More compact cities may be where AVs start. INRIX identifies cities with most amenable travel patterns and urges officials to start planning for AVs

By Mike Maciag, Governing Magazine, 16 March 2017

A Google driverless car makes its way through Austin. (AP)

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.

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.

By  in Governing Magazine JULY 13, 2017

Employees work on a car in the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. As other auto manufacturers trim their workforce spending, Tesla plans to hire more than 1,000 technicians. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

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.

RELATED These Metro Areas Had the Top Job Gains Over the Past YearThe Cities Where Autonomous Vehicles Would Be Most PracticalJobs Key to Economic Growth Expanding Unevenly Across U.S.

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:

Metro Area
Vehicle parts manufacturing
Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Vehicle manufacturing
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 102,131.0 71,440 2,955 27,736
Elkhart-Goshen, IN 31,633.0 3,623 28,010
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 12,186.0 11,686 500
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 10,966.0 10,519 447
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 10,533.0 9,518 1,015
Kokomo, IN 10,343.0 10,343
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 9,793.0 6,900 2,244 649
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 9,599.0 9,276 323
Columbus, OH 9,201.0 8,341 860
Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 9,144.0 9,144
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 8,753.0 4,763 320 3,670
Knoxville, TN 8,133.0 7,646 487
Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN 7,553.0 7,553
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 6,959.0 6,230 729 0
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 6,439.0 5,811 628
Battle Creek, MI 6,067.0 6,067
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,875.0 2,565 1,852 458
Dayton, OH 4,864.0 4,864
Columbus, IN 4,676.0 4,676
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 4,133.0 3,650 483
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
Jackson, MI 2,883.0 2,883
SOURCE: Governing calculations of BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, December 2016 estimates

(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:

Metro Area
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
Figures compare December 2015 and December 2016 total employment for all three industry classifications with available data. Areas without comparable data for both months were excluded. SOURCE: Governing calculations of BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data
Recent indicators for 2017, particularly declining auto sales, suggest more regions will experience losses this year. Brookings’ Mark Muro views the job declines as a normal slowing after an extended period of growth. “For the next year or two,” he says, “it might be a less reliable source of manufacturing jobs.”

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.