Nov 14, 2019

Destination: Future

Local leaders sit at a table watching one participant speak.

Local leaders at Destination: Future. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

This Wednesday, Axios' transportation correspondent Joann Muller hosted an Expert Voices Live discussion on transportation technology, digging into the new challenges and advancements that arise as electric, autonomous and shared vehicles upend our lives.

The goal: Gather local leaders — legacy brand innovators, local officials and inclusivity advocates — to identify the different pain points that come with embracing new forms of transportation.

Affordability and usability

Guests chatting before the breakfast begins.
Matt Furlow, Andrei Greenawalt and Beth Osborne chat before the breakfast. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

While there was some disagreement about the affordability of electric vehicles, guests agreed that a major cultural shift was needed if there is to be widespread adoption.

  • Ron Kaltenbaugh, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, D.C., stressed the need for model diversification: "People are interested, just the model they want isn't necessarily there; we need to get beyond just cars, we need SUVs, crossovers."
  • Genevieve Cullen, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, said charging infrastructure is essential to changing the larger system: "Smart charging is the heart of the matter; you have to make it seamless for consumers, so they don't have to understand electric load schedules in order to drive an EV."
  • Alex Keros, lead architect of EV infrastructure at General Motors, drew parallels between EV adoption and cooking, noting that the "adoption ingredients" — vehicle options, charging infrastructure, word of mouth and electrified shared ride fleets — all need to come together to capture the mainstream customer.

Accessibility and inclusivity

The group discussed how transportation innovations are particularly exciting for those with disabilities.

Kirk Adams, president of the American Foundation for the Blind and longtime advocate for the visually impaired, shared that transportation is a constant theme when talking about inclusion.

  • "As we look at transportation systems and eliminating those barriers, electric vehicles are of interest in how they support and facilitate an inclusively designed network."
  • "Many blind people are very excited about autonomous vehicles, and there is a lot of work in the community to ensure regulations will allow blind individuals to operate AVs."
Joann Muller and Andrei Greenawalt at the event.
Joann Muller and Andrei Greenawalt at the table. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios
  • Andrei Greenawalt, head of public policy at Via, is hoping his public mobility solutions company can help with those micro-transit connections between different public centers — an example of public and private sector integration that supports inclusive mobility.

Enacting policies

Effective policies, the table agreed, can help both manufacturers and consumers.

  • Matt Furlow, director of policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, mentioned that the Chamber has observed too much emphasis on redoing the system, "But when we think about the future of auto, we have to think about layering the policies we have on top of each other, the small changes we can make on the edges."
  • Nick Zaiac, resident fellow of transportation and infrastructure at the R Street Institute, highlighted the need to give local governments some guidance on how to carry out larger policies, otherwise "they will continue to get in the way."
Lisa Jacobson speaks at the event.
Lisa Jacobson of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy shares her thoughts. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios
  • Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said that longer term policies with a lot of flexibility are going to drive investment.

Scott Corwin, leader of Global Future of Mobility Practice at Deloitte, summed up the conversation, "Industry and the public sector have to be working together; we will get there, but it's not going to be pretty."

Thank you General Motors for sponsoring this event.

Editor's note: The second photo caption has been corrected to reflect that Matt Furlow is in the photo.

Go deeper