In New York, a political battle is brewing, and it foreshadows a bumpy road for the rollout of autonomous vehicles nationwide.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are battling over how to handle the city's mounting transit problems, with Cuomo reportedly considering congestion pricing for high-trafficked corridors and de Blasio preparing to introduce a "millionaire's tax" to fund improvements to public transit.
Why should high-tech, software-enabled mobility companies care about debates over a clunky, traditionalist public transit system? Because in the Democrat-dominated world of urban transit, funding decisions are viewed as a zero-sum game that touches on income inequality, transit access and upward social mobility. As the private-sector-dominated autonomous vehicle space grows and takes up cities' attention and pocketbooks, the technology that proponents have cast as a replacement for public transit may be pulled into an awkward and divisive debate.
In some cities, that means light-rail advocates get shorted in favor of driverless fleets.
In New York, it means anxious responses to the state's approval of autonomous vehicle testing.
In San Francisco, we're even seeing pushback to a Ford Motor Co. bike-sharing program that some say is elitist.
Wise mobility companies will pay attention to the conversation surrounding public transportation. If autonomous tech comes to be viewed as a toy for the urban wealthy rather than a tool for the wider public, it may fall into a political game that is difficult to win.
— Shiraz Ahmed