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Beverly Hills Proposes Robot Cars As Public Transportation

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Though not widely known for its wholehearted embrace of progress, the fine city of Beverly Hills has decided to be one of the first (the first?) cities to officially endorse pursuing a public transportation model based on autonomous vehicles.

On April 5, the Beverly Hills City Council approved council motion D-7, which has the subject line "resolution of the council of the City of Beverly Hills declaring the city’s support for the development of an Autonomous Vehicle Program."

The motion's proposal speaks for itself: "As initially envisioned, the program would include a fleet of City-owned AVs that would transport members of the public via these AVs in an attempt to reduce traffic and improve parking."

This is big. For those of us who make a study of transportation, the prospect of self-driving cars raises several tantalizing questions. One of these is whether or not computer-controlled vehicles could totally upend what's usually termed broadly the "car-ownership model."

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Imagine a future where you get around not by driving yourself in a car that you own, but by paging an autonomous vehicle through an app on your smartphone—not unlike how we call Uber or Lyft drivers—and then being whisked away to your destination.

Beverly Hills is, near as I can tell, the first city to really grapple with this concept in policy. Officially the city's proposal views AV-Public-Transit as a first-mile, last-mile solution, helping people bridge the gap between where mass transit takes them and where they actually need to go.

Finally acknowledging that the Purple Line Subway will one-day run beneath the city, Beverly Hills' AV proposal is intended to develop a system that will enable its residents and workers to use the subway, even if they don't live or work right next to it. Though the Purple Line subway will eventually pass beneath the fair city, little to no additional parking is going to be built to supplement it.

People still have to get to the subway, however, and instead of proposing silly options like bike lanes or bus shuttles, Beverly Hills has decided to charge ahead into a future where the machines fix all of our problems for us.

Obviously there's an immense amount that has to be done for this to happen. Beverly Hills' motion explains that it will take years before an AV-transit system is developed and usable.

But at the same time, the motion calls on the city to pursue "education on the current state of the regulatory environment for AVs, exploration of grant opportunities for the program, outreach to AV manufacturers for a potential partnership, and the hosting of an AV-focused forum in Beverly Hills."

The future is now.

(h/t to Government Fleet)