The Fuse

This Week In AVs: AVs Can Open Up Opportunities For Low-Income Communities; AVs Can Minimize U.S. Food Deserts; And More

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | July 23, 2020

AVs Can Unlock Economic Opportunities For Low-Income Households, SAFE Research Finds
More than 75 million U.S. households are in neighborhoods with housing and transportation costs of above 45 percent of household income—a level that forces many families to make difficult choices, but recent SAFE research finds AVs have the capacity to redress this issue. Published last week, “Fostering Economic Opportunity Through Autonomous Vehicle Technology” found that AV transportation can reduce transportation costs by up to $5,600 per household—and a $5,000 reduction in transportation costs can bring 25 million households within the 45 percent affordability threshold. The promise of point-to-point, on-demand transportation means fewer households will have to take on the financial stress of owning a car to access job opportunities and balance other commitments—such as childcare and healthcare appointments—with maintaining employment.

The biggest factor in upward economic mobility is actual mobility itself, and as SAFE President and CEO Robbie Diamond noted in a statement, “for many Americans, today’s transportation system simply isn’t an affordable or efficient option.” SAFE’s research also found that AVs offer a low-cost solution to the systemic gaps in today’s transportation system: operating costs for AVs in 2030 range from 30-50 cents per mile, compared to a per-mile cost for buses of $1.31 today. While the post-pandemic focus should be on getting transportation up and running again, today’s AV pilots will inform tomorrow’s integrated, automated transportation system that serves everyone with equal efficacy—and access to reliable, affordable transportation can provide low-income communities with the opportunity for upward economic and social mobility.

Autonomous Grocery Delivery Can Shrink American Food Deserts
More than 20 million people in the United States live in food deserts, but research from Nuro finds the company’s autonomous delivery vehicles could reach 14 million, or 70 percent, of those Americans. Food deserts are low-income areas—and predominantly minority neighborhoods—which do not have a nearby supermarket. As a result, residents either have to choose between shopping at higher-priced mini marts which often lack fresh produce, travel longer distances to supermarkets instead, or pay an extra $10-20 for the groceries to be delivered.

In the research, Nuro states that its goal is to reduce this delivery cost to $0, providing people living on fixed or low incomes the same convenient and affordable access to fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, or meat as those who live in food-rich areas. The company believes it can achieve this through its R2 autonomous delivery vehicles, which will cost less to deploy, run and maintain than today’s gasoline-powered delivery vehicles.

AV Companies Ramp Up Trucking Ambitions
This week, Waymo announced that it is expanding its partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to prioritize the commercial trucking market, beginning with implementing its Level 4 technology into FCA’s Ram ProMaster vans. In a blog post, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said, “Together, we’ll introduce the Waymo Driver throughout the FCA brand portfolio, opening up new frontiers for ride-hailing, commercial delivery, and personal-use vehicles around the world.”

The announcement comes after Aurora revealed it will begin testing its fleet of self-driving cars and semi trucks in Texas within the next few weeks. Basing its trials in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, the AV startup will test its hardware and software in Class 8 tractor trailers. Aurora says its first commercial service will be in trucking “where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best, and the level of service requirements is most accommodating.”