By Jeruld Weiland and Bianca Wachtel, Rocky Mountain Institute
With 13 of the world’s 14 largest automakers publicly committed to delivering autonomous vehicles to the market, we can confidently say that the mobility system of the future is no longer just a concept. In fact, the commercial deployment of these self-driving vehicles is imminent, with 12 of the world’s 14 largest technology companies already building hardware and software to support and operate them.
We call these market developments new mobility. It’s the vision and execution of shared, electric, autonomous mobility services in cities designed for it. And while the usual suspects such as Google, Apple, Uber, and GM (and many others) are aggressively shaping the new mobility market, especially the “shared, electric, autonomous mobility services” part, the “cities designed for it” part is equally fundamental to a successful transition. Austin, Texas, is stepping up to the plate.
Cities designed for new mobility can take a number of forms, and of course, mobility-oriented development (MOD) is a decisive one. But before MOD can materialize, it’s incumbent on city governments to signal their support for the key change agents—both public and private—that will ultimately be responsible for delivering the products and services that drive the mobility transformation. The New Mobility Resolution, passed by the City of Austin on March 2 with support from Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), puts the city one step closer to becoming a home and hub for the commercialization and at-scale consumer adoption of the new mobility paradigm. In other words, Austin is designing and readying itself for new mobility.
The resolution directs the city manger to develop a New Mobility Plan and prepare the city to take a global leadership role in the transition to shared, electric, and autonomous mobility services in a “city ready and willing for it.” It can be understood as a clear signal to new mobility stakeholders such as Google, GM, Nissan, Daimler, and Ford—and the ever-increasing crowd of product and service providers—that the city is ready to welcome and support innovators.
While it remains to be seen exactly what form this support will take, the proposal of a chief officer of the new mobility transformation indicates that the City plans to resource this effort. In fact, the plan will be integrated into the City’s commitment to net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s effectively an invitation for transformative disruption. The resolution also proposes the development of P4s—Public/Private/People Partnerships—as a mechanism to simultaneously progress commercialization and consumer adoption.
The resolution is part of a broader effort by the city to usher in the mobility transformation. Initiatives such as Austin Don’t Rush, the Municipal Fleet EV Resolution, the Strategic Mobility Plan, DOT Smart City Challenge, Cap Metro Connections 2025, EV Challenge, Code Next, and Mobility ATX, along with the strong leadership role of Mayor Adler and the City Council Mobility Committee, point to ongoing progress in Austin’s mobility space. The city’s reputation for entrepreneurship and innovation has already attracted mobility pioneers such as Google (which is testing its self-driving vehicles there), Ride Austin, Fasten, Car2Go, B-Cycle, SPLT, and Chariot, with other original equipment manufacturers and entrepreneurs poised to join the fray. It’s clear that Austin has already forged a leadership role.
A catalyst in this momentum, RMI selected Austin as the lead implementation city for our Mobility Transformation program. Since 2015, we’ve partnered with the City to bring together public and private stakeholders to develop and implement shared, electrified, and eventually autonomous mobility solutions. Projects include commuting solutions, fleet electrification, autonomous vehicle pilots, mobility data, and mobility-oriented development. It’s worth calling out MOD as a critical piece of the new mobility puzzle. It’s foundational to creating cities designed to not only accommodate new mobility, but also cultivate it. That’s why we’re currently engaged with the City to help design innovative land use codes that promote health, environmental, and economic benefits by addressing their potential consequences on the mobility system. We are working on pilots, informing policy, and providing research and thought leadership to learn with the broader community how to catalyze and accelerate the new mobility transformation.
All of this paints a clear picture of Austin’s role in the advancement of new mobility. The New Mobility Plan will be submitted to the City Council in June and will outline the material pathways to achieving the City’s ambitious goals. And hopefully it will inspire pioneering companies to join us in Austin as we continue the journey toward commercialization and at-scale consumer adoption of the new mobility paradigm!