A Roadmap for the Future of Transportation

Daniel Herrig

A major deployment for self-driving car service for the public is taking shape in Frisco, with potential to provide a roadmap for the future of transportation to cities across the nation. 

The pilot project involves a public-private partnership among Drive.ai, the City of Frisco, the Denton County Transportation Authority and the private developments for Hall Park, The Star and Frisco Station. North Central Texas Council of Governments, the regional metropolitan planning organization (MPO), helped advise on the implementation as well. With Texas law allowing autonomous vehicle (AV) companies to test without notifying local agencies, the collaboration of private developers with local, regional, and transit agencies is notable. The collaborative atmosphere that opens local government to be flexible to the changing nature of transportation is important to learn from and mimic for future implementations in other communities. 

The North Texas service begins in July 2018. Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project, is testing driverless cars in Atlanta, but that service is not open yet to the public. 

AV involves more than just solving the technology and software barriers. Public education is a crucial component to get people comfortable with it. Pilot projects, such as this one in Frisco, help the public to see and feel the technology and build trust behind artificial intelligence being the driver, something that has suffered in recent months with an array of incidences.

By partnering between public and private interests, local government’s priority for human safety can balance the private interest for rapid implementation and maintain a more incremental approach to minimize risks. For Frisco this is seen in the limited service zone and route for which the self-driving vehicles operates. Rather than rolling out the service citywide, the unknown variables are minimized to the specified service area with plans to enlarge the area as the artificial intelligence (AI) is improved and the software bugs fixed in the smaller area.

Frisco’s application of the pilot project is also notable, relying on micro-transit, which can help reduce trips and congestion and improve mobility between diverse land uses in a suburban setting . Micro-transit AV can serve as a good entry point to acclimate the public to AV technology, maintain AV safety and provide a public good. 

What is Micro-transit?

Micro-transit is a transportation service on the spectrum between the single-occupant vehicle and the typical 40-foot bus. It typically has two variations:

  • Operating like a bus route, though with lower ridership and connecting homes with workplaces
  • Connecting complementary districts that are too far for comfortable walking but too close for reasonable re-parking after driving 

Either way, the service reduces overall vehicle trips, also reducing congestion. In Frisco’s project, the service would connect an office park (Hall Park) with a restaurant/entertainment district (The Star) and multifamily residential area (Frisco Station). 

The micro-transit model of a shuttle-type system created through a public-private partnership could be replicated across many cities throughout the nation. Adding the AV element enhances this service as a public interface for education and shows a forward-thinking mindset for long-term service.

Future Use

With safety of AV on everyone’s mind, especially since the self-driving Uber fatality in Arizona, limiting a first-time service to fixed routes would be a good first step. This would allow the operator to advance the AI as issues are found and incrementally grow the service area to avoid too many unknowns.

While Frisco is the first, many cities across Texas and the United States similarly could use micro-transit AV, now or in the future. Let’s keep an eye on lessons learned from Frisco while we find opportunities within our own communities to benefit from the technology.