Before I merge onto the chaos of Interstate 5, the route I take to work meanders me down a few quiet roads in a residential neighborhood near the coast. One of the delights of the neighborhood are the houses; they’re anything but cookie-cutter. Like most houses, they have similar materials and design features—doors, windows, garages, etc. And yet, there’s certainly no lack of creative freedom.
The thought hit me recently that their design and construction isn’t that dissimilar to how government regulations could work within our cities’ mobility ecosystems.
The homes I drive by are the product of building regulations that guide as much as they actually govern. So, while there are thousands of codes of varying nuance, most architects find their creative freedoms flourishing despite them. Intertwined with additional regulations regarding streets, electricity, water supply, school zones, etc. and we get neighborhoods that, by and large, are very safe and organized, yet still unique. If chaos ensues, it won’t be from regulations—or a lack thereof.
To prevent mobility chaos and potential pedestrian danger, shouldn’t we regulate similarly? So that we’re not constantly re-inventing the wheel with each new mobility option but fine-tuning it to burn some serious rubber while still keeping us on the road ahead.
The call for regulation isn’t an outcry from pro-government parties; it’s something that’s been repeated at the highest echelons of one of the most complex industries in existence: Tech.
Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook—CEOs of Facebook and Apple, respectively—have both suggested that regulating the tech industry wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. “I think that this [data privacy] situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” Cook speculated to the press last year.
So, it stands to reason that well-crafted regulation is necessary in mobility as well, largely because of the nascence of TNCs, dockless scooters, and higher-level AVs.
In this dawn of disruptive technology, the old-school approach of “regulate it and forget it” doesn’t work. Leaders in both the private and public sectors are increasingly favoring adaptive regulation that allows cities to revisit and revise as frequently as necessary.
“Given the number of variables at play in real-world driving situations, it will likely prove impossible to craft comprehensive and binding rules for AV operation for the foreseeable future,” explains < a href="https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/future-of-mobility/regulating-transportation-new-mobility-ecosystem.html"> Deloitte. “That makes it important to take an iterative, adaptive approach.”
For instance, as the technology evolves, auditing in-place regulations will allow governments to amend them more quickly and efficiently with respect not just to the new tech, but emerging trends across transportation. Connectivity will play a frontline role in AV mobility, thus the regulations behind data should be able to respond to new threats or opportunities.
Mobility at large, of course, is an important facet of urban ecosystems, meaning “regulators should monitor the impact of new mobility services closely and adjust policies quickly if deleterious outcomes—such as increased congestion or cannibalization of public transit—emerge,” the Deloitte study continues.
A strong argument against regulation is that regulators are traditionally very slow-moving and often less savvy than their contemporaries in the private sector. They also tend to be paid less by comparison, which syphons top talent from public agencies.
Because of this, most regulators haven’t thoroughly considered all the potential opportunities and impacts of mobility tech, certainly in regards to AV.
And yet, as Deloitte reminds us, “Governments at all levels are among the entities best positioned to bring stakeholders together, and gathering their input could be critical to formulating smart, agile regulation.” For instance, regulators can incorporate the de facto standards for system redundancies, sensors, decision making, and connectivity into legal rubrics and regulations.
However, one thing is certain: collaboration is key.
Sticking to traditional ways of regulating or leaving things unregulated cannot be an option. “It can only hurt us if government sits back and waits to set policy—or worse, allows private business to completely control the narrative,” writes Samuel Schwartz in his book “No One At The Wheel.”
GETTER THERE IS THE GOAL
As much as it’s a dream, the concept of Tomorrowland is also a direction. Agile, collaborative regulation will help us to keep moving toward it. We need it in order to recognize and pursue a cleaner, cheaper, smoother, and safer mobility ecosystem.
By no means does—or should—regulation be implemented to control or restrict mobility, but rather to guide it toward a common, global goal of a better future. I see it as the thread that weaves emerging and evolving technology seamlessly into the fabric of our cities, instead of creating a mess we can’t untangle.