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Autonomous Vehicles and Equity

As Smart City technology becomes closer to reality, we must act to make sure these services are equitable and accessible for all.

By IBI Insights


September 21, 2018

Autonomous vehicles (AV’s) remain a key component of the Smart Cities movement and are set to revolutionize mobility through hype-worthy offerings such as: liberation from wasted time in traffic, ability to free up parking spaces for alternative uses, faster shift to electric vehicles. The list goes on…

Those in opposition are warry that AV’s will make our cities even more car-centric by means of convenience, just as TNC’s have. The internet is bellowing with concerns like these and more, setting the foundation for fruitful discourse. The participatory nature of the internet is proving to be a powerful and democratic tool by hosting an open platform to crowdsource key concerns. When a particular question gains enough traction, this can then guide the conversation when designing principles and guidelines. In an era of digital open dialogue, smarter questions lead to smarter outcomes.

Policy recommendations have been attentive to key questions that address safety, hackability and liability to name a few, but what’s still left in the air is much more complicated and systemic. These are the questions of equity.

Who will have access to autonomous vehicles? Will they be subsidized? Where will they park? How will I access an AV if I don’t have a smart phone? What if I don’t have a bank account? What will happen to the millions of driving service jobs?

We must frame the conversation in a way that understands mobility as a human right, and acknowledge the assumed privileges that are muted in much of the Smart City dialogue. These issues trail insidiously between economic, geographical, racial, technological, linguistic, and physical boundaries and more.

In an interview with Space10, Director of the Princeton University Center for Architecture, Urbanism, and Infrastructure, Marshall James, illustrates just one of the antithetical geopolitical issues that stem from AVs:

“In dense, central business districts or urban cores where land is expensive and scarce, a car that can park itself is a great thing. Because then you can send the car anywhere: it’ll drop you off and then it’ll just go somewhere else to sleep during the day or at night. That’s great, especially for European town centres, many of which don’t allow cars inside of them. However, the flip and dark side is, where do all these vehicles go? They’re going to go to places where the land is less expensive and more abundant. Either the countryside, or poor neighborhoods, or the suburbs. Parking could become some sort of new negative externality, similar to a trash dump. That could be very, very bad. There are always these kinds of situations where you see both positive and negative effects.”

As we draw nearer to the implementation of Smart City technologies, the time is ripe to make sure that Smart City benefits are distributed equally among communities. Through digital discourse, I hope to further the dialogue for more equitable outcomes.

Photo by Matteo Catanese on Unsplash

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