pay for infrastructure], how much you pay is largely unrelated to how much you drive? It shifts the burden on to lower income people.”

Taylor also serves as director of the Institute of transportation studies and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. He notes: “We’re doing experiments that link what people pay, long trips cost less, less clean vehicles cost more than cleaner ones, but taxation funds transfer on the Federal (government) level.”

Taylor adds: “The problem is a failure of planning and public policy to allocate scarce resources in a sensible way.”

He says one strategy to consider is dynamic pricing for using major arteries at certain times of day. “The University of California-Berkeley estimates about 85% of delay on freeways is not because of a lack of capacity but, because we allow everyone to crowd on whenever they want to, without regulated flow we have a lot less efficiency. Our ability to introduce efficiency into the system, before we pour one more yard of concrete, would create an enormous benefit. We’re getting there but much more slowly than private industry.”

Hilary Norton, executive director of FAST (Fixing Angelinos Stuck in Traffic), weighed in, saying even small mobility plans can ease congestion: “It doesn’t take a lot to get corridors moving. A 1-2% change in the number of people using solo vehicles can improve traffic by 15%.”

Motorists in the second-biggest US metro definitely need some help, INRIX found in its own mobility scorecard that six of the 10 worst roads for commuters are in the LA area.

Shifting into reverse scarier than ghosts

Backing a car into LA’s traffic is scarier than ghosts or a fear of flying. At least that’s what Ford found in a recent poll of drivers in the City of Angels.

The August survey of 300 LA drivers, conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, also found technology that improves visibility and awareness, specifically in blind-spots and behind the vehicle, rank as the areas where features would influence purchasing decisions.

Ford offered attendees at the panel hands-on demonstrations (or hands-off as the case was), some of its latest driver-assist technologies including Pro Trailer Backup Assist [see  A market differentiator that won’t get your back up!] and perpendicular park assist.

The research didn’t crack the code for creating a parking problem panacea, although Tinskey joked that Ford’s parking research has uncovered three distinct types of strategies for finding that elusive space in LA: “the customer who does circle after circle, the adventurer who finds a different path looking for a spot, and then my favourite, the person who’s looking for a spot and goes a little further and then stops – the stalker. They follow a customer out of the store and take their space.”

He noted that LA is among the leaders in smart parking with more than 6,000 spots instrumented with sensors and smart meters. Even still recent data show only about 14% of drivers in LA and San Francisco find parking spots immediately. The rest spend up to 40 minutes searching.

That was a natural segue to discuss Ford’s Parking Spotter technology. It uses existing sensors on a vehicle that are activated at low speeds and map open parking spaces and share that data in the cloud to other drivers. “It’s basically using the car as a probe and crowd-sourcing the parking availability data real-time for other customers,” Tinskey says, “You could have a real-time app with all the available parking and save a lot of time.”

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