Hype-cutting gets a new ally as SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin shares the biggest secret in mobility, then takes a white hot chainsaw through myths around smart cities, efficiency, congestion, housing costs, the relationship between socialism and potholes, supply and demand, and the value of time. Hear Tumlin’s thoughts on how San Francisco can be fixed just before he was appointed the city’s transportation director. Plus does the interior of a self-driving vehicle actually matter, and how can public/private partnerships go wrong…or right?

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Episode Transcript

Alex Roy
Welcome to the No Parking Podcast, a show that cuts through the hype around AI, self-driving cars, and how technology will change our lives. I’m our skeptic, Alex Roy, with my co-host and friend, roboticist and CEO of Argo AI, Bryan Salesky.

Bryan Salesky
Hi Alex. How are you today?

Alex Roy
Hi, Bryan, hi.

Alex Roy

On this episode we’re going to talk about the right and wrong ways to introduce new transportation technologies into cities. Joining us is Jeffrey Tumlin, currently the executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority. But to be clear, this interview was recorded at Ford’s City of Tomorrow when Jeffrey was still the principal and director of strategy at transportation consultancy, Nelson\Nygaard. Let’s jump right in.

Alex Roy

So you manage the relationships between innovative companies and cities in which they want to go do business?

Jeffrey Tumlin
That’s right. We try to both get the cities to step it up and the technology companies to play well in part by getting cities to actually define what they’re looking for. So to define-

Alex Roy
In advance of their arrival—

Jeffrey Tumlin
That’s right. Define the problems that they want solved and to define the outcomes that they’d like to see and how those outcomes might be measurable, and then regulate according to good public outcomes. And then help private companies understand how government actually works, because many of them are staffed entirely with people who’ve never worked in government.

Alex Roy
Bryan has a theory that I fully support or I wouldn’t be in the room right now, which is that the only way that one can deploy Avs, or anything, because Argo is in the AV business, is to do it street by street, city by city, in advance. And this is going to take years to build goodwill. So talk to us about how this has gone wrong in the past.

Jeffrey Tumlin
So in ancient history or in the present?

Alex Roy
I’d love to start with ancient history.

Bryan Salesky
We’re history buffs.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Okay, well, good. So our society has been through many transportation revolutions, like technology arrives on the scene and people get really excited about it and think it’s going to solve all these problems and don’t really gain through what some of those unintended negative consequences might be.

Jeffrey Tumlin
So this morning, Bill Ford I think was very articulate about Henry Ford’s vision of individually owned automobiles delivering us personal freedom and having that freedom translate into not only physical mobility but social mobility and economic transformation. And I would argue that our investment in the interstate highway system was one of the smartest infrastructure investments that any country has ever made and it knit this country together in a way that was previously unimaginable.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And my own ancestors, every generation fled West and reinvented themselves, oftentimes multiple times. That wouldn’t have been possible without the car. And yet Bill Ford is also very cognizant that the retrofitting of cities for their car rather than for people was a complete disaster. We kill a hundred Americans every single day as a result of people driving cars. It’s a 747 number of people every week.

Alex Roy
Is it the driving of cars or is it a poor infrastructure design that cascades to crashes-

Jeffrey Tumlin
It’s a compounded set of factors that are about putting convenience ahead of safety. So it’s how we do driver training. It’s how we regulate the physical design of the roadway. It’s how we maintain the roadway. It’s how in the regulation of safety standards for the vehicle itself, it’s really about protecting the occupant of the vehicle at the expense of pedestrians outside the vehicle.

Alex Roy
So we’re jumping right into the fun part and the thing we really want to learn about. AVs are coming and that can be deployed wisely or unwisely. They can come with a set of second order consequences that we’re going to deal with in 50 years or we can mitigate them today by having a plan to go in. What are the kinds of second order consequences that we can predict, or at least perceive the contours of…that we can plan for to mitigate now before we arrive?

Jeffrey Tumlin
Well, so I think it’s worthwhile to start talking about upside, because there are some amazing upsides. Parking goes away in cities, right? Parking which consumes about a third of urban land area, right? Suddenly we can triple the amount of development in a city without necessarily having to deal with expansion or additional traffic ingestion. Safety is a potentially big upside.

Alex Roy
Hold on. Because we’re friends, I’m going to interrupt you.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Yeah.

Alex Roy
So if we all agreed parking can go away, what would be the optimal use of former parking space such that we reap amplifying benefits?

Jeffrey Tumlin
Right. So that’s a great question. So on street parking can be retrofitted into protected lanes for bikes and scooters and other forms of micromobility that haven’t been invented yet.

Alex Roy
So we turn them into cafes. That’s not good? But lanes are good?

Jeffrey Tumlin
Well, so the on street parking can be mobility space or if we’re able to make the mobility system more efficient, we could reallocate the public right of way for more productive uses like housing. But more importantly all that off street parking, which is really the bulk of the land area, not the on street parking, like all of that can solve our housing problems here in California because we’d be prioritizing the housing of people over the housing of cars. Right? What an amazing thing that could transform California and allow all of the innovation that has occurred here that is being threatened by the lack of affordability in California. We can continue innovating because we can continue welcoming newcomers, the thing that we’ve decided not to do.

Alex Roy
Sounds like the yin to the yang of Bryan’s last week saying, ‘you know something, there’s a lot of talent outside of Silicon Valley.’ Let’s go hire them because the cost of hiring Silicon Valley tracks all the other costs of living in Silicon Valley.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Right?

Alex Roy
Because we are hunting for talent elsewhere.

Jeffrey Tumlin
In all of our regulation of land, we’ve prioritized the privileges of the establishment over the needs of newcomers, right? That’s what our entire land regulatory structure is about, is keeping newcomers out of California. So that in order to arrive here, you have to arrive already wealthy.

Alex Roy
Someone said, I forget who was, ever heard of this YouTube channel, Mr. Regular car reviews. The guy does car reviews like he doesn’t care who he offends. He’s like, this is me. Talk about this car that. He said, California is the finish line of the Western world. Everybody moves West, they keep going West. And with they bring all the expenses, costs, hopes and dreams, and disappointments with them. And California was based built based on cars and there’s no mass transit in most of these cities. Can we reverse those trends? Can San Francisco be fixed?

Jeffrey Tumlin
So of course San Francisco can be fixed. It’s very easy to fix a place like San Francisco, particularly if we start with mobility. So one of the reasons why there’s so much innovation in the mobility space right now is because of how badly we manage our public rights of way. In part because we don’t understand the difference between convenience and efficiency. And we also don’t even understand what congestion is. We experience it-

Alex Roy
To understand it, tell us about it—

Jeffrey Tumlin
So congestion is not an infrastructure problem, it’s an economic problem. So congestion is simply what happens when the demand for mobility equals the supply. And for every commodity in American society, every utility, food, clothing, housing, your cell phone bill, electricity, we use price to balance supply and demand. And only in mobility do we use time to balance supply and demand. So we’ve not socialized health care or parental leave in America, we socialized driving.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And so it is no wonder that our roads are simultaneously congested and potholed. And if any older conservative wants to terrify young Americans about the perils of socialism, he need only point at our highways. So just understanding what congestion is and that in mobility, we’re not in the business of solving congestion. We’re in the land value business. So I can add a lane to a highway. So Los Angeles very famously spent $1 billion widening the 405, only to have the new highway open more congested than the old highway. We’re not in the congestion reduction business. We’re in the land value business. Because when I widen a road or extend a highway, the result of that is, honey, why don’t we move to the bigger, cheaper house farther away. More capacity equals more demand. And the only way to solve for congestion is to either use price to balance supply and demand like we do for food and clothing or housing, or to destroy our regional economy. So the only North American city that has solved congestion is Detroit. And they did it by destroying their regional economy.

Alex Roy
I wish I could take the last five minutes, bottle it and make people who don’t understand this drink it.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And if you can’t widen the highway more, because you can’t demolish the African American neighborhoods like we used to, surely you could just put the lane underneath and that’s going to solve the problem. And it’ll be even better if it’s in a vacuum tube. And let’s not think about what happens when you’ve just doubled the capacity of the 10 at the giant elevator bank at the other end of the Santa Monica freeway.

Bryan Salesky
All right. So what you’re saying is we need to find an equilibrium. And so with supply and demand and that pricing is one way to do this.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And it’s the way that works best and has the least negative implications.

Bryan Salesky
So let’s look at New York City for a minute. The wealthy, if they can afford to live there, will live in Manhattan. Those that need to be in Manhattan will live there. Right? And if you add a congestion tax toll in order to get into Manhattan, isn’t it true that you’re basically making it less affordable for those who have the least amount of wealth to now get into Manhattan?

Jeffrey Tumlin
So it depends on a whole set of nested questions. So I think the starting point is looking at the equity implications of the status quo. So right now, New York City says that in order to drive into New York and your 300 square foot RV, as long as you take the right bridge, that’s free. But if you’re going to take the subway, that’s $6. So right now-

Bryan Salesky
Perverse incentive.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Exactly. So right now the system is structured to grossly subsidize those who are the wealthiest and to penalize the people who are making the most efficient use out of the mobility system.

Jeffrey Tumlin
So, the first step is to look at the equity situation of the status quo, and to ask how’s that working for y’all? And might we change it? The next question is if you’re going to use price, what do you do with the net revenue? What are we spending that net revenue on and are we spending that revenue in ways that both enhances the efficiency of the network and disproportionately benefits those with the fewest choices.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And then of course, whenever you use price to balance supply and demand, there are going to be individual stories where people are inconvenienced. If you’re of lower income, price is more meaningful to you than if you’re super rich. So how can we use means testing just like we use for your telephone bill and for your transit paths, in order to correct for the inequity of using price at all to begin with.

Jeffrey Tumlin
So one of the reasons why we don’t use price to balance supply and demand in the United States is the history of toll roads in which we gouged consumers and restricted liberty. We don’t do that with decongestant pricing.

Bryan Salesky
Speaking my language.

Jeffrey Tumlin
With decongestant pricing, you charge the lowest price that is necessary to allow traffic to float smoothly. When the 405 is jammed as it is most of the time, it moves fewer people per hour than the Venice beach bike path, which is only 14 feet wide. So the Venice beach bike path is as wide as one travel lane on the 405, one of the 12 travel lanes in the 405, which moves fewer people per hour when it’s allowed to become congested. In other words, we throw away eight lanes of capacity on the highway because we don’t balance supply and demand.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And the difference between gridlock and free flow conditions is 10%. You remove 10% of the traffic from a congested freeway and it flows again. So you don’t actually have to have a very high price, relatively small price signals change behavior enough to make the system work.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And it’s also a terrible mistake to assume that just because somebody is low income, they have no value on their time. If I’m late for work, nobody cares. Shift workers, if they’re late for work, they’re fired. Single parents who are late picking up their child from daycare are charged by the minute.

Bryan Salesky
They’re penalized the most. That’s right. And this was a great answer. I framed the question wrong really. The answer is in the details of how the pricing gets implemented. And I was baiting you to have you explain it so eloquently as you have.

Alex Roy
I told you this guy was smart. He is smart.

Bryan Salesky
So the question then is reframing how that congestion tax gets implemented. Reframing how we solve this problem. Do you see an example out there that you say they’re doing it correctly? This is a model system.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Yeah.

Bryan Salesky
Exactly. This is a modal system.

Jeffrey Tumlin
I mean, there’s bits and pieces that I think are worth learning from. So I think the Gothenburg and Stockholm examples of decongestion pricing are better implemented than London and less authoritarian than Singapore. So, interesting to look at as models. I think that Stockholm’s approach of the policymakers … They polled Stockholmers and said like, “Do you want to pay more to drive into the city?” And two thirds of the voters said, “Hell no.” And so then it’s, “Okay. We’re going to do a six-month pilot.” And so they did decongestion pricing for six months, and congestion went away. They had all of this revenue to fund massive increases in public transportation and bikeways and all this stuff. Business flourished because more people could actually come into Stockholm. And, at the end of six months they shut it down, and they got rid of the bus service, and they let people drive freely. And Stockholmers said, “Wait, what the hell? We’ve been demanding decongestion pricing all this time. How dare you take it away? And we’ve always wanted this.” And so, about a year later, they reinstated it, and it’s continued and has continued to be popular since now. I’d also point you to a more sophisticated approach, which is what the government of Finland is trying to do, which is linking together all forms of mobility into a full mobility as a service where, basically, everyone gets a mobility wallet on your phone. And let’s say everyone gets six square feet of roadway space for free. And, if you want more than that, you’re welcome to have it. But we’re going to charge you because we have limited roadway space. And, if you want less than that, we’ll pay you. So if you’re going to ride on the jam-packed 38 Geary bus in San Francisco and take up one square foot of space, we’re going to pay you 10 bucks, because you’re doing such a good job of making the mobility system more efficient.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And if, for some reason, you need to get a car in San Francisco during commute times because you need to make a diagonal journey to the doctor’s office and … Translate as horrible. You can do that. That’ll be like $10. We’d like to charge you $10 for that. But, at the end of the day, you can balance the system out so that everyone can take care of the business that they need to take care of, that the city can make the transportation system more geometrically efficient, and we can not only correct for social inequity, but we can lead with social equity in order to use the power of mobility to equalize opportunity.

Alex Roy
So that system … Does the city own and control the point of payment?

Jeffrey Tumlin
So I think the city’s role is to act as overseer, so to act as either regulator or platform provider.

Jeffrey Tumlin
The city’s role is to enforce open APIs around payment, around specific data about travel behavior, and about safety and efficiency, and to allow anyone to develop platforms that wants to develop platforms for anyone to package together different forms of mobility. But to ensure, just like the federal communications commission does for our airways, to ensure continued open competition among many private providers. Taking advantage of the public right of way, but upholding the public good, right? The city needs to assert that its most valuable asset is the public right of way. The public right of way is a third of the land area in most cities. It’s a phenomenally valuable and limited asset that government needs to manage skillfully to promote private profit and innovation and competition while upholding the public good.

Alex Roy
So I believe in a mobility floor, some basic minimum multi-modal choice menu for people. I also believe in competition. Is there an ecosystem of competing companies that are in market in Helsinki? Because I’m only familiar with the story of Whim, and Whim in theory sounds like a good idea.

Jeffrey Tumlin
So what was Whim?

Alex Roy
Whim is a MaaS platform with three levels of service. You pick one, and you’re entitled to X number of days of a car and X number of car rides and whatever. So, kind of like privatized … the way healthcare works in the United States kind of.

Bryan Salesky
That’s right, yeah.

Alex Roy
And so I was very interested in their success or at least in in their building a business case and seeing more things like that show up here in New York City, where I live. And yet there was this article by our friend David Zipper, went to Helsinki, and Whim can’t sell enough subscriptions. What’s going wrong?

Jeffrey Tumlin
I think what’s going wrong is that so much that has been invested in entitlements for private motorists is disrupting the market for alternatives, right? Because somebody else pays for my driving. Right? I love driving. I got my driver’s license on the morning of the day of my 16th birthday. I grew up in Los Angeles. Right? I love driving, but I also recognize the massive amount of subsidy that goes to pay for my driving. And that that subsidy is not in my interest as a motorist, because it means more people are driving in front of me. Right? So all of the providers, whether it’s Uber and Lyft, or whether it’s a platform like Whim in Helsinki, are struggling with making a business case for an alternative to driving that has to be self-supported, when driving is massively subsidized by the government.

Alex Roy
So basically, if I’m understanding you correctly, it’s like saying restaurants, privately owned restaurants make sense, but not if a privately owned restaurant only sells French fries.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Right? Or privately run restaurants make sense, but not when government is throwing-

Alex Roy
Money.

Jeffrey Tumlin
… massive amounts of free food out onto tables on the sidewalk.

Bryan Salesky
Can I take the conversation in new direction?

Jeffrey Tumlin
Please do.

Bryan Salesky
Okay. So I was talking to earlier today … Were you at the talk with Bill Ford?

Jeffrey Tumlin
I was. Yeah. It was great.

Bryan Salesky
Did I say anything stupid?

Jeffrey Tumlin
No, I actually liked what all of you said there. Like my disappointment with this conference is that the blowhards haven’t been allowed to be up on stage.

Alex Roy
I have nothing to say, as a result.

Bryan Salesky
Exactly. So my question then is, I’m actually … I want to learn from you, Jeffrey. So I believe in the smart vehicle in a smart world strategy. I believe that things will actually get worse, congestion-wise, with more and more ride hail services that enter the streets. It’s just more cars, right? And it’s inefficient because you don’t need all of that to service the demand, actually. You actually need remarkably few cars in any given metro to service the demand. So what that means then is that there needs to be something that that puts in check the supply and demand. We just talked about a whole bunch of this, a whole bunch of ways to do that through taxes. And I’m sure there’s plenty of other methods, but what I’m really interested in understanding more now is … Let’s assume that we have some of those mechanisms in place where we’re using the road space in more efficient ways. We’re reducing the number of vehicles that ultimately enter this sort of city limits. Those vehicles still are occupying space, and we’re still going to have … That isn’t going to fix congestion, right? It’s going to put the system in better balance, but it’s not going to actually fix congestion. What my theory is, is that in order to truly address it, we’re going to have to make the infrastructure smarter so that the autonomous vehicles actually don’t have the ability to route themselves entirely, that they actually need to work cooperatively with some sort of larger system that tells it how to get through the city. You know, given what’s happening dynamically through the road network. What do you think about all that?

Jeffrey Tumlin
So, I think ideas like that are good in theory, but get really messy when you add pedestrians to the mix. So, when I look at the business case for a lot of new mobility technology providers and look at their fancy videos, they’re great until you notice that there are no pedestrians either in the video or in the analytical model. And so there are limits to the amount of throughput efficiency that we can get using smart street technology without incredibly scary authoritative pedestrian enforcement. And that’s a really fun topic to go to one of the auto shows and talk about where, when you realize that, if the vehicles are designed to stop for any child that’s bouncing a ball onto the street, if it’s rainy, it will take pedestrians all of five seconds to realize they could just walk out into the middle of the intersection, and all traffic will stop for them.

Jeffrey Tumlin
And the technologist’s solution to that problem is ubiquitous facial recognition software to send pedestrian citations or, better yet, why bother accommodating pedestrians when we have ubiquitous door-to-door mobility and the WALL-E solution to the city of the future comes out. So long as pedestrians are free range and unpredictable, it’s really, really mathematically challenging … I would argue, probably impossible … to get a lot more vehicle throughput efficiency in urban places. Now, in the suburbs and in rural places, absolutely. There’s a lot that we can do with the vehicle infrastructure.

Jeffrey Tumlin
I am concerned, though, that all governments are facing ever-greater structural deficits as a result of, basically, structural tax flaws where our taxation revenue declines relative to cost of living over time. And so the fact that we can cannot maintain any of the infrastructure that we already have … I’m not seeing a path forward to a significant set of upgrades to that infrastructure, let alone making it really smart.

Bryan Salesky
Well, so let’s go back to the pedestrian issue. So let’s break this down a little bit. If I’m trying to get from A to B within a few square miles, there tends to be multiple routes, and a human is bad at choosing which one is best.

Jeffrey Tumlin
But Waze is really good.

Bryan Salesky
And well hang on, but is it?

Alex Roy
Is it?

Bryan Salesky
But is it? This is the thing. I don’t know that we … Yes, Waze is better, but Waze does not know when lights are going to change, when signals are going to change for when pedestrians can cross or not cross. Waze doesn’t understand, at the fringes of that road network, what’s coming in and what’s coming out necessarily. And that’s really important information. I’m not saying that this is a silver bullet, but if we understood not just where things are and where they’re going over a few seconds, but we understood where they’re going to go or where they’re intending to get over a much larger time horizon, you absolutely can create more optimal plans.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Yes, I don’t disagree with that, but that does nothing to solve congestion. All that does is increases motor vehicle throughput in your existing context. And still, if you-

Bryan Salesky
Does it not improve ETAs?

Jeffrey Tumlin
It improves ETAs for some people, but not for others.

Bryan Salesky
That’s-

Jeffrey Tumlin
If you’re optimizing throughput, you can … In a grid, you can optimize throughput in one direction but not in the other direction. You can optimize throughput going east but not south. So you’re making choices about what trips are most important, and we would tend to make the choice of the trips that are in the peak commute direction.

Bryan Salesky
I’m not saying everyone wins. Yes, there are winners and losers depending on how those choices are made. Absolutely. But is there not something here?

Jeffrey Tumlin
There is something there, but I would question, again, like what are the net social equity implications of that? So prioritizing the trip to work is going to prioritize the trip to the central business district, which is going to prioritize jobs of privilege and not other types of trips, like the trip to school or the trip to a service industry job or the trip to the factory job, which is not going to be in the same direction. So you’ve made the factory worker spend twice as much time in her car in order to allow the financial district worker, in order to save 15 minutes on his drive trip.

Alex Roy
I feel like we almost need like an entire ‘nother episode just to discuss this.

Bryan Salesky
We go much further. We are going to be talking about basically fluid mechanics and flow, which is basically what this follows.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Yeah, and I would argue that traffic doesn’t work that way. Traffic works in terms of granular dynamics, not fluid dynamics.

Alex Roy
I was going to ask … And I almost feel like I shouldn’t say this. Well, if you price in for … Congestion charges are one thing. One could also set up a traffic market, where you fix the congestion charge for people going to school or work, but then there’s a floating cost per mile for people who are doing something else like going to a nightclub.

Jeffrey Tumlin
That’s right. And I would argue that, if gentrification has forced you to the outer suburbs, where there’s no-

Jeffrey Tumlin
Location has forced you to the outer suburbs, where there’s no public transit. Your Uber trip from your low income neighborhood in the outer suburbs to your metro rail station should be discounted, because that benefits the mechanics of the overall transportation network, and it corrects for social inequity. But if you want to take Lyft for your commute along a major rail corridor because you want all the space around you, that’s great, but we’re going to charge you extra for that. Hang on.

Alex Roy
Let’s continue the thread on infrastructure. I posed one possible way to optimize things, and you’re right. You’re optimizing for some of the expenses. Others, there’s no free lunch here. I get that. But I didn’t ask you the question. What is the most kind of bang for your buck type of infrastructure solution that folks should be looking at?

Jeffrey Tumlin
Protected bikeways, for sure.

Alex Roy
Protected bikeways.

Jeffrey Tumlin
So far, in this mobility innovation, the only technologies that offer both convenience and efficiency are in the micromobility category. So Uber and Lyft are great. They offer a tremendous amount of convenience. I use them both all the time. They are hugely inefficient and worsen congestion and worsen public health and safety outcomes. Scooters, bike share, my own personal bike, and all that little category of small stuff like that, offers phenomenal human throughput per foot of roadway space and convenience at the same time. Now those, obviously they only work for the shorter trip. But most trips, like half of car trips, are under a mile.

Alex Roy
So for the longer trips, would you suggest some sort of multimodal model then? So get to a place that’s at a little more toward the fringe of where the congestion epicenter is, and then switch over to a vehicle?

Jeffrey Tumlin
That’s right. And I think the area where autonomous vehicle technology offers also that combination of social benefit and greater geometric efficiency for the roadway, as well as cost efficiency, is autonomous buses. Right?

Jeffrey Tumlin
So in public transit, a big percentage of the cost of operating transit is the operator. So if we could, by using dedicated right of way and bus rapid transit lanes, offer autonomous rapid transit with rubber tires, you could operate those every two minutes, 24 hours a day, with the only marginal cost being energy and wear and tear on the vehicle.

Alex Roy
So we could do that. I don’t know who will use it, is the problem, and I don’t know how to change consumer habits exactly, but I mean, Uber and Lyft have shown that they’re pooling offerings only work in the most dense of dense sections of the city.

Jeffrey Tumlin
So I look at Zurich, where 80% of travel, including wealthy bankers, is on public transit.

Alex Roy
Yep, which is not the U.S.—

Jeffrey Tumlin
And yet, I also look at the United States, and look at places where transit ridership is growing, like in a city like Seattle. We overwhelmingly place a high value on our time, provided basic certain thresholds are met in terms of quality. If public transit is fast, frequent, and reliable, people take it in droves.

Alex Roy
And clean.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Right, and clean. So the trouble is, is we don’t design public transit to actually be attractive.

Alex Roy
Yeah, it’s not that.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Why doesn’t it look like first class on an airplane?

Alex Roy
So I agree. They’re not considering experiences, right?

Jeffrey Tumlin
Correct.

Bryan Salesky
My brother recently, he’s a lot younger than me, he went back to school and he’s a driver. He has a car. He doesn’t bring his car into the city. He uses the bus system in the city of Pittsburgh, and he loves it because of the convenience of not having to worry about driving and the stress and everything that comes with parking and so on, but it’s not always clean. It’s not always reliable, and there’s not always people on that bus that he wants to be talking to. Sometimes he wants to just have a private experience. Right? I’m sure there’s an answer here. We’re not going to solve it on this podcast, but these are issues.

Jeffrey Tumlin
I can solve it for you. It’s not that hard.

Alex Roy
Jeffrey.

Jeffrey Tumlin
I can solve it for you.

Alex Roy
All right, go. Go ahead.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Well, so the starting place is really looking at the German model. So here in Los Angeles, I know there’s like 50 public transit operators. Just figuring out how the damn system works is nearly impossible. So in Germany, there are many transit operators, but there’s only one agency that’s in charge of the user interface design, in charge of scheduling, in charge of establishing performance metrics. They then contract out the actual operations to an array of public agencies and a whole array of private operators.

Jeffrey Tumlin
You don’t know whether the bus that’s there is privately operated or operated by a public entity, unless you look closely at some little ‘operated by’ stencil on the driver’s door, or on the lapel of the driver’s uniform. And moreover, in a place like Stockholm, where driving is, you have to pay for driving just like you have to pay for the bus, and what you pay relates to how much real estate you’re taking up while driving. Suddenly, there’s the resource available to make the most space efficient option the most desirable option. Here in the United States, we do the opposite. We make the most efficient mode the most expensive for the user, and the crappiest, in terms of experience.

Alex Roy
We are close to running out of time here, but we have two questions we like to ask every guest. What would be the best way to educate or get people to trust new modes, things like autonomous vehicles, given how much misinformation is out there? Is it a number? Is it faith in the brand?

Jeffrey Tumlin
So it’s a couple things. So one is technical, and that is data. So Michael Bloomberg, when he was mayor of New York, famously said, “Trust in God, but for everything else, bring me data.” So cities need to define their problems and to define the public good and make it measurable, and data is then what becomes the glue, the trust factor that allows the public and the private to be able to collaborate, because there’s data and you can collect and you can correct as you move along, and can demonstrate that you’re upholding the public good.

Jeffrey Tumlin
The other factor really though is imagining this. So as we look at the last technological revolution, that was created by the most visited industrial exhibit in the history of the world, which was the Futurama Exhibit at the 1933, ’39, and ’64 World’s Fairs, sponsored by the General Motors Corporation. Right? But they helped Americans imagine an America transformed by limitless mobility in the heart of the great depression. Right?

Jeffrey Tumlin
It was an incredibly powerful vision, and people bought into it like religion. This morning we had Hannah Beachler, a production designer, an Academy award winning production designer for Black Panther. I’m her biggest fan boy. She is the first person that I’ve been able to find in the history of the city of the future who has imagined mobility as a tool of social inclusion, rather than a mechanism for more exquisite privilege for the privileged. Right? And so we need more production designers like Hannah Beachler, who can help us imagine how we could use technology in the service of people, rather than having people be in the service of technology.

Alex Roy
Your answer’s very interesting, because at no point did you talk about safety. You talk about data, as in the context of here’s a new system, a system that’s better than what we have. The system is about, I guess, efficiency, ETAs, and guarantees, and bring me data that shows me that. Because almost everyone else we ask this question of says, “Well, I would trust it if someone else did.” But usually that’s code for, “If they trust that it’s safe, I’m getting in,” and there’s no assumption that it’s necessarily more reliable or timely, and yet I know from talking to Bryan, we talked about this a lot, ETA matters. Hashtag, ETA matters, keep your word. It works.

Bryan Salesky
I mean, this is part of the new future, is that we have to grapple with, this is a whole other episode, but we have to grapple with how to get people to where they’re going, but be able to be afforded the time to do big things like that and say, “You know what? We’re not operating today. We can’t, because there’s an issue. Sorry about that.” It’s going to happen. We don’t do that.

Bryan Salesky
To your point, we don’t do that in ground transportation. It’s like, “Well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” and that’s not good enough in this new world. So I think I just learned today, Alex, that we’re automating the wrong miles, we’re building the wrong vehicle, we’re planning the wrong smart infrastructure, and we should all just get around on scooters.

Alex Roy
Don’t give away the secret, because we know the reality. The reality is that every city is different. There’s a different modal equilibrium for each person and each city requires a different set of solutions.

Bryan Salesky
My world’s just been rocked. I’m thinking of resigning.

Alex Roy
Yeah. Actually, knowing what I know about Argo, that I can’t talk about, and knowing a little bit about Tumlin’s work, I’m actually more optimistic than ever.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Do you want me to give you another business secret?

Alex Roy
Go ahead.

Jeffrey Tumlin
The revenue model for the future of mobility is not mobility. It’s capturing the value of time for the occupants.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah. So I was getting ready to say something similar, but not as… You’re very eloquent.

Alex Roy
He’s good, this guy.

Bryan Salesky
He is really good. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that this an experience’s based business. People want to have a great experience while they’re on the road. They just do, and that’s where public transportation falls down all day long, and you can bring up whatever metrics, statistic or bad luck you may have experienced when the system may have let you down, but whatever it is, if the experience is bad and whatever we do, whether it’s shared fleets of autonomous vehicles, autonomous buses, and so on, we have to prioritize the experience, or else it’s just going to be another commodity where we’re packed in like sardines.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Well, right. And the experience, baseline, should be first class on an airline. Right? They have figured out-

Bryan Salesky
Or maybe what first class used to be on an airline.

Jeffrey Tumlin
Yeah, exactly, or what first class looks like on an Asian carrier.

Bryan Saleksy
Yeah, that’s right.

Alex. ROy
No coincidence. My father met my mother in first class American Airlines, 1969. You know why.

Jeffrey Tumlin
I could just imagine what they were wearing.

Alex. Roy
She was the flight attendant.

Alex Roy
Alright let’s wrap this up. Jeffrey, where can we learn more about you and Nelson\Nygaard online?

Jeffrey Tumlin
Go to NelsonNygaard.com, and-

Alex Roy
And with two As in the Nygaard.

Jeffrey Tumlin
That’s right. N-Y-G-A-A-R-D.

Alex Roy
All right. And you have an account as well on Twitter? I know you do, because I follow you.

Jeffrey Tumlin
That’s right. Jeffry Tumlin is my handle on Twitter.

Alex Roy
It’s a good one.

Jeffrey Tumlin
It tries to be a little irreverent, not that I’ve exhibited any of that today.

Alex Roy
None. Thanks so much for coming. This was really educational. Really, really great. Thank you.

Jeffrey Tumlin
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Bryan Salesky
Thank you.

Alex Roy
So that was really interesting. My favorite thing he said was that there’s only one North American city that has solved congestion, and it was Detroit. They did it by destroying the regional economy.I mean, we need cars on the street. People have to do stuff. They have to get places.

Bryan Salesky
Detroit’s one of the easiest places to get around. Give me a break.

Alex Roy
I mean, but we wish it was not so easy because the economy would be healthier if there’s more people driving around. Right? I mean, it’s like…

Bryan Salesky
I mean, I’m not … I don’t know. I don’t get it.

Alex Roy
You know it’s a sign of a bad economy when there’s literally zero cars in the street.

Bryan Salesky
I think that’d be terrible. In fact, there’s a story that people would tell me about right after the dot-com bust in Silicon Valley, the 101 was practically empty in morning rush. That was eerie. People called it eerie.

Alex Roy
It’s like a zombie movie. It’s like Dawn of the Dead.

Bryan Salesky
Zombie apocalypse for sure.

Bryan Salesky
Nobody wants that.

Alex Roy
You know, Bryan, if I interviewed you, can you imagine the level of engagement? It would be awesome.

Bryan Salesky
It would be amazing. But didn’t we do that once?

Alex Roy
Yeah, but I did all the talk… Let’s move on. Anyway, that was a great episode.

Alex Roy
You really want to talk about that?

Bryan Salesky
I think it’s hilarious.

Alex Roy
I think that’s the best episode we’ve ever done. I think you are the best interview I’ve ever done, and I think someday people should hear that.

Bryan Salesky
Someday they will.

Alex Roy
On that topic because this is a show about technology. I felt that Knight Rider was the original show about self-driving cars.

Bryan Salesky
I loved Knight Rider. I think it was great. I mean, it was, and I looked at that and thought someday.

Alex Roy
Someday.

Bryan Salesky
Someday I’d like to make that happen.

Alex Roy
I always thought it was funny that KITT’s enemy KARR that … how could KARR lose?

Bryan Salesky
That’s true. Look, I was pretty young when those were airing, and I just remember thinking how lame a real automobile was.

Alex Roy
Compared to those things?

Bryan Salesky
I mean, sure, climb into whatever we had at the time, and like, “Where’s all the buttons and stuff?”

Alex Roy
It is funny to think that Knight Industries, that if they had the technology to build such a vehicle, that they would only build one, and they would give it to this guy. Why wouldn’t they make a million of them, they could build a business and be … How do they recoup their investment in that car?

Bryan Salesky
I don’t get it.

Alex Roy
We should find for a future episode, one of the writers of that show and interview them about how they feel about

Bryan Salesky
Let’s get Hasselhoff on here. We can do it. We have the connections.

Alex Roy
That’s the best idea you’ve ever had.

Bryan Salesky
We can make that happen. Just don’t hassle the Hoff when he comes on.

Alex Roy
Well, I will have to ask him about his album.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah.

Alex Roy
Thanks for joining us on No Parking this week with our guest, Jeffrey Tumlin. If you’d like to be a guest on No Parking or recommend a guest, hit us up by email at guests@noparkingpodcast.com. Please follow us on Twitter @noparkingpod. And let me tell you, if you want to hash it out with me hardcore, do it in the comments. I promise I will answer. I have made a lot of enemies but more friends on Twitter. You could also subscribe to our mailing list at www.noparkingpodcast.com where we have a transcript of every single episode, because people ask for them and most podcasts are just too lazy.

Alex Roy
This episode was produced and edited by Dave Chekan. I’m Alex Roy here with my cohost Bryan Salesky, and we shall talk to you next week to cut through the hype around AI, self-driving, and how technology will actually change our lives.