- Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser established the Interagency AV Working Group this week to explore an autonomous vehicle (AV) program, make sure that AVs would benefit the public and prepare the district for AV technology.
- The administration, in cooperation with the city's Southwest Business Improvement District, also released a Request for Information (RFI) for the city's first AV pilot program.
- The goal of the RFI is to devise a first mile/last mile AV pilot near L'Enfant Plaza, a major transit hub in the center of the city.
Like many of its other smart city initiatives, Washington, DC chose to tackle this one with research and a plan before leaping right into a pilot. City leaders have previously spoken of the deliberate efforts to make sure that innovation benefits residents. Former DC CTO Archana Vemulapalli told Smart Cities Dive last year that the city could "implement technology for technology’s sake or because it gives you a cool new result, but at the end of the day if it really doesn't deliver some tangible impact to [residents], then it’s not a worthy enough investment." That sentiment has guided the city's innovation planning, and it is echoed in the announcement of the AV working group and proposed pilot. "We will keep the District on the cutting edge of autonomous vehicles and do so in a way that benefits our residents," Mayor Bowser said in a statement.
If the city goes forward with the pilot in the proposed area near L'Enfant Plaza, it would provide a testbed for innovative transit options near a major transit hub. Cities across the country have identified first mile/last mile connections as a transportation realm in need of a boost and they're exploring options for improvement, such as ride-sharing partnerships and driverless shuttles.
DC has a diverse population and prioritizes the equitable distribution of services and innovations. Vemulapalli previously told Smart Cities Dive that "equity is a big driving force for our initiatives... As a city, we will not grow if we don’t cater to everybody." The area of town chosen for the potential pilot is one that might not traditionally be considered for an autonomous vehicle pilot.
L'Enfant Plaza has been a significant DC transit hub for years, with most of the Metrorail system's lines converging in its below ground stations and buses above ground, in addition to sitting right next to I-395 and providing a roadway that's a straight shot to the National Mall. However, the area hasn't been the city's best and has been surrounded by tough neighborhoods, until revitalization moved in over the past few years. "Washington’s Southwest Waterfront is in the midst of a renaissance," Southwest Business Improvement District Executive Director Steve Moore said in a statement. "Our hope is that AVs will enhance this conduit, act as catalyst for innovative mobility solutions across the District, and ultimately create an interconnected, sustainable community."
The future of AVs currently is unknown, but many discussions about the vehicles revolve around revolutionizing ride-sharing and public transit with driverless vehicles. If these options are priced in line with current transit rides, they could provide affordable, tech-forward mobility options for DC residents, starting with underserved populations.