The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Can AVs solve public transit’s first/last mile problem?; Waymo’s $175 billion valuation; Audi not bringing ADS system to US (for now); and Sacramento to get AVs with no human driver

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. The last mile

One thousand three hundred and twenty. That’s the number of feet Americans are comfortable walking to or from a fixed-point transit stop.  Stretching roughly a quarter of a mile, this usage-utility gap is among urban planners’ most complex challenges, and for good reason: Public transit’s strengths and weaknesses share a proximate cause.

Fixed-route transit maximizes system efficiency at the expense of user convenience. But what if the most elegant solution to public transit’s first-mile/last-mile problem were private transportation?

That’s the bet Phoenix, AZ, is making. The city’s public transit system isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, either. Serving one of the country’s most sprawling cities, Phoenix’s system ranks 38th nationwide for connectivity and frequency.

The city announced a two-phase partnership with Waymo to improve access to fixed-route public transit. After first making its service available to the city’s transit employees, Waymo will begin offering rides to seniors and disabled persons for whom public transportation is generally too inconvenient or just impractical.

Increasingly, transit foes have been heralding autonomous technology as a rejoinder to calls for increased public investment in light rail, trains and buses.

But what if this polarity between autonomous ride-sharing and public transit is all just political theater, and intermodalism is the answer cities have been searching for?

In a statement announcing the Phoenix-Waymo partnership, the AV pioneer said it has four business aims: “creating a ride-hailing service, developing self-driving trucks for logistics, licensing with OEMs for personally-owned vehicles, and connecting people to public transportation” (emphasis ours).

Waymo has already made tremendous progress on the first three pillars, but the Phoenix effort represents a new front for the company—and a new future for a disconnected, car-centric city.

The Driverless Commute, a subscription-based service, is provided by Dentons’ global Autonomous Vehicles team. If you believe a colleague or associate would benefit from this service, please share this link so they may subscribe.

2. Know it before your competitors

Our best-in-industry intelligence service, The Console, marries machine learning algorithms with human analysis to create comprehensive, real-time advisories on everything autonomy.

The Console monitors, digests and packages everything of consequence to your business: television and radio chatter, social media scoops, legislative and regulatory activity, legal filings, acquisitions and white papers.

A service of Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs, which yokes traditional legal capabilities to government affairs, corporate competitive analysis and strategic communications, The Console mines the public record to populate an easy-to-navigate platform. Click here to request a no-obligation demonstration of the service with James and Eric.

3. The Auto(nomous)bahn

  • Morgan Stanley has positively adjusted its previous valuation of Waymo by $100 billion. The firm now says Alphabet’s self-driving unit is worth $175 billion.
  • Sacramento, CA, has inked a deal to allow autonomous vehicles to navigate public roads without the physical presence of a contingency driver. The catch: The cars will be remotely monitored—some 100 miles away.
  • A new report from an insurance industry group states that five driver-assistance programs it studied put passengers or other motorists in harm’s way when test vehicles failed to respond to stopped vehicles and improperly negotiated lane-control on hills and turns. The warning, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, comes as consumers increasingly have begun conflating the technical faculties of as-yet-undelivered full autonomy with the much-hyped semi-autonomous offerings currently populating the market.
  • Speaking of advanced driver-assistance systems: Audi has backtracked on its earlier commitment to bring its own ADS program, which is more advanced than rival offerings but still short of full autonomy, to the United States because it considers the country’s legal and regulatory landscape “too fragmented.”

Click here to speak with our experts and attorneys across the world to learn more about any of the items contained in this newsletter.

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Eric Tanenblatt

About Eric Tanenblatt

Eric Tanenblatt is the Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation of Dentons, the world's largest law firm. He also leads the firm's US Public Policy Practice, leveraging his three decades of experience at the very highest levels of the federal and state governments.

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James Richardson

About James Richardson

James Richardson is a strategic communications counselor with 15 years’ experience advising presidential candidates, Global Fortune 500 executives, national nonprofits, and sovereign governments on strategic communications and reputation management. He helps lead Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs practice.

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