A Solution For The Bay Area’s Traffic Woes, And Other World-Changing Transportation Ideas

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For all its capacity for innovation and genius, Silicon Valley has yet to solve its traffic quandary. Throughout the Bay Area, roads have become a gridlocked hell; what should be a 20-minute drive up from San Jose to Mountain View, or across the Bay Bridge from Oakland into San Francisco, could very well take over two hours. One commuter, describing her trip through the region, told The Mercury News: “I really did shed a few tears.”

She’s not alone: According to a recent Bay Area-wide poll, two-thirds of the region’s residents are demanding a major investment to fix the problem, even that means higher taxes. Joint Venture Silicon Valley (JVSV), a nonprofit dedicated to identifying and solving the region’s issues, has been grappling with the traffic dilemma for years, and it’s now landed on a fairly radical but very comprehensive solution.

Called Fair Value Commuting (FVC), the five-part proposal combines technology and policy and will, once rolled out over the next 24 months, eventually reduce the share of Bay Area commutes made by single-occupancy vehicles (SOV) from around 75% to 50% (around 1 million trips). To do so, it’ll have to get local transportation providers, companies like Google and Facebook, and politicians on board, but Steve Raney, JVSV’s executive director for smart mobility, tells Fast Company that there’s already enough interest in the region-and more than enough desperation-that the plan is likely to take root and scale up. FVC was the winner of the transportation category of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards. (You can see short descriptions of all the finalists below.)

To implement the strategy, JVSV has authored a bill that could be introduced by local city councils with a simple-majority vote. The bill would enact a city-wide “trip cap” to limit the number of car trips through the region; companies within the city would be permitted a certain number of commuter vehicles depending on their size, and companies that exceed that number would have to adopt the commute-reducing strategies outlined in the FVC plan.

Local ordinances have a proven record of cutting down SOV commuting in the area: After Santa Clara County, home of Stanford University, introduced a trip cap in 2000, Stanford responded by slapping a parking fee of $4 per day on SOV commuters, and transferring that revenue toward public transit and carpool benefits for other employees. The Stanford scheme reduced SOV commuting by 25%-the same goal that JVSV hopes to achieve for the whole region-and saved the university $107 million in parking structures it would have had to build to accommodate its growth and employees’ commuting habits.

Significantly, none of the revenue created by Stanford’s plan went back to the government; it all remained among university employees. California’s Proposition 26 requires that proposed state and local fees related to curbing driving or hitting climate goals (such as a gas tax) have to pass with a two-thirds majority. But laws that set those objectives without new fees attached can pass with a simple majority vote. This, Raney says, is evidence of the oil lobby’s influence, even in climate-friendly California, but proposals like Stanford’s and JVSV’s skirt this roadblock by supporting company mandates that collect and distribute revenue among drivers, instead of funneling it back into government.

The way Fair Value Commuting works, Raney says, is by encouraging companies to increase the penalty on SOV commuting for employees, while offering a streamlined alternative. To clear up the roads, “you have to increase the price of driving in some way, because humans react well to sticks, and not so much to incentives,” he says. “But there’s also the fact that nobody wants to be inconvenienced.”

For the penalty aspect of the plan, FVC, like Stanford, would require companies to charge a fee of $3 per day to SOV commuter employees. That money would then be collected and put toward providing alternative-commute benefits to other employees (it’s the classic Robin Hood model, but for drivers). The “revenue-neutral” structure would give companies a way to incentivize non-SOV commuting without digging into their own pockets.

But how could employers determine who gets fined, and who gets the rebate? Raney says that while trip-tracking software is still being finessed, companies will be able to make use of data that comes from employees’ phone to detect how each person commuted. That “Enterprise Commute Trip Reduction” software would aggregate employee data into a dashboard, and automate commuter benefit programs. JVSV is working with transportation data management companies like Luum and RideAmigos to develop this technology.

The third component of FVC is a mobility aggregation app, which will knit together services like Lyft, Zipcar, and local public transit options like Caltrain, coordinating scheduling and payment in one place. Alongside that, JVSV will identify ways to improve gap-filling options for the first and last mile of people’s commutes-electric scooters and improved bike-share networks are options, Raney says. The last component of the strategy will entail working closely with the Bay Area’s existing transit networks to integrate them into the plan-given that there are 24 separate transit agencies in the region, some streamlining is definitely in order.

With cities across the U.S. becoming more and more congested (the proliferation of ride-sharing services like Uber is contributing to the problem), it’s clear that a one-note, brute-force approach to mitigation won’t work: Fixing this issue will require flexibility, collaboration, and scalability, all of which, Raney says, FVC provides. And the Bay Area, he adds, is the perfect testing ground. “The regional and public policy in Silicon Valley and California is a big change agent,” he says. “It could end up being the biggest thing changing transportation in the next 10 years.”

Here’s more about the finalists in the transportation category:

Project Interzone

Civil Maps

by Civil Maps
Beyond a standard GPS, self-driving cars will need a practically human level of sensitivity to navigate successfully through unfamiliar terrain. Civil Maps ‘ “location and augmented reality (AR) maps” translate the surrounding scene into 3D, data-driven maps that are updated in real time. Through crowdsourcing, the Civil Maps team will build out a centralized map collection that will apply to any to any environment at a low cost.

Smart City Challenge

by Vulcan
Cities are major drivers of climate change, but also where the solutions are likely to originate. With his team at Vulcan, founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen created an incentive for cities to realize a more sustainable an efficient approach to urban transit: a $40 million prize to the winning city to re-imagine its transportation system. Launched in December 2015, the Smart City Challenge aimed to motivate cities to use data, technology and creative thinking to become more sustainable. Seventy-eight cities across the country submitted ideas, which ranged from electric freight trucks in Kansas City to a network of shared self-driving cars in San Francisco. The scope of proposals submitted to the Smart City Challenge represents the direction in which all cities need to head to curb climate change.

Otto

by Otto
For decades America romanticized the life of a trucker: the open road, the freedom, the solitude. But conditions on the road have worsened, and driving has become increasingly unsafe for the people behind the wheel. Otto is developing self-driving kits that can be applied to any freight truck, improving the safety and productivity of drivers who often work exhausting hours to boost their earnings. Self-driving trucks remain alert, even when drivers are not fully, and by maintaining consistent speed and pooling shipments to carry a full cargo, Otto (which is currently being sued by Google parent company Alphabet for major theft of intellectual property) also aims to reduce the environmental footprint of long-haul transit.

AeroLiner3000

On-the-Go H2O

by Ford Motor Co.
With clean water in short supply in many parts of the world, and one in 10 people struggling to access it, developing alternative ways to source it is crucial. Ford’s contribution: A reservoir attached to a car’s air-conditioner ventilator, which collects condensation that would otherwise drip onto the pavement. In an hour, one On-The-Go H20 system could collect 24 ounces of water-enough to fill four water bottles. In many developing countries, where there’s a scarcity of water and a fair number of cars and trucks, the device could deliver water to people in need.

Connecting Cities and Citizens

by Mastercard
Commuting by public transit suddenly becomes a lot easier when you don’t have to wait in line to buy a ticket. Mastercard is working to help cities set up electronic payments for their transit systems. In 2016, commuters on New York’s Long Island Railroad and Metro-North trains gained access to MTAeTix -cashless tickets powered by Mastercard and Apple Pay. Since the system launched in August, over 280,000 new accounts were created; Mastercard will work with other cities to demonstrate how private and public sector can work together to boost transit ridership.

Hyperloop One

Cobi

Supersonic airline

RideCell

Parkarr

The Smiling Car

The Green Engine

by United Technologies
By developing a more efficient engine to power airplanes, United Technologies is ushering in a greener way to travel. Its engine, which took 20 years and $10 billion to develop, reduces fuel consumption by 16%, cuts particulate emissions by 50%, and reduces the aircraft noise by 75%. Reducing fuel consumption also cuts carbon dioxide emissions: Currently, commercial aviation emits 705 million metric tons of CO2 each year (2% of global carbon emissions). United Technologies’ engine would reduce emissions by 3,600 metric tons per aircraft each year.

BQXL: Brooklyn-Queens Crossline

The Proterra Catalyst E2 Series

by Proterra
Proterra saw that today’s electric buses can only handle about 45% of their daily mileage through cities without having to recharge, and decided that wasn’t good enough for our booming transit needs. The manufacturing company developed a battery that lasts for up to 350 miles while emitting zero tailpipe emissions. Each time a diesel vehicle is replaced by a zero-emission bus, CO2 emissions drop 243,980 pounds over the course of a year; the Catalyst E2 delivers a sustainable transit option without the inconvenience of having to stop mid-route to charge.

SOURCEFast Company
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