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“I’m willing to be one of the early crash test dummies when they start testing autonomous vehicles because I’m ready,” he says. “If I can sit in the back … and I can make myself a pimento cheese sandwich and have a Dr Pepper, and maybe watch a little TV, I’m golden.”

A presentation Hinkle moderated at the recent Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit occurred 30 days before the March 18 fatal auto-pedestrian accident in Tempe, Arizona, in which an autonomous car operated by Uber with an emergency backup driver behind the wheel struck and fatally injured a woman crossing a street.

He recalled the 2006 documentary Who Killed The Electric Car?, which suggested that government regulation and other restrictions would block rapid deployment. That same documentarian, Chris Paine, was back in 2011 with a sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car, the now frantic dash by car makers to capture this emerging market.

“They don’t have steering wheels, they don’t have brake pedals, seat belts, license plates, but they do have the ability to hold up to 12 people and move them around,” Foss said. They also have a wheelchair ramp and a trained operator on board at all times who is there mostly to answer questions.

“We are aggressively pursuing an on-street AV [autonomous vehicle] deployment,” Foss said. “We’re running AV right now. It’s been operational since August, so the City of Arlington was actually the first municipal government to offer AV rides to the general public on an ongoing basis. We are hoping to have an on-street deployment by the end of this year.”

“It launched in December,” Foss said. “It is a completely on-demand service. There’s no fixed routes, no fixed times or station locations. The way it works is it’ll pick people up anywhere within a designated service area and drop them off anywhere they want to go.”

“Right now, there are human drivers for this service. They’re trained and hired by Via, but the service is driven by an app on your smartphone” to summon the van, she said. “It’s certainly easy to see how a service like this could easily become an automated service in perhaps the not-so-far future.”

“Lyft and other folks in the space get talked about a lot as disrupting transportation but really we haven’t disrupted it enough,” Walker said at the conference. “We’re far less than 1 percent of all miles driven, us and our competitors in the United States.”

Lyft plans to upend that model, Walker said. An automobile is generally the second most expensive purchase people make after their home — the most expensive for low-income people — and yet it sits idle 97 percent of the time and is a major source of both traffic congestion and air pollution.

“Our strategy is to become the platform that the world’s best automated vehicles can bring their technology, put it on our platform and deploy it for consumers,” Walker said. “In the next year or two, you will see Lyft functionality that has the possibility of an automated vehicle with no safety driver picking you up in certain locations.”

“We think we can undercut that, and then the question to the consumer is, do I want to sink $30,000 on average into a big two-ton piece of steel that I have to park, maintain, clean, insure and fuel, or do I want to be picked up by a robo-chauffeur in the vehicle type I want that takes me door to door,” he said. “I can drink my Dr Pepper in the back seat or whatever, and we think that the answer is most consumers are going to pick the robo-chauffeur.”

The sequence forward is to pull the human driver out of the vehicle – maybe next year with one partner – and move toward all-autonomous vehicles that operate at less than 25 miles per hour but are almost at level five but can do basically anything in a city environment, Walker said.

He said that speed might not sound great, but the average speed of a car on the road in Austin is 17 mph so “25 miles per hour is way faster than the average speed, even in a Texas city. I think New York City is like 12 miles per hour,” Walker said. “And then, of course, when we’re ready, we’re going to start integrating full autonomous vehicles onto the platform.”

Tom Bamonte, senior program manager for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, a voluntary association of local governments covering 16 counties and 230 member governments, says the autonomous car companies are looking for more than just roadway from cities.

“One of the Council of Governments’ priorities is doing low-cost ways to prepare for automated vehicles, and that comes down to sharing your data with the developer community so they can build the apps and the technology to help these vehicles work,” Bamonte said.

“Last year, it was really just Frisco,” he said. “I’m pleased to report that a bunch of local communities are now sharing their traffic signal data. Dallas is going to do that in the next few months. We hope to get Fort Worth on board soon.”

“So what do these automated vehicle developers want from us? As these vehicles go down the roadways, they’re looking, they’re mapping, and anything the roadway can do to be as predictable and as transparent to these vehicles is what’s important,” Bamonte said.

“They got to one community, which I won’t name, but they looked at the condition of the roads and the guy switched off the dash cam and said, ‘Nope, not going to work.’ That was because of the poor condition of the roadways,” he said. “So basic maintenance is your competitive advantage in attracting these automated vehicles.”

Estimates are that perhaps 20 percent of the new cars sold in the United States by 2025 will be electric, 60 percent by 2035 and 90 percent by 2045. But the increase could come quicker than that and – of great interest to lawmakers and others – electric cars pay no gasoline tax.

“So as dockless bikes come to your community, think of it as a dry run for automated vehicles and show the civic leadership, find the right balance between law enforcement and permissiveness in order to show that this region can embrace and adopt new forms of mobility,” Bamonte said.