Two prominent areas of technological advancement should be explored in depth as potential ways to improve transportation in New Jersey: integrating “ride hail” companies into gaps in the state’s service infrastructure, and introducing automated vehicle technology.
“RIDE HAIL” SERVICES
Many New Jerseyans have cars they use mainly to go to and from the stations where they catch trains to go to work. Taking a feeder bus from home to the station, or from the station to the job, is not a feasible alternative because of scarcity of service. Substituting ride hail services for these “first mile” and “last mile” parts of the commute could save commuters the cost of owning and maintaining an extra automobile, protect land from unproductive use as parking areas, and increase access to office sites located beyond walking distance from the station. At the request of the ride hail company Uber, the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University is exploring the economic feasibility of such technology.
Specialized travel for the elderly and for people with disabilities has skyrocketed in cost in many jurisdictions,30 making this another area with potential for ride hailing. Annual costs for NJ Transit’s Access Link service nearly quadrupled from 2004 to 2014, and services are in danger of shrinking because their dedicated funding source—casino tax revenue—is shrinking.
A third costly area of transit operations, lightly used bus routes in low-density suburbs, also deserves scrutiny. Experiments in replacing some bus routes with ride hail services are occurring in some small jurisdictions in the U.S.31
Examine the possible use of ride hail contractors for providing “first mile” and “last mile” specialized transportation services and replacing low-density and special-market bus service.
DRIVERLESS CAR POTENTIAL
Advent of the self-driving car may turn out to be digital technology’s biggest transformative influence. Self-driving cars could have vast implications on the quality of our everyday lives, the shape and texture of suburbs and cities, and the depth and scope of public and private infrastructure investments for decades to come.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued guidance on the relationship between the development and introduction of self-driving cars and government regulation, which emphasized that these groundbreaking vehicles are on the horizon. A leading reason that past leadership of USDOT was receptive to this new technology was the potential for each car to instantaneously transform its operator into an extremely safe driver.
The guidance lists a 15-point safety standard for design and development of autonomous driverless cars. The guidance also recommends that states develop uniform policies applying to driverless cars. A new Governors’ Highway Safety Report delves into the issues that states must face as this technology is introduced onto their roadways.32
The low concrete dividers that are ubiquitous on the nation’s roadways are known to transportation experts as “Jersey barriers” because they were developed here. The evolution of the self-driving car provides another opportunity for New Jersey to become associated with a lifesaving concept.
Pursue ways New Jersey can lead development of self-driving car technology.
The state’s superior higher educational institutions and its quality labor force make this a good place to invent, develop, test, and roll out this technology. For example, Princeton professor Alain Kornhauser, editor of the “SmartDrivingCars” newsletter, is at the forefront of university involvement and advocacy on self-driving car technology. And New Jersey is home to the North American headquarters of three of the leading automakers invested in this technology: BMW, Volvo, and Subaru. These companies and their suppliers should feel welcome to establish research and development efforts in a crowded state with a four-season climate that would be an excellent test site for the industry.
Some complementary initiatives could be automating the exclusive bus lane to the Lincoln Tunnel to increase its capacity (as recommended in the recent Port Authority Commuter Capacity study report) and making the state’s roadways, especially the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, friendly to self-driving cars and trucks.