- Ford announced it will bring its autonomous vehicle (AV) business to Austin, TX, joining Miami and Washington, DC as the third city where Ford plans to launch its taxi and delivery service.
- Ahead of the service launch, expected in 2021, Ford will expand its testing operations in Austin, and partner Argo AI will expand its mapping operations. The vehicles will soon be manually driven through downtown and east Austin, mapping the city to prepare for the autonomous testing. The process will help determine the challenges that Austin's heavy pedestrian, scooter and bicycle activity may present, Argo AI President Peter Rander said in a statement.
- The City of Austin aims to increase transportation options and road safety with self-driving vehicles, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement. Ford is also testing in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Palo Alto, CA.
Austin has positioned itself as a national leader on AVs. It was one of the first cities to allow the vehicles to test on public streets and has embraced autonomous shuttles, and the state of Texas has eased regulations to allow more testing. Austin has also partnered with Ford on a mobility challenge and is a founding member of the Open Mobility Foundation, a public-private coalition working on open-source technology tools to improve transportation management.
That work comes as Austin is looking down the barrel of a potential transportation crisis. The city has been the country's fastest growing metro region in each of the last eight years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization predicts that vehicle use in the region could double by 2040. Currently, 75% of Austinites commute by personal vehicle, a figure Austin Mayor Steve Adler called "simply unsustainable."
"It's clear we need to re-think how our right-of-way is used if we want people to be able to move around our city," Adler said in a statement.
Being an early site for Ford's autonomous service will allow Austinites to capitalize on what's potentially a groundbreaking technology movement. Ford has not detailed how its self-driving taxi and delivery service would work, although the company has promised $4 billion in spending on AVs and expects to build a custom hybrid vehicle for the operation. Competitors have also moved toward their own autonomous ride services; Waymo has started running rides in Phoenix and General Motors' Cruise Automation said it will launch commercially in San Francisco soon.