COMMENT: NYC struggling to adopt new mobility despite huge potential

Bringing the future of mobility to the City That Never Sleeps is proving a far harder challenge than might be expected, writes Jack Hunsley.

There are few places in the world as widely known as New York City. Whether it would be its towering skyline dominated by the Empire State, its lush green Central Park or the Statue of Liberty, which for decades welcomed immigrants to the New World, it would be difficult to meet anyone that was not familiar with the Big Apple. However, down on its city streets, there is confusion afoot. Even with its considerable capital and global acclaim, the future of mobility is struggling to find a foothold in New York City.

At the core of the issue is space. Any commuter that has enjoyed the pleasure of taking a cab across Manhattan, for example, will be well aware of how congested inner-city mobility in New York can be. Some progress is under way, however. From 2021 a congestion charge is set to be implemented in Manhattan, while the use of ride-hailing has exploded since 2014. But, even still there are problems here. The congestion charge, for example, is already dividing opinions, while the arrival of Lyft and Uber has in fact added more vehicles to New York’s streets rather than remove them.

For a city as congested and geographically limited as New York, implementing any sort of meaningful change can be understandably intimidating. Simply choosing where to start presents a daunting task

Public transport is another area of concern. Considering that New York City accounts for two-thirds of all US rail transit, the New York Metro should be playing an integral role in encouraging commuters to ditch the personal vehicle in favour of integrated, multi-modal mobility. However, regular delays and cancellations are limiting its potential even before considering the fact that increasingly popular forms of last mile mobility, such as e-bikes and e-scooters, are currently illegal in the city. Couple this with an equally infrequent and unreliable bus service and it is abundantly clear that change is needed.

However, such change is proving hard to come by. For example, the much touted Cruise Automation autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot appears to have been lost amidst political tensions and bickering, and has not progressed at all since it was first announced in 2017. In the ride-hailing space, New York and Uber’s ongoing disagreement over licences and wages only further reflects the difficulties in bringing new mobility options to the city.

Any commuter that has enjoyed the pleasure of taking a cab across Manhattan, for example, will be well aware of how congested inner-city mobility in New York can be

All is by no means lost, however. An AV shuttle pilot is scheduled to begin in 2019 in Brooklyn, while revenue from the Manhattan congestion charge, estimated to be around US$15bn, will be used to help fund the rejuvenation of the metro. Meanwhile, New York’s Mayor has offered car-sharing company Zipcar some of the world’s most expensive real estate in Manhattan for use as public parking spaces. While small steps, these steps are better than standing still.

For a city as congested and geographically limited as New York, implementing any sort of meaningful change can be understandably intimidating. Simply choosing where to start presenting a daunting task in itself. However, it is a task that can be delayed no longer. For New York, now is the time to act.

How New York City is approaching new mobility challenges is explored in more detail in Automotive World’s ‘Special Report: The future of mobility in New York.’

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