(ac-tin /akten/ a family of multifunctional proteins found in contractile elements in muscle that are critical to the mobility of organisms).
This is the supporting document to the grant application I have submitted to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit in the hopes of implementing MoveUP as a digital backbone to a comprehensive, collaborative transportation system for smaller cities and rural communities.
Introduction and Outline
Transportation is a fundamental component of community health, affecting every individual within the community and every component of life including employment, business development and success, education, nutrition, activity, and entertainment. Transportation has been repeatedly sited as the most important need in community health needs assessments 1,2. A lack of adequate transportation negatively impacts all aspects of individual health as a major social determinant of need 3.
Buses provide an efficient way to move people when applied in densely populated urban areas. However, buses continuously demonstrate an inability to meet the needs of small cities and rural areas with a lower population density, where the lack of consistent ridership and a necessity of widely spaced stops negates their advantages. Furthermore, there are essentially no transportation options in rural areas for people who do not have access to a car for whatever reason.
The automobile has advanced tremendously, and there are many untapped opportunities that could be applied to small cities and rural areas with the combined potential of providing effective personal mobility for all. Persistence of antiquated models such as buses and taxicabs operating using telephones and taximeters has prevented the implementation and study of a comprehensive model that takes collective advantage of numerous and significant advances in this arena. Digital platforms with enhanced connectivity; pure electric drivetrains with vastly lower service and use costs; semi-autonomous and impending full-autonomous capabilities for reduced incidence and insurance costs and enhanced fleet capabilities; shared ownership and shared use models; fleet unification for simplicity; assembling these new but currently available components into a cohesive and integrated system has the potential to transform life in more rural settings across the country.
Application of these advances can be performed in a cost-effective and ultimately financially sustainable manner that will allow data collection on fleet needs such as vehicle number and miles travelled per person, power consumption and costs, insurance models, service requirements, and continued system improvements. Applied properly, this could bring much needed and viable transportation solutions to unserved rural populations and result in the enhanced efficiency or progressive phase-out of expensive bus systems that only provide inefficient transportation to a small subset of the population that has no other options.
- Digital solution to connect riders to drivers in any setting.
- Accessible by everyone, even those who cannot use a smartphone.
- Allow creation of numerous flexible transportation systems that can be interconnected.
- Move people and resources (deliveries).
- Modernized Fleet
- Shift to all electric fleet.
- Reduced fuel costs (approximate 1/3).
- Reduced service costs (greatly simplified drivetrains)
- Semi-autonomous drive.
- Markedly reduced adverse incidents.
- Reduced insurance costs.
- Reduced repair costs.
- Markedly reduced adverse incidents.
- Development of autonomous drive.
- Achieving full-autonomous drive in a cost-effective manner will require industry and community cooperation.
- Will provide increased fleet mobility, capability, and safety.
- Will not replace drivers (autonomous cars cannot help you in and out of the car or help carry groceries into the house).
- Central charging and service center.
- Reduced operating costs via commercial vs. residential power rates ($0.08/KWH vs $0.12/KWH).
- Efficient use of solar energy through centralized application.
- Better ability to balance available grid power supply (centralized battery-based energy storage, ala Tesla PowerWall).
- Shift to all electric fleet.
- Replacing the current model of vehicle
- Current vehicles sit idle for >95% of their
- Cost of a vehicle ownership is at least 5 times
more expensive than needed.
- Cost of transportation is major component of cost of living.
- Reducing cost of living improves the lives of everyone in the community.
- Service costs persist due to material degradation with time regardless of mileage.
- Insurance models are based on continuous use.
- Cost of a vehicle ownership is at least 5 times more expensive than needed.
- Shared vehicle ownership models (ala ZipCar).
- Pay only for what you use.
- Markedly reduced parking requirements for localities.
- Reduced living expenses through reduced parking requirements with housing.
- Shared vehicle use models (ala Uber, Lyft).
- Combined private and for-hire use.
- Reduce the costs of transportation for all, whether private or for-hire.
- Current vehicles sit idle for >95% of their usable life.
Most people have effective transportation options, but some do not. We often focus on people who do not have enough money to own a car, but there are many reasons that a person may not have adequate transportation, and we need solutions for all of them. If we only focus on helping those who for whatever reason are failing, we end up with a system that is unsustainable, because it is not designed for the majority of the people in the community. A sustainable transportation model is one that is engineered to serve the needs of the entire community, not just a small segment.
Because the majority of people can own and operate cars and this is the most desirable option available to them, it is the most highly utilized system. The reason the majority of people don’t use buses is simply that it is not an effective or attractive option. If they don’t have to, they will find a more appealing way. To create a sustainable and effective transportation network, it must be more attractive than the current standard (personal car ownership) to a large enough group of people that the system is self-sufficient. That means that it must be convenient, effective, clean, safe and desirable. This is your target customer base, and by building a sustainable system that is utilized preferentially by most in the community, you can then leverage this system to address the needs of those in the community that do not have adequate options.
Buses have long been an effective method of mass transit, and in the right setting are efficient and useful. However, the effectiveness of buses declines proportionally with the population density. A bus service is ineffective and inefficient in rural areas where people and assets are spread over a large area. The bus service in Lynchburg Virginia is inadequate for use as a commuter or regular transportation system. This is not the fault of the GLTC, it an inherent limitation in the type of service that buses provide within the service area.
In all rural areas, buses are expensive to operate and do not provide the type of service needed. In the Lynchburg area, they represent a significant financial burden that poorly assists a very small percentage of the population. By creating a system that is both advantageous and attractive to everyone in the area using modern vehicles connected with modern technology, a more sustainable, effective, and usable system can created that can then be leverage to address transportation needs that are not being met.
1. I thought this was about patient transportation?
If we want everyone to have transportation, then we have to engineer a system for everyone. If we focus only on one issue – like patients getting to doctor’s appointments – we end up with a bunch of fragmented systems, none of which are robust. If we build a single sustainable system that takes everyone into account – no matter who they are or what their needs – then we can use it to solve these individual problems that continue to elude us.
2. If you are trying to build a system for everyone, why are you suggesting we buy a small fleet of very expensive cars (Tesla Model X SUVs)?
At $90,000, the Tesla Model X appears to be a frivolous choice, but there are several factors that make this in an extremely valuable investment, particularly as a core component for a rural transportation system:
- All electric drivetrain from the company with the most experience with all electric drive. Electric is not only cheaper and cleaner to operate, it has much lower service costs and intervals, particularly in high mileage applications.
- Tesla has reintroduced the unlimited supercharging option with the Model X, which means the cars can be charged for free for the lifetime of the vehicle. The Model X has not been attractive to its current customer base, which is individuals (partly because it looks like an egg). It is the perfect form factor for a city taxi.4,5
3. There are other all-electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Bolt, and they are much cheaper.
The Model X is a larger and more suited to a for-hire transport vehicle. But the main differentiator is autonomous drive.
- Tesla has the most experience with autonomous drive. Autonomous drive is going to be extremely valuable (an estimated 800 billion dollar annual industry). The current Tesla models allow for a one-time charge of $7000 for a lifetime of autonomous drive. Even more than unlimited charging, this will prove incredibly valuable in coming years (20 autonomous cars running 3 shifts each assuming a reasonable driver salary is easily 3 million dollars annually). In addition, their current semi-autonomous drive when combined with excellent drivers will provide the most capable combination available today.6
- Tesla vehicles have the most robust software integration. This will allow integration of innovative solutions like MoveUP directly into the operating system of the car. For example, the car’s functions and features can be modified depending on whether it is being used as a private vehicle or a for-hire vehicle.
- We can help Tesla achieve autonomous drive. The biggest hurdle to fully-autonomous drive is enabling the car to perform properly in every conceivable scenario. By implementing the vehicles in a smaller, more controlled environment such as the City of Lynchburg and fostering collaboration between the Tesla engineers and the city, we can address limitations (difficult intersections, fixed positional markers or other vehicle-environment communications, connected traffic signals, etc.) and achieve working autonomy for our community with solutions that can be applied in more complex environments.
The submitted plan includes a shift to the Tesla Model Y in FY2022 when it becomes available. It is less expensive ($60,000) though still more expensive than other options like the Bolt. One hope is to have a core fleet from a single manufacturer to reduce service and maintenance costs. However, we have the ability to go with another vender if that becomes the more logical choice when considering all of the variables.
4. Still, these are fancy cars, I am not sure this makes sense.
In our current world, personal transportation is the preferred method of travel. If we want to change that, it’s got to be attractive. Tesla’s are trendy, especially the Model X with its “falcon” doors. Particularly in these early stages, image will be extremely important.
5. In your budget, you are pretty much giving these cars away. I don’t understand – if you charge more for the cars, you can make money.
Remember that the goal is to solve a problem – transportation – not capitalize on a need. Our bus system consumes at least 8 million dollars annually and does not solve our problems. The goal of this project is to see if we can build a more effective system that is financially self-sufficient. Because this is a prototype, we don’t have data on how to do this. We don’t know how many vehicles will be used, how many miles, or how much it will really cost. We haven’t created the ideal insurance product.
Because transportation is a need that is costing us tremendously, we should reward the ones that provide our solution: drivers. One of the fundamental issues with current taxi drivers is that the pay is very low. If we want quality drivers – safe, friendly, helpful – we will need to pay them for the important service they provide. This is not about making money on a vehicle fleet, it is about providing a much needed service to our community. Unified Potential is not intending to become a transportation company; we will simply provide the tools (vehicles, connectivity) that enable people to create new and effective systems, and then those systems can be implemented by others. We aim to completely transform the image of the taxi.
6. What about insurance?
Developing the insurance product is an incredibly important component of this demonstration project. There is no truly effective insurance product that exists right now, primarily because thus far no system like this has been operational. This project will generate the actuarial data to build the lowest cost insurance option that we can. That will create a new market opportunity, and will also decrease the overall cost of everyone’s transportation.
For this project, we have budgeted standard commercial insurance, as that is the only available option at this time. Using semi-autonomous drive and the best drivers, our target is a zero incidents. If we can build a less expensive insurance product, we will reduce our expenses during the project, and we will also be able to apply that solution anywhere in the future.
7. What about safety?
Safety has been a concern from day one, and we are assembling every feature, including a few new ideas. For example, we are not just implementing a comprehensive background check process, we are creating a collaborative database such other entities for which background checks are important can share this needed resource.
We are implementing state of the art security within the vehicles, including high-definition in car cameras and continuous gps tracking with emergency connectivity and comprehensive data collection. We will be able to effectively vet drivers and provide suitable vehicles for transportation of children, a critical unmet need.
8. I thought this was about an app, this “MoveUP” thing? 7,8
It is, and that may be the most powerful component of the system. The goal of the DRPT for 2019 was to unify all transportation assets onto a single network. We are going to do that, and we are going to demonstrate how powerful that is. For example, we have user agreements with two important non-profits in Lynchburg: Park View Mission and Meals on Wheels. These are two of twenty-eight different non-profits which deliver food and other goods to people in the city, and none of these entities works together. By enabling each of them to build and manage their own transportation networks as they see fit – managing drivers and connecting them to riders or goods for delivery – they will begin using a shared resource that is stronger for each of them than their current fragmented individual networks. All of these will now be working together, but without being asked to work together. And that is just a small example, because the real power will come when all of the assets throughout the city are connected.
9. I just can’t get my head around the Tesla thing. Why not use Chrysler plug-in hybrid mini-vans that cost $40,000? We could wear out a fleet of Chryslers while figuring out the autonomous thing with one Tesla.
As the (satisfied) owner of a Chrysler plug-in hybrid, I am in a particularly good position to answer this. Hybrids represent the absolute highest cost of service, as they have all of the complexity of an internal combustion engine combined with a battery and electric motor and the complex hybrid system that has to tie these 2 very different systems together. Furthermore, the electric range is only 35 miles, after which the vehicle becomes essentially a minivan, and though it gets very good mileage, it is still burning gas at 25 mpg or less in the city.
We want to assemble all of the best components together into a cohesive system with maximum benefit. The exciting thing about this project is that the end result appears to be science fiction and yet everything in this proposal exists today, and everything we do here can be applied anywhere else.
About Unified Potential, Inc.
After twenty years as a practicing pathologist in Lynchburg VA, I am transitioning out of “regular” medicine to pursue what can only be described as a calling in search of collaborative solutions to age-old problems rooted in the way we live together. The success of healthcare systems depends on the health of our communities, and yet providers have no tools with which to affect change in this most critical environment. Transportation is a fundamental need. The ultimate goal with this project is to demonstrate a new and more effective way to approach problems like transportation, and continue to apply successful techniques in a broadening array of interconnected solutions that improve the lives of everyone. Furthermore, what started as one idealist has grown into a team of highly capable and similarly motivated people who share this common goal.