As Part 2 of this series hopefully demonstrated there is much to learn about what lies ahead in the motorcoach world from the experiences of modes deploying smaller vehicles. This installment provides a preview of the likely emergence of "highly-automated vehicles," or HAVs, in the world of large vehicles: School bus, transit and motorcoach service.
In a monthly magazine, it is almost impossible to keep up changes that are racing along This past September, 2015, small fleets of Volvos and Ford Fusions were released into the general traffic stream in Pittsburgh, and driverless Anheuser-Busch trucks began delivering Budweiser and Bud Light. The Netherlands and Finland have been deploying driverless motorcoaches for months now. And we already have a few similar services operating in the U.S.
In Part 1 of this series, I identified the enormous range of benefits that would likely accompany even the first wave of autonomous buses, coaches, trucks and delivery vehicles. And I identified a handful of dysfunctional consequences, the most serious of which is a Tsunami of driver unemployment. Lest anyone doubt these inevitabilities, he or she might consider consulting the seven-installment series in National Bus Trader titled "Bad Regulations and Worse Responses" (June 2014 through January 2015).
National Bus Trader has always been a leader in its selection and treatment of topics related to technology and innovation. So the decision to craft a lengthy article about NBT Editor Larry Plachno's experiences "behind-the-wheel" of a motorcoach-of-the-future at a "ZF Ride & Drive" event in Aachen, Germany (NBT, September, 2016) should not have been a surprise. Nor should it come as a surprise that safety, liability and other issues related to this technology will be explored as well.
As traffic engineers we take care to plan, design, and operate our roads for all users. When we are working in a complex urban environment, we must consider pedestrians, wheelchairs, vision impaired, bicycles, buses, and trucks. When we add automated, connected, and self-driving vehicles to the mix the complexity becomes more complex. That is why the profession is challenging and interesting.
The notion of "screening" driver-candidates for Sleep Apnea screening is not merely unsupportable, it is a delusion. In 2011, 517 truck drivers in Australia were tested for Obstructive Sleep Apnea ("Assessing Sleepiness and Sleep Disorder in Truck Drivers" in SLEEP, 2011). According to an anonymous self-evaluation questionnaire (a "multivariable apnea prediction index, based on self-report measures"), only 12% felt they had it, while roughly 4.4% had tested positive for it. Yet when all of them were tested, 41% more of them had this condition. The testing also found that a full 50% of the study participants were obese, and 49% of them smoked cigarettes. Neither of these parameters are included among the handful of criteria currently employed by either the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's or Federal Railway Administration's "recommended" screening exercise -- although, In fairness, the size-17 male neck (or size 16 female neck) serves as a proxy for obesity. At the same time, as noted below, it also captures plenty of "false positives."
Like most fields, public transportation is swollen with studies, both in the U.S. and abroad. Yet some of the most fascinating things seem to be never studied, or rarely studied.
This final installment of this series provides the rewards for reading the first six: Starting-point ideas about things the motorcoach industry can do defend its density against intrusion from Transportation Network Companies (like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar), which have already begun plunging into the charter and tour sectors, mostly with medium-sized, body-on-chassis vehicles. It also includes things that would help increase profits and create new service opportunities - and compete with new, legitimate players penetrating the market.
As NATIONAL BUS TRADER readers following this series have noted, our judicial system seems to be "running the table" with TNC-related issues. The $220,000,000 settlement of a case against FEDEX effectively eliminated the notion of an "independent contractor" in its six states. And the California courts are soon likely to boot out Uber. The FEDEX case in the U.S. Court's 10th Circuit effectively rippled a TNC's ability to deprive its drivers of a regular employee's costly array of fringe benefits. This settlement is likely to soon play out in the other nine "Circuit" encompassing the other 44 states. And if Uber is booted out of California altogether, on top of the FEDEX settlement, the TNC threat will be diminished significantly.
Practically beginning my public transportation career as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Transportation, I learned to hate "Wash-Speak." Government agencies do not compound things; they exacerbate them. They use nothing, but utilize everything. They never start anything, yet implement everything. And much-ado-about nothing is usually referred to as a paradigm shift.