Speaker Spotlight: Susan Shaheen | Unmanned Systems Institute

Speaker Spotlight: Susan Shaheen

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Shaheen-headshotSusan Shaheen is a co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. She was the first Honda Distinguished Scholar in Transportation at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis from 2000 to 2012. She served as the Policy and Behavioral Research Program Leader at California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways from 2003 to 2007, and as a special assistant to the Director’s Office of the California Department of Transportation from 2001 to 2004.


USI: Apart from your teaching, what projects are you working on at the moment?

We have several research studies ongoing at Innovative Mobility Research at the University of California, Berkeley. For instance, we are working with some carsharing operators to investigate new innovations, such as using electric vehicles in their fleets, viability and improvements to one-way carsharing operations, and peer-to-peer vehicle sharing. We are continuing to monitor real-time ridesharing and ridesourcing (e.g., Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) developments and are hoping to conduct more research on the social and environmental impacts to urban transportation of all shared-use mobility services (e.g., bikesharing, carsharing, shuttle services, ridesharing, ridesourcing, shared delivery services, etc.).  

We think there is notable potential to mainstream shared mobility to a much broader population—geographically and demographically, as well as to serve the needs of older adults, the disabled, and even youth with these services. Our research has already documented that shared-mobility services can help to add capacity during peak travel periods and to provide mobility in areas that are less well served or not yet served by public transportation.

USI: What do you make of Uber’s recent automated vehicle initiatives and Google’s possible ride-sharing service?

We’ve been tracking the news, and it is likely to evolve to be an interesting competition that will also include other ridesourcing services and automated vehicle entrants.

USI: How widespread can ride-sharing with driverless cars become? How much could personal car ownership drop?

It is difficult to accurately predict the proliferation of ridesourcing combined with automated vehicles, particularly as public policy, insurance and liability, and other variables will need to evolve along with the technology. However, if supportive policies and structures are in place, and the technology is viable, reliable, and cost effective, ridesharing/ridesourcing combined with automated vehicles could dramatically change passenger transportation. Coupled with public transit and other shared-use mobility services (e.g., carsharing, bikesharing), personal car ownership is likely to become less attractive. Travelers can shed a personal vehicle, and its associated burdens of maintenance, insurance, and parking costs, and use these various services to fit their mobility needs. 

USI: What policies will need to be approved/created to make driverless ridesharing a reality?

Today, it is not uncommon for technological innovation to get out ahead of public policy. But in the past few years, many legislators and regulators have been creating and amending policy to keep up. Several states have passed laws allowing for automated vehicles, and many have recently approved ridesourcing regulations. However, these policies have been done separately without much consideration that ridesharing/ridesourcing may merge with automated vehicles. Thus, public policy will need to tackle this issue, particularly its implications for safety, insurance, and liability, before driverless ridesharing/ridesourcing can become a reality.

USI: Some analysts say that while there may be fewer vehicles on the road and they will be driving more efficiently, these automated cars will be in constant use. How will automated vehicles’ growth affect the environment (carbon emissions, fuel use, etc.)?

Research has shown that vehicles can be used more efficiently through more regular usage, such as fewer cold starts and fewer miles/kilometers driven in search for parking. Automated vehicles have the potential to maximize these efficiency possibilities to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fuel use. They could further reduce emissions through smoother acceleration and braking, fewer collisions, and using alternative fuels (electric drive, compressed natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells). It is important to note that there is a possibility of increased vehicle miles/kilometers traveled (VMT/VKT) due to latent demand negating some of these benefits. So research would be needed to better understand the impacts on travel behavior and GHG emissions. 

USI: Are electric vehicles and self-driving cars inherently linked? Tesla aims to grow both together, but do other see electric cars as the future as well?

Although EVs and automated vehicles have a lot of common technology and objectives in more sustainable travel, they do not necessarily need to be linked. EVs have a longer history of development since the 1950s, and there are many success stories of usage in Europe without automated technology. EVs and automated vehicles could prove to be a very powerful combination of technology. However, other combinations of modes and technologies could be impactful as well (e.g., electric bikesharing and one-way EV carsharing without automation).

USI: How will ride-sharing, automation, and other sharing/transit methods – paired with millennials desire to live in an urban environment – impact the future infrastructure of cities?

All of these alternative modes to driving alone could revolutionize the future infrastructure of cities. One major impact could be a reduced need for parking spaces and highway expansion in urban cores, returning valuable real estate for use as parks, public transit hubs, and buildings. Roadway space for cars could be used for other modes. Cities have already begun to create “complete streets,” removing lanes previously reserved for cars or parking to be used for bicycles, light-rail/streetcars, or more sidewalk space. More sustainable travel through these various methods could continue to positively impact cities.

USI: What are you interested to share with the unmanned systems community at USI 2015? What are you interested in learning more about?

I am interested in sharing our latest research on carsharing and automated vehicles. I would be interested in learning more about automated vehicles and the developing technology in reducing carbon emissions.


Susan will be presenting a case study on ride-sharing and the impact of automated vehicles at the USI 2015 Conference. For more information about the program, please see the event page.

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