May 31, 2019

Axios Navigate

Joann Muller

Good morning! 📺 Check out the new trailer for season 2 of "Axios on HBO," premiering Sunday at 6pm ET/PT. Episode 1 includes an exclusive interview with Jared Kushner.

Expert Voices contributor Laura Fraade-Blanar looks at how AVs could help bridge transportation gaps in "transit deserts."

We're all about brevity here at Axios. Today's newsletter clocks in at 1,174 words/< 5 min. read.

1 big thing: The future of parking

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If the future of personal transportation is scooters and self-driving cars that are almost always on the go, that will leave a lot of empty parking spaces open for new uses, like redevelopment, food delivery hubs or vehicle recharging centers, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva writes.

Why it matters: The disruption in urban transportation is creating opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs who see value in repurposing the lowly parking space for the digital era.

A number of companies are already reimagining how parking space will be used...

1. ParkJockey: The Florida-based company’s ambition is to sell space access to businesses such as ride-hail, car rental, and food delivery.

  • To do that, it wants to sell an “operating system” (hardware and software) to garage owners that will turn their real estate into a service that customers can pay to access.
  • Late last year, ParkJockey acquired two large parking operators as part of a financing round led by SoftBank.

2. City Storage Systems: Best known as former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s new undertaking, the company is also in the business of repurposing parking lots.

  • It's been buying up properties, including parking garages, that it will turn into commercial kitchens for delivery-only restaurants and other consumer services.

3. SpotHero: The company is focused on a parking spot booking app (for human drivers), but it’s already thinking about the arrival of robot drivers.

  • It’s been working with partner lots to upgrade some of their technology to handle autonomous vehicles, which CEO Mark Lawrence tells Axios can also have immediate benefits for human drivers.
  • “Every location that we make [AV]-ready today is a better experience for our consumers now,” he says. “We’ve done studies that show that people are willing to pay more for an automated experience versus one that’s not.”

Meanwhile, some real estate developers are also planning for a future without as much parking space.

  • AvalonBay Communities, which is working on an upcoming residential complex in Los Angeles, has designed a large parking garage that they anticipate converting to recreational purposes like a gym and theater, and even some retail and restaurant space.
  • Another real estate developer, one who owns The Grove and other upscale shopping centers, is working with Google to eventually convert garages to restaurants and stores, according to the LA Times.

Yes, but: Developers already have tough decisions to make in regards to their investments, which typically have a 30-year horizon, as they juggle near- and long-term uses.

The bottom line: These companies may have to make big investments years before it's clear if they made the right bet.

Read Kia's full story

2. Bot driving, at less than $2 an hour

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

The sidewalk bots that trundle through Berkeley, delivering food to students and residents near campus, are guided remotely, Axios' Kaveh Waddell writes.

The Kiwi Campus bot overseers are sitting thousands of miles away in Colombia, the native country of the company's 3 co-founders, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • The workers in Colombia each watch over up to 3 robots, setting waypoints every 5–10 seconds to get them from place to place.
  • And they're paid under $2 an hour for the work, the Chronicle reports — above local minimum wage.

Our thought bubble: This is an excellent example of the invisible, underpaid class of workers who power and improve AI, often from outside the developed countries where the technology is deployed for others' benefit.

Kiwi did not respond to requests for comment.

3. Improving access to transit deserts

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More large U.S. cities are seeing their outer reaches turn into transit deserts, where demand for transportation vastly exceeds supply, RAND researcher Laura Fraade-Blanar writes for Axios Expert Voices.

The big picture: Economic inequality and urban sprawl have contributed to the problem, which generates barriers to health care access, employment and even everyday shopping. Connecting public transit systems with automated vehicles — whether in ride-sharing or shuttle services — could offer one solution.

Context: Researchers at the University of Texas studied 52 U.S. cities and found between 1.5% and 13.5% of each city’s population had unmet transit needs.

AV solutions for transit deserts could take 2 main forms:

  1. Ride-sharing could provide financially accessible and logistically feasible transportation with relatively light investment. It has potential as both a door-to-door service or for last-mile connections to public transit, especially during off-peak hours.
  2. On-demand autonomous shuttles could complete door-to-door routes that combine the efficiency of a ride-sharing AV with the low cost of a bus service.

What's needed: To avoid declines in the funding of public transit that could make deserts worse, AV transit would have to be designed as a complement rather than a competitor.

  • Financial and operational incentives could help AV services gain momentum. For example, public transit agencies could handle booking and subsidize the cost of trips.

Read more

Fraade-Blanar is an associate policy researcher at RAND Corp.

4. Driving the conversation
Expand chart
Reproduced from Department of Energy; Chart: Axios Visuals

Car boom: Why cutting carbon emissions from transportation is so difficult (Ben Geman — Axios)

  • The big picture: The number of cars on the road and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have mushroomed compared to population size over the decades.
  • What to watch: VMT will likely increase even more once shared AVs hit the road. The difference is that most of them will be powered by electricity.

Trade war: Trump's Mexico tariffs could decimate the auto industry (Dion Rabouin — Axios)

  • My thought bubble: Global automakers are getting whipsawed by President Trump's impulsive trade decrees. This latest threat — to increase tariffs on Mexican imports 5% per month, up to 25% by October — would devastate an industry that's already losing jobs at a rate not seen since 2009.

Backstop: NIO, the embattled electric car company, is getting a big bailout from Beijing (Echo Huang — Quartz)

  • What's happening: There are nearly 500 electric vehicle companies competing in China, and the government has apparently decided that NIO, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is worthy of survival, despite recent financial troubles. A state-owned fund, E-Town Capital, will invest 10 billion yuan ($1.45 billion) in NIO China and take a minority stake.
5. What I'm driving

2019 Honda Civic. Photo: Honda

After a string of high-end German luxury cars, this week I'm driving the 2019 Honda Civic Touring edition, with an appealing price tag of $27,300.

Why it matters: The Civic comes with standard safety and assisted-driving features that are similar to those found in the German luxury models. Like Toyota, Honda has made assisted-driving features standard across its lineup for no extra cost.

  • That means you can buy a Civic for as little as $19,450 and get important safety features like adaptive cruise control, low-speed follow (for traffic jams), emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance — all for free.
  • Other mass-market brands like Chevrolet and Ford are now racing to make the technology standard as well.

Yes, but: My impression is that Honda's lower-end technology may not be quite as responsive as those in the higher-priced European models.

  • For example, while using adaptive cruise control on the highway, it seemed to take a moment longer for the car to recognize that another car had pulled in front and to slow down.
  • Likewise, when the car in front changed lanes, the Civic lagged when making the decision to resume its cruising speed.

The bottom line: It's still a lot of driver-assistance technology for the money, and most people will be pleasantly surprised by what their little Civic can do.

Joann Muller

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