Technological innovations in transportation create new economic opportunities. They also raise challenges for policymakers, who need to keep informed of the changes, their potential impacts, and the policy and legal implications.

TPEC researchers study the implications of changing transportation technology and recommend actions for policymakers. Their aim is to ensure that the full economic benefits from transportation innovation are realized—thus enhancing Minnesota's economic competitiveness.

Self-driving vehicles

One particular innovation—self-driving vehicles (SDVs)—is potentially transformative and disruptive. The widespread use of these vehicles could dramatically alter transportation infrastructure, land-use patterns, safety, jobs, accessibility, much more.

Task force report, community outreach

TPEC researchers formed a self-driving vehicle (SDV) task force in the spring of 2017 to identify how various SDV deployment strategies could improve mobility and access for transportation-dependent Minnesotans: seniors, people with disabilities, and others who are not able to drive themselves.

The task force was made up of representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metro Mobility, local governments, nonprofits, and organizations from the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota. At the close of its work, the task force constructed a Matrix of Users to cross-compare geography, barriers to participation, and the potential forms of self-driving transportation that may be implemented in Minnesota. The matrix separated Minnesota’s population into four geography ranges: central city, suburban, small city, and rural locales.

As follow-up to the task force, TPEC initiated stakeholder meetings across the state. In Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the researchers held two meetings with representatives from foundations and public agencies, people with disabilities, and others. The team also engaged the Region 9 Board of Directors and other local groups in Mankato and met with Saint Cloud’s area planning organization.

Read the Self-Driving Vehicles Task Force Report and Matrix of Users (2017).

National conference, journal special issue

work zone sign

Photo: Shutterstock

At a conference cosponsored by TPEC in 2014, state and national leaders explored the various legal, ethical, technical, and policy dimensions of self-driving vehicles. The conference—Automated Vehicles: The Legal and Policy Road Ahead—featured presentations and discussions of industry and design perspectives, civil liability and insurance, criminal liability, regional and city planning perspectives, and ethics, equity, and access.

Articles based on the conference were published in the spring 2015 issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, a multidisciplinary journal edited by University of Minnesota faculty and law students.

Roundtables: technologies and transportation equity

A series of roundtable discussions hosted by TPEC in 2016 investigated the policy impacts of new transportation technologies. The roundtables specifically explored the impacts of the digital infrastructure and self-driving vehicles.

Discussion topics included opportunities and obstacles for improved mobility and access for people who cannot drive, possible impacts of self-driving vehicles on urban form, and broader impacts of the digital infrastructure on the physical infrastructure. Participants included U of M faculty and research staff, key members of state and local governments, and interested citizens.

Video: Policy and Planning Opportunities of Self-Driving Vehicles

The "future" of self-driving vehicles is quickly becoming reality. As these technologies make their way into the vehicles that get us from point A to point B, they are beginning to disrupt not only the way we think about transportation, but the way we relate to the built environment and organize the way we live. Frank Douma, director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, discusses these issues in a video from Civios, an open source project hosted by the Humphrey School.

Watch the video: Policy and Planning Opportunities of Self-Driving Vehicles (5:41)

What’s next

TPEC researchers are gathering additional stakeholder feedback on the SDV Matrix of Users and will use the findings to help better articulate the best methods for deploying these technologies in different parts of the state. An event is being planned to present the results of the Greater Minnesota work and discuss next steps.

TPEC is starting a similar initiative in transportation-disadvantaged urban areas later in 2018. Researchers will convene conversations with stakeholders and users to discern optimal SDV deployment opportunities in these areas.

TPEC’s work has led to additional research on the topic of autonomous vehicles (AVs) at the University of Minnesota, including a seed project funded by the Center for Transportation Studies. The project, led by Professor Jason Cao and TPEC researcher Frank Douma, will examine the challenges and opportunities of AVs related to urban planning. The researchers will explore such issues as the effects of AVs on transit supply and demand in urban neighborhoods, potential equity concerns, and the influence of AVs on the demand for on- and off-street parking.

In a new research area, TPEC researchers will issue a white paper discussing the potential challenges and opportunities of blockchains on Minnesota’s transportation system. Blockchain, the technology that underpins Bitcoin, is a shared, distributed ledger to aid the process of recording and tracking transactions. It has possible implications for transportation logistics and supply chains.

Completed research