(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 412: Autonomous Policy for a Transit Rich City

December 15, 2022

This week we’re joined by Sarah Kaufman of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation. Sarah joined us in Miami at the RailVolution conference to talk about autonomous vehicle policy, acceptable safety levels, what happens to the NYC Taxis and the lessons from Superstorm Sandy for transportation infrastructure.

You can listen to this episode at Streetsblog USA or on our hosting site at Libsyn.

Below is a full unedited transcript of the show:

Jeff Wood (1m 53s):
Well, Sarah Kaufman, welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Sarah Kaufman (1m 57s):
Thank you for having me.

Jeff Wood (1m 59s):
Well, thanks for being here. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sarah Kaufman (2m 2s):
Sure. I’m here from New York City, the greatest city in the world, and I am a big transit fan and multi-modalism fan. One of the reasons I think New York is the greatest city in the world is that we have about 27 modes of transportation. Things like subways, buses, ferrys bikes, taxis. We have everything.

Jeff Wood (2m 23s):
Aerial tram.

Sarah Kaufman (2m 24s):
Aerial tram. Yeah, we have, we have a lot going on, and so I’m happy to be working on that topic at New York University at the Rudin Center for Transportation.

Jeff Wood (2m 35s):
How did you get into transportation? Like what was your first entree into the subject?

Sarah Kaufman (2m 39s):
I’ve always really loved cities, especially in New York City, and I studied a bit of telecommunications in college and I thought that it was really interesting how the computer networks or how computers connect with each other and talk to each other seem to really parallel transportation networks in cities. And so I thought that that was kind of a fascinating parallel that I saw when I was in college and then grad school at nyu. I also saw how little interaction there was at the time between transportation and technology and felt like I could really fill a void there, and there was a lot of low hanging fruit to address there.

Jeff Wood (3m 22s):
So after that, how did you get into like the profession in terms of transportation overall?

Sarah Kaufman (3m 27s):
Well, I went to NYU for urban planning, and there I became more interested in transportation and so I did a master’s thesis on bus arrival time systems. At the time, we didn’t have what is now called bus time, which says through an app or through a website when the bus is coming. That’s an essential function both for efficiency of the system, for customer satisfaction as well as safety because people know how long the wait is and they’re not left in the dark for 20 minutes, wondering where the bus is. So I did a project on bus arrival time systems, and from there it kind of propelled into a job at the mta, which still didn’t have bus arrival time systems when I was there, but I tried to help it along.

Sarah Kaufman (4m 15s):
But I did work on the open data program when I was there releasing G TFS data for the first time from the mta, which allowed users to power apps and also have a greater sense of how the subway was running. So that’s something I’m especially proud of.

Jeff Wood (4m 33s):
So all of this connection to technology that we’ve had in the past kind of leads into a main part of our discussion. I feel like you, you all released a report called AVS in New York City, a policy framework. What was the impetus for that report?

Sarah Kaufman (4m 44s):
There’s a lot of hype and a lot of excitement around autonomous vehicles, and it’s clear that there’s a market interest in these vehicles, and at the same time, they’re being evaluated kind of in a vacuum in terms of the vehicle themselves or the vehicle safe, and that is a hundred percent necessary, but we’re not talking about them from an urbanism context and how would they fit into a city. And as people know, New York is a different city than much of America. And so if you’re evaluating vehicle introductions to New York City, it should be a different approach than it would be in a different city.

Sarah Kaufman (5m 29s):
Most New Yorkers take transit. Most New Yorkers are pedestrians for a good part of their commute or their travel, and that is very different from the rest of the country.

Jeff Wood (5m 40s):
And that’s an interesting point. I mean, New York has such a robust transit system. People walk everywhere. There’s so many options to get around, especially now with city bike and things like that. Why add another layer to that? Why add a layer of vehicles that are, you know, basically the ancestors of cars?

Sarah Kaufman (5m 58s):
Well, what’s interesting is that assuming that autonomous vehicles won’t be introduced into New York City or anywhere else, until they’re deemed safe enough to operate within a city, it is promising that they would provide a safer street environment. For example, an AV that is programmed or trained to stop for pedestrians is far more likely to actually do that than many New York City drivers who simply blow through a red light or disregard pedestrians who may be taking too long to cross the street. An AV could actually be much safer than a human driver in New York City.

Sarah Kaufman (6m 39s):
So there is potential there. I mean, it’ll probably be a long time until the technology is there, but once it is there, we could have much safer streets, much more organized streets, and we could organize people into shared rides, ideally because we do not need to introduce more cars to New York City, but we could potentially use these vehicles for micro transit or for deliveries in a more efficient format than we are using large buses with low ridership or large box trucks that need to be unloaded and often double park.

Sarah Kaufman (7m 19s):
So the idea is to increase safety efficiency, serve neighborhoods that are not well served through buses or a rail at the moment, and also eliminate the erratic behavior of drivers that exists and pervades the city right now. Ideally these vehicles would complement transit either as a first mile last mile solution or as a micro transit solution for things like job centers. New York, like most cities, has job centers like hospitals, airports, package sorting facilities and stadiums, different places where people need to travel all hours of the day and night.

Sarah Kaufman (8m 2s):
And we can provide some really good transit solutions for these populations that would be perhaps faster and safer than the standard transit offerings. Right now,

Jeff Wood (8m 16s):
You mentioned safety, and this is something that came up in in your session yesterday as well. We’re here at Revolution in Miami, and you also had a slide, a questionnaire basically asking people like what the percentage of safe driving for an AV would be acceptable if it’s 80% as safe as a human as, I think it was 90 and 98%, a hundred. I’m curious, my response was a hundred. I feel like politically it would be hard to accept for people any death by a quote unquote unaccountable vehicle as opposed to a human driver. I’m curious what your thoughts are on that, on the perception of safety versus actual safety versus the political pushback that, you know, that safety discussion might get.

Sarah Kaufman (8m 58s):
Yeah, so that’s a, that’s a really interesting question. So I think it’s difficult to narrow down how safe human drivers are, and especially human drivers in cities and human drivers in New York City who I think are more aggressive than in several other places. So what percentage of the time do you think human drivers make the correct call or the safest call in a potential conflict?

Jeff Wood (9m 24s):
Very low. Very

Sarah Kaufman (9m 26s):
Low. So somebody yesterday told me they think it’s 99.5%, and I, I was leaning more towards about 70%. Huh?

Jeff Wood (9m 34s):
Somebody said 99.5%. Oh, no, no, I think you’re probably right. More 70. I would, I might even go 60%, 40,000 people die from collisions every year. I think that that’s a high number. Exactly.

Sarah Kaufman (9m 46s):
People aren’t making the safest decisions, they’re making the most efficient decisions within the confines of traffic rules and regulations. Right.

Jeff Wood (9m 55s):
And and I feel like those collisions that I mentioned, the 40,000 plus, you know, deaths, those are only the deaths and there’s a ton more injuries. There’s a lot of more close calls. And that’s something that I’ve been frustrated with as well as those close calls not getting kind of the reaction that they should, you know, arterial street, you know, somebody at a state D O T might say, oh, well it’s, it’s safe because only one person in the last 10 years passed away from the collision. But all so many people aren’t taking that street, whether they’re cyclists or pedestrians, maybe because they’re scared of it. And so that safety perception I think is an important aspect of this. And when we’re talking about the potential future for avs, everybody talks about the safety aspects and I think that that’s something that, you know, the close calls and things like that I think are important as well.

Sarah Kaufman (10m 40s):
Yeah, I agree. So the question is, how safe do you think AVS should be, assuming humans are, what, let’s say 68% of the time making the safest decision, what percentage would you require from AVS to make the safest decision before allowing them on city streets?

Jeff Wood (11m 1s):
I know that the numbers vary. I would say a hundred percent still because of the politics of if an AV hits somebody, the news of it, it’s like, it’s like when a, a plane crashes and it’s news and craziness, but you know, car crashes, there’s maybe a police report or something like that, but for the most part you never hear about it, but it’s still somebody dying. And I think even, you know, after the Elaine Herzberg death from Uber in, in Arizona, you know, I think that really was a sea change time of discussing that because unfortunately that happens a lot where people are walking in the middle of the street in the middle of the night and they get hit by a car. But thinking about the backlash politically and just from like a national perspective, that was kind of a, a window into, I feel like that discussion in the future.

Jeff Wood (11m 44s):
Yeah,

Sarah Kaufman (11m 44s):
I would agree. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (11m 46s):
I asked this question yesterday of, of you all on the panel too, and I think it’s an interesting question. I’m wondering if, if avs become a part of a a city’s fabric, should they be public or should they be private?

Sarah Kaufman (11m 57s):
I’m gonna say both. I do believe they should exist in a public-private partnership, and that is that there would be inclination by the private sector to serve the customers from which they would glean the most profit. However, in the public sector, there’s a requirement, a mandate to serve everybody, and we need to be able to serve everybody. However, there is a lot of innovation and efficiency to be learned and tapped into in the private sector. And just like New York has about 6,000 buses that are mostly the same size, although there are a couple of different variations in there, but they follow the same route and schedules.

Sarah Kaufman (12m 40s):
That’s not the dynamic thinking that we need going forward, especially if we’re going to introduce a new fleet of vehicles. So I think that having a fleet of vehicles that can share data on things like road conditions and obstacles, having these vehicles serve everyone with a unified payment platform that would perhaps allow transfers to other modes of transit or bike share or taxis, other ways of getting around, they could be integrated into the transportation landscape. I think that this would allow for more of a public offering than simply another Uber or Lyft.

Jeff Wood (13m 20s):
You mentioned data from a data perspective, you know, what are the types of data you expect would be collected from an AV scenario, and how do you think that would be managed?

Sarah Kaufman (13m 29s):
So there are a lot of autonomous vehicle companies, both car manufacturers and car intelligence companies working to manage 3D mapping or other data acquisition and sharing for these vehicles. The AVS can spot irregularities in the street environment. Things like potholes, interruptions in lane markings, errors and signage construction that’s going beyond its permitted geography or time allotment. These are things that AVS can and do take in data on and can share both among their fleet and with cities. That’s something that neuro has done with their deployment in Houston.

Sarah Kaufman (14m 11s):
And the company Carra, which is now part of Toyota, woven Planet, does a lot of 3D mapping where they can spot errors in signage or other issues with the roadway. And these help cities understand, you know, what needs to be repaired and what needs to be changed based on data that they’re getting that they may not otherwise receive.

Jeff Wood (14m 33s):
We had Amanda Howell from Urbanism next on recently, and she was talking about their pilot project with the Kiwi bots, and one of the interesting parts of that study was that they were doing deliveries for food and they thought that might be the best use case. But then one of the other use cases they found was that data collection use case. And I found that really interesting, and I think there’s a lot of data and there’s a lot of terabytes of data that these cars are collecting 3D or otherwise that could be useful to cities, especially if they’re thinking about, you know, how they manage their public assets in the roadways.

Sarah Kaufman (15m 6s):
Yeah, and it’s especially true with sidewalk robots, which rely on curb cuts. They rely on consistent sidewalk offerings, which in many cities, sidewalks simply end or dump people out or have not accessible to wheel based mobility, and they may not be called in every time that happens, but a Kiwi bot or another sidewalk robot would detect that anomaly or detect that issue and share that data automatically. So I think that it takes some of the work out of knowing where the issues are, and it offers a new data point for cities to understand where they need to make changes.

Jeff Wood (15m 47s):
What about equity? Thinking about like where these vehicles travel, if you were a public utility of some sort, you might be bound by, you know, laws that require you to be equitable. However, if you’re a private company, and they mentioned this yesterday on the panel, you don’t have those restrictions, not even restriction, but more like, you know, requirements I should say. What’s the impact of these vehicles potentially on the equity of service in a city like New York?

Sarah Kaufman (16m 13s):
There are a lot of different ways that AVS could and would likely affect equity in a place like New York City, for example, because the private sector would most likely pursue a density of customers that would likely be in a place like Manhattan where there would be a density of high paying customers. And so yet again, Manhattan would get the cool new thing first, which is an equity issue, whereas somewhere like the Bronx would come much later because there may not be a density of high paying customers. So that issue is presented as an equity issue. At the same time, because avs are not a hundred percent safe yet, as we discussed, they may perpetuate this issue where lower income neighborhoods, and especially predominantly black and brown neighborhoods in New York, and I think most cities in the United States, if not elsewhere too, have higher rates of pedestrian injury and fatality.

Sarah Kaufman (17m 15s):
And that’s due to a number of factors. And Angie Schmidt in her book right of way outlines a lot of them. But basically knowing that these neighborhoods of higher issues of pedestrian injury and fatality, what’s the motivation for testing a new technology in these locations? If it’s not a hundred percent safe, are we really going to subject these neighborhoods to more technology that may or may not be safe? So that’s another equity question. Furthermore, another aspect of equity is accessibility, and that’s another vote in favor of the public sector hand in this deployment because you need these vehicles to be accessible, and that means wheelchair accessible, visual and auditory cues, a way to communicate with the vehicle and find out where you’re going and how long it’s going to take to get there.

Sarah Kaufman (18m 9s):
So you’re not just traveling throughout a city, not knowing what’s going on, and things like language translation, allowance for service animals. There are a lot of aspects to accessibility that are often reduced simply to wheelchair accessibility, and that’s just not the only one. How can a person who’s visually impaired know where their ride is if there’s no human providing the interaction between the person and the vehicle and saying your vehicle has arrived? How can a person who is hearing impaired know what announcements are happening? So these are all questions that the public sector and public transit systems already grapple with, and also will need to happen in avs serving the public sector.

Jeff Wood (18m 57s):
Taxis are a big part of New York City. I’m wondering what happens to taxis if AVS become a reality?

Sarah Kaufman (19m 4s):
That’s a good question. In New York City, we have tens of thousands of taxis and professional drivers, and it is reasonable to think that taxi drivers will be shifted from the physical driving of the vehicle to actually operating the vehicle and helping a person in and out with bags and making sure they’re avoiding traffic or otherwise keeping an eye on the road as backup for the automated driving, but not doing the actual pressing of the pedal and turning the wheel.

Jeff Wood (19m 36s):
That’s an interesting point. I feel like there’s a lot of concern among the transit industry as well, even though there’s a bus driver shortage at the moment around the country, there’s also a fear that good jobs would be taken away from drivers. And so there’s a tension there between the ability to create jobs and have work and also the ability to have a vehicle that doesn’t necessarily need a physical driver to move around.

Sarah Kaufman (20m 2s):
Yeah, and when we talk about equity, that is an equity issue. Driving taxis or driving professionally is one of the top entry level immigrant jobs, especially in New York City. We have a, I believe it’s about 75% new immigrants who are driving taxis or for the ride share companies. So how can we help these new immigrants get new jobs that they’re qualified for and can hold down while their jobs are automated?

Jeff Wood (20m 36s):
Recently there was a company, Argo AI that went under, or was discontinued, I guess they were part of Ford. I’ve had Peter Norton on the show, and Paris Marks talking about how, you know, kind of of the snake oil salesman factor of autonomous vehicles. I’m curious if we’re looking at them in the wrong way in some aspects, and you know, thinking about them, as I mentioned before, as kind of the ancestors of cars rather than a whole new mobility paradigm. That could be, it could be autonomous buses, it could be larger scale vehicles. I think we have a tendency to think of them as four door vehicles that carry maybe one or two passengers.

Jeff Wood (21m 17s):
I’m curious to your thoughts on kind of that shift in thinking or that skepticism as well.

Sarah Kaufman (21m 21s):
Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. We shouldn’t think of them the same way we’ve been thinking about the sedan or the SUV that’s sitting in someone’s driveway. We should be thinking about perhaps a technology that can be extracted from the vehicle and used in a public bus or a train that could help with safety and efficiency in that vehicle. We could be thinking about these vehicles as moving living rooms or offices, places where people are kind of on the move and being productive and as they are on public transit already. So we do need to rethink this mobility framing.

Sarah Kaufman (22m 4s):
There was one other point that you

Jeff Wood (22m 6s):
Just, the skepticism, I think like a lot of these companies, it feels like there’s a lot of frustration with the discussion about avs and also the sensationalism to get funding for a lot of these companies to try to become unicorns in one way or another, and being a money play rather than a mobility play or an access play. Like something that’s better for overall, you know, humanity. Yeah, as it were.

Sarah Kaufman (22m 30s):
Yeah, I mean, I think right now we’re thinking about AVS on the federal level, which we certainly need to, but there’s a lot to be said for local kind of home rule of these technologies. For example, AVS may function really well on a highway where people aren’t crossing the street where you’re most likely not going to encounter a cyclist when you’re going 65 miles an hour. That could be a really good use case for autonomous vehicles, which a lot of companies like Aurora or Embark are working on the truck side of things. And I think that that’s a great development and another area where we’re facing a labor shortage. If we can make trucks safer and more efficient and easier on the drivers, I think that that would be a fantastic development.

Sarah Kaufman (23m 18s):
But we’re not going to apply the same regulations for trucking as we do for urban travel because it’s just a completely different animal. And so I think every city needs to consider what are the impacts to their urban life on these vehicles? What are the impacts from these vehicles on their urban life and wellbeing? So we talked about safety of course, and equity. There’s also the question of sustainability. There’s safety within the vehicle. If it’s a shared ride, there’s interaction with first responders, there’s rethinking of the curb, which is already happening, and the introduction of the AVS would probably accelerate that discussion.

Sarah Kaufman (24m 2s):
And overall, there is a conversation about the experience of mobility. And I think that that’s on the forefront of, of a lot of conversations right now, not just getting people from point A to point B as quickly as possible, but also making sure that the experience is safe and perhaps even enjoyable.

Jeff Wood (24m 21s):
We’re having an interesting time in cities right now, in part because of the pandemic. There was a lot of, especially in New York City, there’s a lot of, you know, Streeters and sheds I guess, as they’re called there. And I think it’s changed the way that some people look at the streets. And you know, it’s interesting to think about what people’s mindset might be now if AVS are introduced, what might happen to some of those places that people have taken back for pedestrianism or cycling?

Sarah Kaufman (24m 47s):
It’s a good question, and one thing that I love about it is that ABS could potentially park elsewhere and not on streets. So there wouldn’t be this battle for curb space if there’s no need for parking. We could line the curb with more dining, with more parklets, with other purposes other than personally owned vehicles. I think that’s really exciting. I, I agree that Covid has brought about this rethinking of our public space, rethinking of our streets. And I think it’s fantastic to see, I mean, it’s overall has brought out this existential crisis in cities where people say, oh, cities are dying.

Sarah Kaufman (25m 28s):
But in actuality, it’s only dying. If you think of cities as the only reason you would go to a city is to go to your office when in fact cities are places of culture and dining and diversity and music and arts and all sorts of ways to enjoy being around other people and being around things that people create. And not just an office where you go to sit in a conference room and talk with people.

Jeff Wood (25m 59s):
That commercial monoculture is such an interesting discussion, especially about cities, mostly cities that are smaller in size and stature than say, a Chicago, New York City, maybe Philadelphia, San Francisco. Obviously San Francisco has a huge downtown monoculture of commercial, you know, buildings. But I found that in my neighborhood, specifically in San Francisco there, there wasn’t much change in the pedestrian activity in life commercial activity. I don’t think that there were any, maybe, maybe one or two, but I don’t think that there were any stores that even went out of business because people were, you know, they feel locally connected to the place. So that’s interesting to think about from a overall perspective. I wanna switch gears a little bit.

Jeff Wood (26m 39s):
I wanna talk about climate change and, and transportation systems. We’re 10 years years out from Hurricane Sandy. I’m curious if there are any policy lessons that we can learn a decade later or that have been learned over the last decade, I should say.

Sarah Kaufman (26m 52s):
Yeah, there are a few. As, as they think, you know, we at the NYU Rudin Center wrote a report right after Hurricane Sandy about the impacts of the storm on New York’s transportation, all modes. And what we saw, especially from Sandy, I think obviously the greatest impact was the flooding, which caused several deaths. Things like falling tree limbs, real tragedies. The infrastructure impact was, especially from the combination of storm and rising sea levels coming into the city at once, which brought salt water into the subway tunnels where the salt was extraordinarily corrosive to the equipment and damaging to the subway tunnels.

Sarah Kaufman (27m 40s):
So that was a huge impact and really brought into question, what is our long-term plan for flooding and for the subways? And the city has done a lot of work with rain gardens and porous pavement and other surface level measures, which really helps the flow of water stay on the surface rather than flowing down into the subway. And the subway system has done a lot of work on floodgates and other measures to keep water out of the tunnels. I’d say that there are two primary things that we should take from it. And the first is that even though Hurricane Sandy was 10 years ago when we learned so much from it, hurricane Ida was one year ago, and it was also terrible.

Sarah Kaufman (28m 25s):
People were killed in their basements with the flooding. And that was not even related to water coming in from the rising seas. It was a, it was a flash storm, it was New York City’s first ever citywide flash flood warning in history. And as we saw with Ida and other storm events, we’re seeing more fast angry storms than we ever have before. So the lesson is that we are fighting this battle on two fronts, one rising sea levels, and secondly, a totally new storm system that is unexpected.

Sarah Kaufman (29m 5s):
These storms are causing flooding where climate experts did not predict in terms of which subway stations would be affected. And so we have to kind of rethink the whole scenario. The second lesson that I think continues to be a lesson which we learned during Covid as well, was that we need very nimble transportation systems because we don’t know what the impact of a storm or any other natural disaster might be if the subway is out, if the power is out, we need to substitute right away with buses. After Sandy, we had buses subbing in for subways that weren’t running. But the second that we know that a subway isn’t running, we need to be able to kind of summon a number of bus shuttles as well as shared taxis, bike share, other modes that people can hop onto if they need to, and make it financially transferable so that they can have a, a transfer rate onto these other modes.

Sarah Kaufman (30m 6s):
And basically so that the city can continue getting people where they need to go during an emergency event. People may need to run to the school to pick up their kids. They may need to rush over to take care of an elderly relative. They may need to simply get home or away from a low lying building that they’re in at the moment. There are a lot of reasons people need to get around immediately before a storm event. And so we need to be able to be nimble and know what’s happening where, and build in substitutes or alternate modes right away.

Jeff Wood (30m 44s):
You mentioned rain gardens and other solutions. When there’s so much water from these, these climate change induced rain events, do those move the needle? Can you deal with 10, 15 inches of rain in a day with, you know, the small solutions? And I’m not saying, I’m not saying small in a negative way, I’m just saying, you know, there’s a certain amount of water that you just, it just has to go somewhere,

Sarah Kaufman (31m 13s):
Right? The water does have to go somewhere. The rain gardens and pest pavement certainly help. They make a dent. I think the city has built about 11,000 rain gardens and we need more. And I do think it makes a den, but it’s correct. I mean, Tokyo, which deals with a lot of storms as well as rising sea levels, has built massive cisterns underground. I believe one of them is the size of the Empire State Building laid sideways. And that’s the kind of infrastructure that you need if you’re really going to deal with that amount of water coming

Jeff Wood (31m 50s):
In. It’s crazy. It’s like, I think I, I was looking at something that you wrote or, or something the Rudin Center put out where there was a picture of the cistern in, I think it was Tokyo, and it looks like it could be part of some sci-fi movies like Cavern or something like that, or like the emperors layer in Star Wars or something. It’s like creepy and post-apocalyptic, but also useful. Yes, very interesting infrastructure. We talk about rain events and climate change and impacts, but you know, we’re also creating a lot of emissions with our transportation system and I think a lot of people are pinning their hopes on electric vehicles for the solution, but I’m not really sure if that’s good enough.

Jeff Wood (32m 31s):
What do you think needs to be done to reduce emissions overall from the transportation system that basically provides such a huge percentage of emissions emissions globally?

Sarah Kaufman (32m 40s):
Yeah, so obviously transportation emissions are massive, but when people use transit, their personal emissions are far lower. We need to be able to get people out of their cars and we can’t just ask someone in Kansas to stop using their car because they live in a car dependent place and there’s no way for them to get around otherwise in many scenarios. But what we do need to do is build in alternative modes that are actually viable. So not a bus that comes twice a day, but a bus that comes every 15 minutes or so. And I realize that America is so sprawling in most places that that is not feasible.

Sarah Kaufman (33m 25s):
But what we can do now with the advent of data analytics and, and a better understanding of how people move around is develop micro transit or shared rides that people can rely on, that people can summon as they need to in places like suburbs or smaller cities where there is some density, but not quite the rural sprawling areas where you really are reliant on a vehicle. The more that we can get people to find modes other than a personally owned vehicle, the better off will be in terms of emissions, of course, we have other issues, not just gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Sarah Kaufman (34m 10s):
We have suburban sprawl where people are living farther apart, which requires more paving over of natural lands. Obviously that leads to less natural absorption of rainwater and less ability to fight wildfires. There are all these challenges presented by just simply having a reliance on vehicles, whether or not that vehicle is electric or gas. I also wonder if America’s power grids are up to the task of serving electric vehicles. I imagine a future where all these vehicles that are now electric are plugged in every evening at 6:00 PM and then the grid goes down.

Sarah Kaufman (34m 51s):
I do like the new model that we saw, especially in Texas last winter, where people were powering their homes off of their electric vehicles when the power went out, which I thought, is that a really interesting new way of transferring power between a home and a vehicle? And I think that, you know, that may be more of a future in terms of electric vehicles,

Jeff Wood (35m 14s):
The whole battery situation’s interesting from the resource needs for lithium and, and the extraction process and all that stuff. And I almost get a little frustrated sometimes at the discussion about trying to make like every bus battery electric. And I, I’m not against it, I’m just wondering like we have this wonderful, and I’m biased obviously because I am the overhead wire, that’s my handle. But we have centuries old technology that allows us to give power to transit vehicles in San Francisco and, and Seattle. And previously Boston and Dayton, Ohio, there were overhead electric wires for vehicles and they could take as much as they needed or not as much.

Jeff Wood (35m 56s):
And I wonder if we’re trying too hard to avoid overhead electrification and you know, put a big battery in every single vehicle we possibly can.

Sarah Kaufman (36m 6s):
Yeah, I would agree with you. I also am concerned because so many power outages are caused by branches falling on power lines, and it would take a lot of maintenance of trees and of these power lines, especially for storms that I’m not sure how the balance would weigh out, you know, when you, when you consider the maintenance level.

Jeff Wood (36m 28s):
Yeah. What are you most optimistic about?

Sarah Kaufman (36m 31s):
I’m optimistic that the younger generation, I guess Gen Z or Generation Alpha

Jeff Wood (36m 37s):
Is that we have a new one now. Yeah.

Sarah Kaufman (36m 41s):
I guess if we got to Z we have to restart. Ugh. These generations are really focused on, you know, having a planet to live on in the future. So they’re really focused on improving the climate change trajectory that we’re on right now. And I do think they understand that there are a lot of components to that, like avoiding meat and obviously avoiding personally owned vehicles. Obviously car culture is very much part of America and the American dream, but I don’t necessarily think that’s true for the younger generations when they start learning a lot, when they get on urbanist TikTok and when they start talking to each other about how their lifestyles fit into the climate goals.

Jeff Wood (37m 29s):
It’s funny, I’ve heard that from a number, I asked a question a few times of folks, and that’s a frequent answer that the, the youth are moving and they have different ideals and ideas. Great. And I’m very excited about that. Well, we’re here at Revolution and you know, this is my first conference since T R B in January, 2020. How are you doing in the real world?

Sarah Kaufman (37m 53s):
So one thing about the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation is that we’ve always been a hub of conversation. We’ve always gathered people together from the public and private sector, nonprofit advocacy. We always provide this safe space for people to talk about their issues and their solutions and what’s going on in the industry and to have these down to earth conversations. And we haven’t been able to have those gatherings for a long time. And I’m glad to say that starting in the spring we will have events much more consistently and we will be able to bring people together. And so hopefully we can start working on a lot more solutions to the, the problems we’ve been talking about.

Jeff Wood (38m 37s):
Awesome. Where can folks find your work if they wanna get copies of the report or find you and ask questions or anything along those lines?

Sarah Kaufman (38m 44s):
Well, they can find our [email protected] R U D I N. And I’m on LinkedIn, Sarah Kaufman. I am not the MMA fighter. I am not the Pulitzer Prize-winning dance reviewer or the cheese sculptor, but, but you should be able to find me pretty easily on LinkedIn.

Jeff Wood (39m 8s):
I know where you’re coming from. There’s a country singer, NASCAR driver, Jeff Wood, there’s a, A guy on death row in Texas. Wow. Yeah, so I I appreciate that. Well, Sarah, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Sarah Kaufman (39m 22s):
Thank you for having me.


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