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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
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 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 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

Storms pummel flood-hit Pacific Northwest as border river overflows

An image of the water-logged Sumas Prairie area taken last Friday. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Twitter.

The latest ferocious storm system to hit the Pacific Northwest triggered fresh evacuation orders in flood-ravaged British Columbia and at least one mudslide late Sunday.

Threat level: Flood sirens sounded in Washington state as the Nooksack River overflowed south across the border and into Canada. Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun told reporters there was "nothing to stop it," as the rising waters neared the B.C. border city.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."