Ford announced that it will be testing thousands of Autonomous Vehicles in Miami, however, this will not give Mayor Gimenez the “I told you so” moment he wants.
This past Tuesday, Ford announced that it had chosen Miami-Dade County as the first location of a large-scale test of its fleet of autonomous vehicles. While the choice of Miami is surprising, the biggest surprise for locals is that the vehicles entered the streets immediately following the announcement. This public and immediate test of this technology will meet some resistance, but will ultimately prime Miami drivers and pedestrians to the idea of autonomous vehicles.
Ford and Argo, a self-driving startup funded by Ford, have begun sending vehicles around Dade County to map and add data to their self-driving system. During the testing period, all cars will be manned by an operator for emergencies. When the company feels comfortable, they will begin to deliver Pizzas in a partnership they have formed with Dominos, as well as completing ride-share trips with Lyft.
This deal with Ford is a good fit for our city and a win for Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Gimenez ran on transit improvements, based on the SMART plan, however, he has been singing the praises of autonomous vehicles since his re-election. He appears to be against the large infrastructural spending on rail he campaigned on, as he now believes the autonomous vehicle revolution is near, and it will solve our congestion and parking issues. While it may be nearer than expected, the on-call autonomous pickups it promises will be cost prohibitive to most for daily transit, at least for the foreseeable future. It will also not solve traffic as easily as conceived, and some form of shared public transit will still be necessary in the long and short run.
To this, Mayor Gimenez has an answer, but the county is not on his side. After a visit to a Chinese train company, Gimenez proposed a half a billion dollar plan to complete the North and South corridors of the SMART Plan with an autonomous train, that follows a strip of paint on the ground. It has all of the same criteria as Rapid Bus systems (elevated platform, pre-purchasing tickets, etc.), however, it is electric and self-driving. County Commissioners voted this down and counter-proposed a $1.5 billion spending plan for dedicated rail on the same corridors, without a dedicated source of the funding. This impasse has stalled the transit debate, while each month, thousands more move into the city.
Mayor Gimenez’s proposal was pragmatic, realistic, and affordable, however, it was not politically expedient. During the last election, Gimenez ran ads like the one above, promising new trains, and the now infamous SMART plan, which adds 5 new transit corridors across the city. Promising the county a golden goose, he is now offering much less and has lost the trust and faith of the commission and the constituents on this subject. In this repositioning and political maneuvering, County Residents get neither proposal as they continue to live in the 10th most congested city on earth.
With Ford’s announcement, Gimenez may feel that he gets to revel in the “I told you so” of autonomous vehicle proliferation. Unfortunately for him, this will not be true. Ford’s testing does not lower traffic in the city, give those in need cheaper ways to get from place to place, or lessen our dependence on single occupancy vehicles. It excites us and gives us hope without a tangible reward, in the end, creating another “SMART plan,” without the money or political will to execute it.