How Autonomous Driving Could Progress Mobility Equity

By Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving

When we think of transportation and the way we move as a society, we may think of it as a singular monolith that works the same way for everyone. In truth, not all mobility access is equal. Some people and communities have fewer transportation options and face greater risks while getting from “point A” to “point B.” These difficulties are often due to a systemic injustice called transportation inequity. It can affect every aspect of life, from accessing health care to getting to school and work. It also affects how long some people can expect to live.

The symptoms of transportation inequity, such as higher pedestrian fatalities and fewer transit options, often affect low-income and minority communities the most.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Autonomous driving technology has the potential to provide safe mobility options for road users and pedestrians and complement existing public transportation networks to close transit gaps, enabling more people to get to school, work, and healthcare.

Problem: Higher pedestrian fatalities in communities of color

From the moment they walk out of the door, people of color may face more obstacles in reaching their destinations and threats to their safety while in transit. A 2015 study by Portland State University in Oregon and the University of Arizona found that drivers are less likely to stop for Black pedestrians trying to cross the street.

Because of factors like lack of pedestrian infrastructure and poor road design, there are more pedestrian fatalities in poor communities and communities of color. According to research by Smart Growth America, the pedestrian fatality rate for Black people is twice as high as white people in the U.S. on average, and up to three to nine times higher depending on the state. And the poorer a community is the more likely pedestrians are to die, according to an analysis by Governing.

Complicating everything, as a transportation planner pointed out in Bloomberg CityLab, planners do not always consult representatives from communities of color when implementing street safety programs, failing to get buy-in while also failing to address the root causes of transit inequity.

Opportunity: Autonomous driving technology holds the potential to improve road safety

Autonomous driving technology holds a strong promise for road safety. It can be designed to be constantly vigilant, follow traffic laws, and predict what other road users may do next. All this means autonomous driving technology can, in a split-second, make billions of driving decisions that take the safety of road users – including pedestrians to cyclists – into account.

Problem: Communities of color have fewer transit options, face larger distances between transit hubs

Where local transit, especially public transportation, options are limited, residents face bigger challenges in  reaching the places where they learn, work, and seek healthcare. The Urban Information Lab at the University of Texas-Austin estimates up to 4.5 million people in 52 U.S. cities live in “transit deserts” where residents, who are largely low-income people of color, need more transportation than what is available to them.

People in these communities often face what planners call the “first-mile, last-mile” problem, or difficulty reaching the first public transit stop in their journeys or getting home from the final stop because they lie outside the range of what is considered walkable, which is typically defined as a quarter mile. This problem may also be compounded by a lack of safe infrastructure for them to reach the stops.

Opportunity: Autonomous driving technology could help with first-mile, last-mile transit

Autonomous driving technology could help local transit agencies address the “first-mile, last-mile” problem by complementing existing public transportation networks. For example, planners in Phoenix have explored partnerships with companies like Waymo to provide more people with safe, reliable, and convenient options to reach public transportation stops. Waymo currently operates an autonomous rideshare service in Phoenix, called Waymo One.

According to the Mobility Equity Framework from the Greenlining Institute, making transportation accessible means improving affordability, accessibility, efficiency, reliability, and safety into account while reducing air pollution.

For transit agencies and passengers, fully autonomous driving technology could help expand on existing infrastructure, bring new mobility options to underserved populations and neighborhoods, add greater convenience and reliability through on-demand models, and improve road safety. Autonomous driving technology could help bridge the “first-mile, last-mile” gap to connect more people with transit. It may also one day reduce emissions and improve air quality by providing more efficient passenger and freight transportation.

Transit equity and long-term environmental impact

Long term, shared mobility through autonomous fleets could have a positive environmental impact. Climate change-fueled heat waves and air pollution hit communities of color the hardest. People of color are three times more likely to live in a community with fewer parks and green spaces that could absorb heat and mitigate increasingly common heat waves, driving a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect.

Where autonomous ride-hailing continues to advance, it could eventually free up spaces in cities that are currently used for large parking lots for housing, grocery stores, healthcare facilities, and parks. Low income communities would benefit disproportionately from this.

In its 2017 Framework for Equity in New Mobility, TransForm urged cities and planners to take autonomous driving technology, which they refer to under the umbrella of “new mobility,” into consideration when planning for the future. All these potential opportunities mean that autonomous driving technology could be part of reducing air pollution in the future while allowing cities to transform urban heat islands, resulting in positive benefits for many different communities.

While autonomous driving technology is not the only answer for issues affecting transit equity, it could hold the promise to make roads safer and more accessible for all.


ANN ARBOR, Mich. and WASHINGTON, DC – Today, May Mobility and the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity (PTIO) announced that May Mobility has joined the coalition and its mission to study the impact of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the workforce to ensure that deployment of the technology will improve quality of life and economic opportunity for all Americans.

“Planning for a workforce of the future is a critical component to May Mobility’s mission to support cities with safe, clean, and accessible autonomous shuttles. This mission starts with the transportation workers who help bring our autonomous services to the communities we serve,” said May Mobility vice president and chief of staff Rohit Bery. “We are committed to supporting PTIO and working with our coalition partners to help ensure a future where everyone benefits from autonomous mobility solutions.”

PTIO is led by its members at the American Trucking Associations, Daimler, FedEx, Ford, Lyft, Toyota Motor North America, UPS, and Waymo. The organization is working together with policymakers, industry, academia, and other interested stakeholders to identify policies and programs that ensure our entire workforce is prepared for the deployment of AVs and will ultimately benefit from this exciting technology.

“May Mobility will provide unique insights and perspectives to PTIO’s work as the company has actively provided autonomous shuttle rides to over 270,000 people across multiple cities,” said PTIO Executive Director Kathryn Branson. “We are thrilled to have another leading AV company join us in our efforts to fully understand what AVs mean for the workforce, and subsequently derive policies that prepare incumbent workers and the workforce of tomorrow for this promising innovation. We welcome May as our newest member and will value its contributions to further PTIO’s objectives.”

About May Mobility

May Mobility is a leader in autonomous vehicle technology development and deployment. With more than 270,000 autonomous rides to date, May Mobility is committed to delivering safe, efficient, and sustainable shuttle solutions designed to complement today’s public transportation options. The company’s ultimate goal is to realize a world where self-driving systems make transportation more accessible and reliable, the roads safer, and encourage better land use in order to foster more green, vibrant, and livable spaces. For more information, visit

 About PTIO

Launched in June 2018, PTIO is led by its members at the American Trucking Associations, Daimler, FedEx, Ford, Lyft, Toyota Motor North America, UPS, Waymo, and May Mobility — leading companies and associations that are working together with government, educators, and other stakeholders to examine the opportunities and challenges of AV deployment and identify policies and programs that ensure our entire workforce can benefit from the adoption of AV technology.  For more information, visit


Driving Jobs, The Future Of Autonomous Trucking

By Selika Josiah Talbott, Forbes

Autonomous vehicles are coming. Trucks carrying freight will likely be the first vehicles to see widespread autonomous use. That is good for everybody. When we recognize the importance of trucking to our economy and way of life it is easy to see the benefits of AV trucking.

The freight business in America is an $800 billion dollar a year enterprise which explains why truck driver is the number 1 job in 29 states in America. But the age of the average truck driver is 57 and increasing and approximately 4,900 people die each year on U.S. roadways in a truck involved crash.

Safety is a large priority when it comes to the operation of trucks. Through the years federal regulation has both increased and decreased how many hours a driver operates a truck – generally depending on the administration in the White House. In fact, under the Trump administration, we saw additional flexibility for drivers allowing more hours of operation and options for short-haul drivers allowing them more mileage without having to rest than in the Obama Administration.

Autonomous Vehicles may well quell the see-saw in driving hours of service for truckers. The U.S. has seen several trucking companies piloting autonomous vehicles throughout the country, and it cannot come fast enough. Between natural disasters, distracted driving, decrease in the pool of professional drivers and defective roadways, the conditions for motorists are dangerous.

The value of the companies that are at the forefront of autonomous trucking cannot be overstated. If we get it right these trucks operating at even just level 3 and level 4 autonomy will greatly increase safety on our roads, address the shortage of drivers, and serve to be the eyes of defective roadways that need to be repaired and alert officials. Autonomous Vehicle trucking will limit the need for the regulation of hours of service for vehicles that are equipped and operating in autonomous mode. The artificial intelligence doesn’t need rest and will be able to drive essentially 24 hours a day unlike a human driver.

It has been seen acutely during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic that autonomous vehicles can be a vital part of our transportation network. The likes of TuSimple, Embark, Kodiak and Plus are among autonomous vehicle technology companies that were able to make deliveries at the height of the pandemic. What these companies will need in order to accelerate the usage of their autonomous technology is a government regulatory scheme that provides for a consistent set of regulations across all states as to what they can carry, when they can operate and where they can drive.

While we can appreciate that the general public needs to get comfortable with the idea of an 80,000-pound vehicle on the highway next to them, we must realize that this notion of autonomous driving already exists in flight.  Millions of people get on planes across the world every day and are safely taken from one location to the next via automatic piloting.

For those who are concerned about workforce impacts we see Autonomous Vehicle trucking companies making strides to encourage workforce initiatives to combat displacement. TuSimple works with Pima Community College to train students on new skills in Autonomous Vehicle Technology for trucking. TuSimple also provided food bank runs across the south as well as partnered with industry leaders such as Navistar and U.S. Xpress to bring autonomous trucks to market.

We also see the progression of Plus an American autonomous trucking company that is testing their freight movement both in the U.S. and in China. Plus, has contracted with some of the biggest Chinese trucking companies and is now preparing to launch level three freight movement throughout China. This bodes well for progress in the industry. Many of the same issues involving trucking in America are being felt globally.

Kodiak is another autonomous trucking company that is making great strides in the autonomous freight area. They recently made their first disengagement free deliveries and can boast a100% on time-deliveries for commercial operations between Dallas and Houston.

Autonomous trucks can also address worldwide concern on sustainability and the impact on the environment from greenhouse gases. Opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by trucks are starting to take place across the supply chain.

Embark, a San Francisco based AV trucking company has a transfer hub model which pairs well with initial deployments of zero-emission trucks. For many, it will likely take years before charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure will scale to support long-haul trucking. However, short-haul routes provide a fit for zero-emission truck deployment as the charging and fueling infrastructure can be more centralized. Embark’s model connects short-haul with long-haul loads at distribution hubs located at the edge of metro areas. By optimizing the use case for short-haul trucking, Embark can accelerate zero-emission vehicle adoption among their regional fleets.

While all this sounds good, autonomous trucks still have a way to go before they are widespread. For those who are worried about the workforce, as my old boss, former FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez used to say, “if you start as a truck driver today, you will likely retire as one”. The real work ahead is to figure out a prototype across the nation that addresses increased training and identifies other careers that can be a natural segue for professional truck drivers. The people who are most likely to be negatively affected would be drivers who cannot easily transition to another occupation and certainly not one that provides them the freedom of entrepreneurship as professional driving does today. Trucking has afforded many a viable income and helped to sustain their families, but it has been less accessible to women who as primary family caretakers are generally unable to be away from home overnight.

To the C-suite folks out there, it makes a difference to the bottom line if your Corporate and advisory boards or C-suites are not only giving thought, but taking action to lessen the impact on the workforce because of this disruptive time in transportation innovation. CEOs will need more that scientists and big business buddies to see us through this phase. Thoughtful equity and political economy strategy will be required to see us safely through to a new model of trucking.