2018 was supposed to be a banner year for self-driving cars – or autonomous vehicles.  It didn’t happen!

After pedestrian deaths in March, both Uber and Tesla scaled back significantly on initiatives that were on a fast track. The future for self-driving vehicles looked even bleaker after 50 percent of 25,000 consumers surveyed globally said they did not believe autonomous vehicles (AVs) were safe.

Interestingly enough, none of this slowed public officials’ interest in or demand for autonomous vehicles. Now, cities throughout the country are announcing plans to launch autonomous vehicle projects in 2019. Some of the impetus is likely the upcoming competition for smart city funding. Self-driving vehicles are the future and pilot projects are extremely attractive to municipal leaders.

Autonomous vehicles will become safer as 5G wireless is expanded. Faster connection reduces the possibility of a dropped connection. Driverless vehicles cannot access needed data without continual wireless connectivity.

The global AV market is forecast to grow significantly with projections of $127 billion by 2027 and $173 billion by 2030.  From 2018-2022, predictions are that the autonomous vehicles market globally will grow at 41.61 percent.  That’s a staggering statistic…the question is whether this is real or not.

Between 2011 and 2017, 22 states passed bills related to AV usage while five governors signed executive orders encouraging their development. Most of the legislative action expressly permitted AV pilots. This year, another boon in state action on AV policy is underway with 28 states introducing, debating or passing new laws related to autonomous vehicles.

mercedes benz 2715455 960 720 Better get ready to ride in a driverless vehicle in 2019Just this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced $60 million in grant funding which will be available for AV demonstration projects. The funding is available for various types of projects that test the safe integration of AVs onto U.S. streets and transportation systems.

Public institutions, including local, state and tribal governments, transit agencies and public research institutions, are eligible to apply for funding. Grant applications are due March 21.

The city of San Antonio will soon issue a request for proposals (RFP) for autonomous vehicle testing. The city’s Office of Innovation intends to hold a smart city vendor summit this year and has identified three zones well-suited for testing so-called smart city technologies. The Medical District, Brooks and downtown San Antonio were chosen as grounds for future initiatives that will eventually be rolled out citywide. While the city has yet to release a cost total, projects will be funded in part through Smart Mobility Texas, a statewide coalition of public and private groups focused on bringing smart technology to Texas.

San Jose, California, is interested in having shared autonomous electric vehicles to integrate with public transit as part of a public-private partnership. After realizing some major tech companies in the area were using city streets for private testing, city officials decided to take an active role in shaping how self-driving vehicles would impact San Jose. The city hosted a roundtable with the mayor and more than 30 private-sector AV developers as well as USDOT officials.  AV developers have been working with the city and driverless vehicles should roll out in early 2019.

Tampa Bay, Florida, is planning a major connected and autonomous vehicle project for 2019. An RFP for a $3 million project will be released later this month with an anticipated selection date in April. The project calls for professional engineering and technical personnel to supplement the department’s traffic engineering and operations office staff. The city’s connected vehicle program is one of several transportation projects the city intends to launch this year. Other projects include a $5 million sunshine sky bridge and a $5 million transportation master plan.

Last month, the Chicago City Council voted to take over rights to the Chicago Terminal Railroad line. They plan to turn the former freight line into a route for buses and mass transit that the city wants to create from the edge of Lincoln Park and Bucktown to commuter trains at Ogilvie Transportation Center. While the project is still in the early stages, the City Council is considering an autonomous vehicle pilot project for a1.8-mile stretch. The project would consist of an autonomous bus-train hybrid, on wheels rather than tracks. City officials will begin meeting with industry leaders this year to assess the feasibility of an autonomous bus project.

Don’t want to ride in a driverless shuttle or train?  Better get over it because that is going to be the common mode of moving people at airports, through urban areas and in parks and entertainment venues in the near future.

Transportation is changing and computer-operated, driverless vehicles in every size, shape and type are definitely the future for citizens.

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Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.