November 1st, 2020 by Steve Hanley
The World Health Organization estimates 1.35 million people die and 20 to 50 million are injured annually in vehicle crashes. (That second statistic is rather imprecise but does suggest traffic related injuries are a huge problem.) In response, a group of business leaders and public policy experts is launching a new organization called the Commission On The Future Of Mobility to grapple with the thorny questions that surround the future of transportation including self driving and electric vehicles, according to a report by Reuters. The commission will function within the framework of SAFE, which stands for Securing America’s Future Energy. Several members of SAFE are former military leaders who see America’s dependence on foreign oil and natural gas as a national security risk.
The new mobility commission says it will take a clean slate approach to transportation policy and propose a new regulatory framework that will address a global transportation sector that is “on the cusp of a worldwide transition driven by shared, connected, autonomous, and electric technologies.” Alisyn Malek, a co-founder of May Mobility, will be the commission’s executive director. She tells Reuters the goal is to tackle tough problems and improve safety.
“The Commission’s role is to research gaps in our current understanding of how technology could help us move forward on our five areas of focus,” she says in a press release. “With this insight we will advocate for policies that create the appropriate framework for the transportation of the future. It is vital for standards to be created that allow these new technologies to truly deliver on their promise of safer roads, reduced emissions, and greater economic opportunities for all sectors of society. Let’s bring everybody together to talk about how do we want the movement of people and goods to actually work.”
According to the press release, “The Commission on the Future of Mobility will encourage and leverage the synergy created by an interconnected transportation system to reshape transportation policy in favor of exponential outcomes for consumer safety, global opportunity, and infrastructure resiliency.”
Autonomous cars and delivery trucks, package carrying drones, air taxis, connected vehicles, and Hyperloop systems are among transit advances that could revolutionize travel, the group says. Co-chairs of the new commission will be Jared Cohon, president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University, Jim Hackett, former CEO of Ford, Thierry Mallet, CEO of Transdev Group. Goodyear CEO Richard Kramer, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, and Qualcomm CEO Steven Mollenkopf will be on the commission, as will Hyundai Motor CEO José Muñoz.
Governments around the world, including in the United States, have struggled to adopt regulations to allow for the wide scale adoption of next generation transportation options such as self driving cars amid safety concerns. “Progress can only continue if we modernize the way policy and regulation work,” Hackett said.
All of this sounds very nice, but there is an undercurrent of fossil fuel influence here. The trump maladministration has been beating the energy independence drum for all it is worth over the past 4 years while encouraging US companies to drill, drill , drill anywhere and everywhere there may be three molecules of oil or gas left untapped, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.
“Regulators are hiking fuel efficiency requirements, while California and many European countries want to end new gasoline powered passenger vehicle sales by 2035,” the Commission warns while “current regulatory requirements governing fuel economy standards and vehicle safety fail to reflect the transformation occurring in powertrains, autonomy, and models of mobility.” The Commission will recommend “a framework for regulations in the American, European, and Asian markets post-2025 that reflects and facilitates the technological transformation taking place” for emissions and safety regulations.
In other words, let’s keep fossil fuel vehicle as part of the transportation mix for as long as possible while new technologies slowly inch their way forward. That is rather interesting considering one of SAFE’s sister organizations is the Electrification Coalition, a group that promotes the use of electrical energy from solar, wind, and nuclear. Robbie Diamond, CEO of SAFE, tells Reuters the goal of the new commission is to rethink everything. “If you had to rewrite regulations and policy from scratch knowing what we know about technology today … what you would do differently?” he asked. “We want to think big.”
Somehow underneath the gloss, the message seems to be that less regulation is best, a restatement of the “free market” approach that many business leaders prefer, even though it has led the world to the brink of a climate catastrophe because they have been prioritized profits over climate justice for the past several centuries. The stated goals of the Commission on the Future of Mobility sound wonderful, but one has to wonder it this is just another K Street cabal meant to pressure the next government to enact policies favorable to its supporters.
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