United States: Smart Transportation & Infrastructure Challenges

Last Updated: October 18 2018
Article by Eric J. Tanenblatt and Crawford Schneider

When it comes to transportation infrastructure in our country's largest cities, we all agree that our cash-strapped transit grids are bad, and traffic is worse. In any major city, one need only cast a gaze skyward to the swoop of cranes fashioning a towering, new skyline of glimmering glass and steel to understand that the sea of red that drowns our highways each rush hour is emblematic of the worsening road congestion that is emblematic of the growing pains at hand.

Sprawling metropolises in desperate need of expanded public transportation are focused, critically, on improving accessibility equitably. A  city is only truly connected and vibrant when its mass transit system has equal buy-in from the wealthy and financially challenged alike.

On these generic principles, virtually everyone can agree; where consensus shatters is their application. We need more modes of transit; longer, more diverse routes; and greater frequency and shorter trip times—but how, in this era of penny-pinching?  Because every need can't be met, the ordering of our funding priorities must be both intelligent and transformative. Otherwise, "sibling rivalry" may pit neighborhood against neighborhood in a mad dash for cash.

Some cities or regions are looking at light rail as a solution, but this frequently does not offer the best bang for the buck. These projects are expensive, often serve only limited communities, take years to construct and by the time they are up and running, may not end up alleviating road congestion much, if at all.

Others are focused on squeezing in additional lanes to existing roads, which, like light rail, is costly but unlike light rail, may actually invite more drivers onto the road and do little to improve traffic flow in the long run. Instead of spending hundreds of millions on solutions whose utility window is both distant and, at best, very narrow, cities could leverage electrified autonomous shuttles almost immediately and at a miniscule fraction of the cost.

Astute observers will note that the internal combustion engine's days are numbered. Across the country automakers and technology companies are engaged in futuristic pilot projects to safely test autonomous vehicles. While there is disagreement among them concerning which technology is best suited to navigate the external environment, they all agree that the internal combustion engine is too frail and inefficient to power the massive data and analytical requirements of these rolling supercomputers.

With autonomous electric transit all but inevitable and the inefficiencies of rail in mind, major cities in Europe and Asia are already using fixed-route autonomous shuttles to complement their larger public transit networks. In Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo is operating an autonomous shuttle that will be integrated into the city's mass transportation network. Similarly, the Swiss town of Schaffhausen this past March layered autonomous shuttles into its public transit system to address its first-/last-mile problem.

San Francisco, whose traffic woes are notorious, has announced that it will launch a driverless shuttle program early next year. Municipal governments are realizing that autonomous shuttles are cost-efficient, environmentally friendly and flexible—three things that commuter rail is not. At their negotiated price, a city can purchase nearly 2,000 self-driving shuttles for the same cost as a few miles of light rail. And unlike light rail, these shuttles, each of which can accommodate 12 passengers, could be strategically re-deployed elsewhere for special events, such as Super Bowl, Olympics or Inauguration festivities.

One significant challenge that autonomous transportation faces is the tension between its innovative policy priorities and the need for balanced budgets. While the nation's automotive and mobility laws are stuck in neutral, the fundamentals of how public transit operates and is paid for is changing.  In some cases, investments in transportation infrastructure are being paid for by eliminating economic incentives designed to spur growth in electric and alternative fuel vehicles.

For example, in 2015, Georgia made a record-breaking $1 billion investment in the state's transportation system. As part of that historic legislation, the state did away with its pioneering $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle. Tax credits like Georgia's old model were helping to make it possible for middle-class families to own cleaner, more efficient cars, and elimination of the credit had a devastating impact on electric vehicle sales. In fact, just two months after the compromise took effect, the number of such vehicles sold in the state had fallen from more than 1,200-per-month to fewer than 100.

Luckily, factors other than tax breaks and incentives are contributing to the affordability of electric and autonomous vehicles. Manufacturing costs, for example, have recently begun to decline. Between 1995 and 2010, the manufacturing cost of a lithium ion battery has declined by about 14 percent each year. At its peak price point, the cost of the Tesla Model S battery alone was $85,000. Today, that same battery costs just $8,500.  The price tags for the advanced computers required for autonomous navigation have also plummeted.

Regardless of the type of engine, adding to the need for intelligent mass transportation is the growing recognition that personal car ownership is wildly inefficient and costly. The average American family spends $10,000 annually to own a car it uses just four percent of the time. Because of that idleness, shared use is, on average, 10 times cheaper per mile than personal ownership. It's inevitable, then, that the invisible hand of the market will pivot away from personal ownership and toward shared-use of electric autonomous fleet vehicles.

Which brings us back to type of engine. Under the "transportation-as-a-service" model, vehicles would log somewhere in the realm of 100,000 miles per year, a rate that inefficient internal combustion engines couldn't sustain for more than two years. Electric vehicle powertrains meanwhile can last anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million miles. (Just imagine your minivan at 1 million miles.)

What is clear is that public policy does not, never has and never will move at the same pace as technological change. However, those in positions of public power would do well to recognize that the competition to engineer the cars (and car services) of the future is fierce, and that firms the world over are on the hunt for US states and cities whose regulatory environments could give them a leg up in this budding industry. Thus, it is prudent for policy makers to ask themselves: Will investments we make today set us up for success tomorrow? Getting to "yes" on that question should be a prerequisite for any significant public investment in transportation. Public policy and technology have never been so interwoven. It is the responsibility of lawmakers to thoughtfully approach mobility with an eye to the not-so-distant autonomous future.

About Dentons

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries. www.dentons.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions