Mobility technology drives into the Valley

Chandler leads the pack

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Municipalities across the Valley are taking different approaches to the evolving mobility technologies, but Chandler is a standout when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

This summer the city began working with Waymo to provide city employees with driverless rides to and from off-site work meetings. And the city has now opened up the program to Chandler employees’ families for their personal transportation needs, on the families’ dollar.

Add to that — Parking spaces for ride share and autonomous vehicles are starting to pop up throughout Chandler, most recently in front of city hall.

Other Valley municipalities are following suit, looking to the future and considering the possibility of using AV as well as other emerging technologies.

Garrick Taylor, senior vice president of government relations and communications of Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the chamber is a fan of the evolving mobility technology and hopes to see it thrive throughout the Valley.

“We are seeing the success of Waymo in Chandler, and other technologies in greater Phoenix,” he said. “We’re in support of regulating an environment that allows a cutting edge technology like autonomous vehicles to gain a foothold here. But we need to move forward in a manner that protects the public.”

AVs in Chandler

A couple times a week, Chandler Economic Development Director Micah Miranda steps into a cool vehicle waiting for him outside city hall poised for a trip to meetings, most recently it was to a local business.

But this car is driverless.

“I used the time for business purposes, increasing my efficiency while on the clock. And then the car brought me back to city hall. I saved 30 minutes work time,” he said.

The pilot program is expected to end June 31 2020. At that time, the city will evaluate whether the use of the autonomous vehicles cut the city’s costs to maintain and operate its vehicle fleet and boosted employee productivity while commuting to and from off-site work meetings.

Mr. Miranda said the program is an example of being proactive with the industry, which has set Chandler aside as a leader that embraces the new technology.

“We have gotten positive feedback from riders ... We have been approached by several AV development firms about research and design and testing capacity in Chandler,” he said. “What resonates with them is our residents and employee base and how they are responding to the technology.”

Chandler has been planing for more wide-spread use of AVs and ride sharing in the city by making changes to its zoning code

Last April, the city council approved zoning amendments to allow parking reductions based on parking demand studies and encourage passenger loading zones.

Under the changes, businesses will be allowed to reduce parking when a parking demand study finds that a reduction in demand is directly due to an increase in autonomous vehicles and ridesharing. Under the provision, the zoning administrator would have the ability to reduce up to 40 percent of parking.

If the use of rideshare increases, the code would allow for more drop-off and pick-up areas.

Devon McAslan, with the Center for Smart Cities and Regions at Arizona State University, said the changes in Chandler’s zoning code are a step in the right direction, and are innovative in that it links reduced parking to autonomous vehicles.

He said this strategy is two-fold — it can help minimize the oversupply of parking, which helps lower constructions costs, and can help make housing more affordable.

“On average, it costs between $5,000 to $10,000 to build a surface parking lot space and anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 to build a space in a parking garage, so this is potentially huge savings for developers,” Mr. McAslan said.

The new zoning code could also help ridesharing become the preferred deployment over privately owned AVs, which will help minimize some of the more negative concerns cities have with AVs, he said.

“Hopefully as the city moves forward with this, they will encourage developers who are not reducing the amount of parking they provide to do so during the approval process. It would be great if other cities adopted parking reforms like this, and if AVs convinced more cities that this is a realistic thing to do. I think the fact that Chandler adopted this zoning code, in one of the most car dependent regions in the U.S., can help encourage other cities to do similar things. These types of parking reforms are good policy, whether AVs are a reality or not.”

Tempe

Tempe City Council will consider the approval of its first Climate Action Plan, Nov. 7, which will provide a road map to achieve carbon neutrality in its municipal operations by 2050, with a strategy of using 100% renewable electricity sources by 2035.

Flagstaff passed a similar plan November 2018.

Tempe Sustainability Director Braden Kay said the primary cause of climate change is the overabundance of greenhouse gas emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere. In Tempe, 43% of total emissions comes from transpiration.

So autonomous and electric vehicles are a big part of the puzzle, he said.

“The big thing is, with more Arizona cities looking at climate action, we need to look at transportation, which is a huge part of the challenge,” Mr. Kay said.

The Climate Action Plan puts a focus on autonomous and electric vehicles and states Tempe must prioritize investments in alternative forms of transportation. It sets goals to triple the number of public charging stations available to residents by 2022 and amend building codes to require that new buildings are charging station-ready, which will lower the costs of retrofitting buildings.

“There is a really exciting opportunity here,” Mr. Kay said. “We want our cities and state to be more sustainable.”

Peoria

Peoria city officials are open to new mobility technologies, and have been discussing how they may be implemented.

The city experienced a nearly $300,000 shortfall in budgeting for gas for its fleet services division earlier this year, and the use of electric vehicles in its fleet services division could be an option in planning for the city mid- to long-term. Public Works Director Kevin Burke said the city could consider future models of electric pick-up trucks that will get up to a 400-mile range per full charge.

The city has 210 pick-ups in its fleet, at about $30,000 per truck, versus about $70,000 for an electric truck, Mr. Burke said.

“At 210 vehicles, that is about an $8.5 million hit,” he said “So we really need to look at the return on investment and how we grow into this space as we move forward.”

Also looking to the future, autonomous vehicles or scooters could be a solution to Peoria’s “first mile last mile” obstacle — the beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by public transportation.

Mr. Burke said 53% of transit systems are interested in testing autonomous vehicles to fill the “first mile last mile” need, according to a survey by mobility company TransDev.

“We think P83 is probably our best candidate for starting that conversation,” he said.

Scottsdale

As in many cities, the Scottsdale City Council has adopted language in their code to regulate electric bicycles and scooters, essentially responding to the micromobility movement that has swept across the Valley.

But city transportation planners said the autonomous vehicle technology is a separate issue. Planners said electric vehicles are becoming more prevalent for personal ownership — Tesla and other large car manufacturers are selling more electric vehicles to the general public.

But Scottsdale’s transportation department, as with many other transportation departments, has responded to autonomous vehicles in a “wait and see” manner.

Planners said driverless vehicles are being tested in the public realm, but more testing must be completed before the Scottsdale has fully autonomous vehicles.

“Machines can’t be trusted to get it right all the time,” planners said.

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