“Bumper cars,” my son asserted when seeing the picture. “No, first mile/last mile transport. Autonomous nogal,” I replied. Enter EZ-Pod, Renault’s electric vehicle concept designed to carry people from here to there. The first/last mile.
The EZ-pod is a small, autonomous, connected electric vehicle, designed to travel short distances. Its sensors are a front camera and Lidar, a laser that measures distance, as well as long and short range radar front and back. It also has antennae and GPS in the roof for connectivity and positioning. It has no driver controls, two passenger seats and a large door for easy access. The interior is easy-clean to accommodate multi-use.
The EZ can be programmed to travel along a fixed route, in convoy if needed. Its slow speed and small footprint make it ideal for urban congestion and even use in pedestrian areas.
It can be programmed to take the elderly to the supermarket, or drop and collect children at/from school. But the EZ’s immediate potential benefit is with the first/last mile.
The first/last mile is that awkward distance between your nearest bus stop or train station and your house or work. When the trains in Cape Town still ran to a schedule, it took me twelve minutes from Woodstock to Newlands, and sixteen minutes to walk the 1.8km to my house. When it was not raining. A car commute could take an hour.
Car communing is not sustainable – our freeways tell us that every day. Main trunk mass transit is the answer, expensive to build, but the cost per commuter per day is negligible.
How do you get people to use mass transit, even when it works optimally? The transit main trunks are like the spokes on a wheel: the further you go from a hub, the greater the distance between them. That space is where people live or work. How do they get to or from the main trunk? This is the challenge of the feeder commute, the first/last mile.
Commuting is one way. There in the morning, back in the afternoon. Studies show commuters are prepared to accept one switch per journey. As long as it is not expensive or requires a long wait. Any increase in either will reduce demand.
First/last mile solutions include walking, cycling, feeder buses, rikkis/tuk-tuk taxis, metered taxis or Uber/Lyft, etc. Walking is still king, but few commuters enjoy my walk through a nice, safe, green park. In less salubrious environments people often have to walk much further, along poorly paved and lit routes, facing crime and other challenges.
You can use your own bicycle for one part of your journey. But will it and all its parts still be there in the afternoon? Bike share is an option, but there will be a shortage of cycles in the ‘burbs in the morning and the station in the afternoon.
The one-way nature of feeder commuting affects local buses and the various forms of taxis. Let’s assume there and back in an area takes 12 minutes. That is only five paying one-way trips and five empty trips per hour.
The solution is probably a combination of all of the above, plus something like the EZ-Pod.
Imagine a fleet, a swarm, of EZ-Pods taking people to and from the transport hubs from early in the morning to late afternoon rush hour. Doing side trips to and from schools. In the quiet time between morning rush and afternoon school sport, shuttling the elderly or infirm to the shops, the cinemas, clinics or social visits. There is no driver, so you can price to demand.
Renault’s work on the EZ-Pod and similar vehicles, while still conceptual, may soon become critical in sustaining our urban way of life.