Driverless neighborhood shuttles to transit may be the last hope for getting Americans to stop drivi

Transit should be the focus of many of our trips, or, at the very least, our work commutes.

But living even just a half-mile away from transit is often enough to get most people defaulting to their private vehicles. Even with all this tech and the new business models filtering into neighborhoods near-ish to transit, there is not much of a spike in transit use around the country.

Take the neighborhood I live in, for instance. It’s in the Washington D.C. region and about 1.2 miles from the nearest Metrorail stop. It’s filled with young working families who know many of their neighbors. Many walk or bike to their jobs, and many more take transit, but I’m convinced many more would take it if they had a first/last-mile option to get there.

Some experts have told me that Uber and Lyft are perfect for this kind of trip. And that can work sometimes, like when you’re carrying bags to get to the airport. But it gets pricey. Metro alone is really expensive, at around $10 per day to round-trip commute. Add in Uber fares and it begins to make sense to drive and deal with traffic and parking prices and stress, but at least in the comfort of your own metal sanctuary.

Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better to have an autonomous shuttle on a regular loop of my neighborhood, say, every 10 minutes during rush hours and every 30 minutes during other times of the day? Sounds a lot like a bus, but buses sure seem a lot less predictable. Further, there are frankly a lot of people who would be willing to take a trendy new option that doesn’t call itself a bus that could present itself as a clean, roomy, friendly way to get to the Metro.

The company that runs the service could do a full-blown educational launch in the places it’s identified, through smart data, as the places where great outreach combined with enthusiastic word-of-mouth would make the service a success. And friends and family and neighbors could all share a bit of the day together as well when they frequently run into each other in these hyper-localized shuttles to the wider world of the Washington D.C. region.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but was finally moved to put the idea down on paper after reading this excellent article by Eric Adams in The Drive titled American commuters fail miserably at last-mile mobility.

It lays out the argument as to why even my great idea could fail. And, if my idea fails, I fear it might be the last great hope to get our transit systems to be the central focus of all our future transportation innovations.

For the most part, we don’t take alternative options particularly seriously here in the good ol’ USA. Indeed, while most of us say we love variety in our lives—in music, in friends, in vacations, in exercise, in work—there aren’t many who dig a lot of variety in our commutes. We may drive to the train station, ride the rails into town, and hoof it to the office, but that’s usually out of economic necessity. In reality, every transition is a pain point; every mode fraught with its own potential for hassle.

Transfers are indeed very unwelcome for most people. This is why transit agencies need to step up to make these first-mile options as painless as possible. If they don’t, all these rumblings about how autonomous vehicles will render transit obsolete will be another step closer to reality. Transit needs to, at this point, consider itself in a desperate struggle to survive amongst all the new competition. Adams continues:

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