For Full Story: Herald-Tribune

Article By: Dale White


The cars and trucks of the future will most likely not require human drivers or combustion engines and will communicate with each other about road conditions to ensure passengers arrive at their destinations safely.

At a forum sponsored by the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, about 150 people from the public and private sectors gathered at the Venice Community Center to hear several speakers talk about upcoming opportunities and challenges that innovations — such as automated vehicles — will bring in transportation planning.

Alice Ancona, director of international strategy and policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said that business organization wants to see the state — now the world’s 17th largest economy — become the world’s 10th largest. It projects the state’s population to grow from 21.4 million to 26 million in 11 years.

“How are they going to move?” Ancona said of those future Floridians. “What goods are they going to need and how will they get there?”

Many people may now say they would not stop driving their own cars to instead ride in an autonomous vehicle, said Ben Walker, Florida director of multi-modal planning for HNTB, an infrastructure design and construction management firm.

Yet people expressed doubts they would stop relying on horses when automobiles started appearing on the same roads, Walker said.

“It’s not going to be overnight that we see automated vehicles everywhere,” he noted. However, he expressed no doubts that the era of the driverless car — and truck — is approaching.

Some AV services may even offer “on demand” rides, as Uber and Lyft do now — enabling many commuters to avoid owning a vehicle.

If a human driver is no longer required, AV manufacturers may rethink the design of vehicle interiors — perhaps installing seats that swivel or even a bed for napping, Walker said.

AVs used strictly for freight would not require safety devices to protect occupants, such as air bags.

Wayne Gaither, southwest area director for the Florida Department of Transportation, said that agency expects to have an AV testing facility built by the spring of 2021.

The FDOT needs to find out how to build or retrofit roads so that AVs can share them with vehicles still driven by people, Gaither said.

He noted that if electric vehicles become the norm, the government must find an alternative to the gas tax as a means of funding the construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure.