Some urban areas, though, make better markets for the new technology than others. Driving conditions, traffic patterns and demographics are just a few of the factors determining how ideal a city is for autonomous vehicles.
A new report from INRIX, a Seattle-based traffic data collection and research firm, offers insight on where the high-tech cars could best be deployed. It’s important, the report emphasizes, for governments in these areas to begin planning for autonomous vehicles to avoid potentially negative consequences down the road.
INRIX analyzed data for the 50 largest cities, comparing two measures: how often trips were less than 10 miles and the percentage of trips starting and ending within a 25-mile radius of a city’s downtown.
INRIX selected these measures because autonomous vehicles are expected to predominantly have electric powertrains, meaning they can’t stray too far from charging stations. Many will also operate as shared-use vehicles, so they’ll need to serve areas closer to population centers where seats will be filled.
Unsurprisingly, places INRIX generally found most favorable tend to be less sprawling.
New Orleans, a fairly compact region, was found to be the most practical place for autonomous vehicles based on travel patterns. Earlier this year, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority conducted a public demonstration of a driverless shuttle bus. “It’s another tool in being able to connect people from where they live to where their jobs are,” says Jeff Hebert, the city’s deputy mayor and chief administrative officer.
Cities determined to be least conducive to autonomous vehicles aren’t necessarily sparsely populated places. San Francisco — one of the nation’s most densely populated cities — ranked third from last, and Chicago, another dense city, also registered one of the lowest scores because people there tend to take more trips that are either longer or originate far from downtown.
Numerous other factors not considered in the INRIX report also dictate where autonomous vehicles could be most feasible.
For example, cities with flat landscapes and warm climates might be easier to navigate than those with more hills or inclement weather. Uber chose Pittsburgh as the test site for its autonomous vehicle pilot program in part for this reason. Company officials indicated that the city’s rough driving conditions, which include hilly roads and the occasional blizzard, make for good proving grounds.
Demographics matter, too. Places with more college students, elderly and low-income households without access to vehicles make for ideal markets.
Another place that could be especially prime for autonomous vehicles is Austin, one of the country’s fastest-growing cities. The city’s downtown includes the state Capitol, University of Texas campus and central business district — all requiring short trips. Austin also enjoys a few infrastructure advantages, such as numerous electric vehicle charging stations that are managed by a publicly owned utility.
Robert Spillar, director of the city’s transportation department, foresees fleets of autonomous vehicles potentially filling holes. “We have a robust transit system, but it hasn’t kept pace with the demand and dispersion of trips,” he says. In addition, two of the biggest ride-sharing companies — Lyft and Uber — stopped offering service in Austin last year.
Earlier this month, the city council passed a resolution directing the city manager to develop a mobility plan around shared, electric and autonomous vehicle services.
The INRIX report recommends governments in areas best suited for deployment begin planning for autonomous vehicles. INRIX’s Avery Ash, who co-authored the report, suggests they could invest in dedicated lanes or identify potential pick up and drop off points, for instance.
“It’s not just a thumbs up or thumbs down for autonomous vehicles but thinking about what areas you want to prioritize for deployment,” he says.
Some state and local governments have already taken steps to upgrade infrastructure in anticipation of their arrival. Boston, for one, has partnered with a company that recently started testing self-driving cars in one neighborhood. Ann Arbor, Mich., is experimenting with connected vehicles that can communicate with traffic control devices.
While the introduction of autonomous vehicles may be alluring, it could potentially result in unintended consequences that make traffic problems worse. Many urban planners fear the vehicles could lead people to travel more often or accept longer commutes, further clogging roadways.
Alternatively, with proper planning, autonomous vehicles could evolve in a way that doesn’t stifle urbanization. Under this scenario, commuters would continue utilizing high-capacity modes of transportation and share rides in autonomous vehicles that don’t add more cars to roadways.
“There are two visions that collectively everybody says are the two possibilities,” says Austin’s Spillar. “I would hope for the more rosy version, but there’s no guarantee that we get there.”
Currently, little research and policy guidance around planning for autonomous vehicles exists. Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute launched an initiative last year aimed at formulating a framework and best practices for governments to follow. The program, which includes 10 international cities, expects to release its first reports later this year.
NOTE: For its analysis, INRIX considered what it calls “highly autonomous vehicles,” or HAVs. Some vehicles being tested require occasional intervention by drivers, while driverless cars can operate completely without any human involvement.
Auto Manufacturing’s Slowdown Could Trouble Some U.S. Regions
The industry has been a key driver of the sector’s job gains. See which metro areas could suffer most from expected job losses.
For a few years, steady growth in auto manufacturing helped prop up regional economies recovering from the recession. But new data indicate that the industry’s momentum has stalled.
Vehicle sales declined for the sixth consecutive month in June, and automakers are responding. Ford announced plans in May to trim 10 percent of its salaried workforce in North America and Asia. Similarly, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler have eliminated shifts at some facilities.
Automakers have played a critical role in the larger manufacturing sector’s recovery since it bottomed out in early 2010. In fact, a Brookings Institution analysis finds that the auto industry was responsible for 60 to 80 percent of total manufacturing growth over the 15-month period ending in March.
Given that auto manufacturing has served as one of the few bright spots across the manufacturing sector, new indications of accelerating job losses could spell trouble for regional economies where automakers and parts suppliers are major employers.
We’ve compiled U.S. Department of Labor data highlighting such regions. The federal Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages reports data for three industries closely associated with auto manufacturing, and the following 25 metro areas reported the highest tallies in those industries as of December:
Vehicle parts manufacturing
Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||10,533.0||9,518||1,015|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||9,793.0||6,900||2,244||649|
|San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||8,753.0||4,763||320||3,670|
|Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN||7,553.0||7,553|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||6,959.0||6,230||729||0|
|Battle Creek, MI||6,067.0||6,067|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||4,875.0||2,565||1,852||458|
|Ann Arbor, MI||4,100.0||4,100|
|Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY||4,021.0||4,021|
|Kansas City, MO-KS||3,942.0||3,797||145|
|Bowling Green, KY||3,854.0||3,854|
(Data was not reported for some metro areas. These numbers also don’t include all related employers that do business with auto manufacturers.)
Nationally, auto manufacturing employment grew last year by just over 2 percent. The Detroit region, which employs by far the most workers in the auto industry, experienced a slight increase of about 3,000 employees over the 12-month period ending in December. Atlanta and Knoxville, Tenn., are among other regions with notable upticks in hiring.
The Charlotte, N.C., area, meanwhile, shed nearly 12 percent of its workforce.
Here’s how auto manufacturing employment fluctuated over the 12 months ending in December across select metro areas with significant employment in the industry:
December 2016 Jobs
December 2015 Jobs
BLS Industries Included
|Ann Arbor, MI||-1.6%||4,100||4,167||Vehicle parts manufacturing|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||15.1%||6,959||6,048||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY||-4.3%||4,021||4,200||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC||-11.5%||6,439||7,273||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI||2.1%||12,186||11,939||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN||7.5%||10,966||10,204||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Columbus, IN||-2.9%||4,676||4,816||Vehicle parts manufacturing|
|Columbus, OH||-0.9%||9,201||9,287||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||4.7%||10,533||10,064||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI||3.0%||102,131||99,114||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing, Vehicle manufacturing|
|Elkhart-Goshen, IN||7.6%||31,633||29,404||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN||4.6%||9,599||9,180||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Jackson, MI||1.7%||2,883||2,836||Vehicle parts manufacturing|
|Kansas City, MO-KS||16.0%||3,942||3,397||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Knoxville, TN||17.5%||8,133||6,921||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing|
|Kokomo, IN||0.3%||10,343||10,311||Vehicle parts manufacturing|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||3.0%||9,793||9,512||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing, Vehicle manufacturing|
|Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN||3.1%||7,553||7,323||Vehicle parts manufacturing|
|Nashville-Davidson, TN||0.3%||9,144||9,118||Vehicle parts manufacturing|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||-0.3%||4,875||4,888||Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing, Vehicle manufacturing|
A few segments of the industry are faring better. Sales of trucks and SUVs are up from last year, and Tesla just announced the hiring of more than 1,000 technicians as it rolls out its highly anticipated Model 3 electric vehicle.
Still, few other areas of manufacturing have shown signs of life. The latest federal estimates for June indicate there were 12.4 million total manufacturing workers nationwide, about the same as two years ago. Unless other large segments of manufacturing begin hiring, such as chemical, electronics or plastics manufacturing, the auto industry’s slowdown is likely to act as a major drag on the sector’s overall growth.
About the Data
The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages does not report total auto manufacturing jobs, but rather estimates for narrower related industries. The three industries referenced in this report include motor vehicle parts manufacturing (NAICS 3363), motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing (NAICS 3362), and motor vehicle manufacturing (NAICS 3361). Many regions not listed also support significant auto manufacturing employment. Job estimates were unavailable for these areas, either because the Labor Department suppresses the totals or there were no workers. Figures refer only to private-sector employment.