The 19th annual Williamson County Growth Summit, which met in Austin, focused not on the city of Austin itself but on the transportation needs of the the surrounding suburban areas. Representatives from Uber Technologies, RideScout LLC, ArgoDesigns, Texas External Affairs and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority were all members of the panel discussion at the Summit.
The Authority’s mission is to utilize and implement solutions that reduce congestion and provide multiple transportation options that will benefit quality of life for it’s citizens and improve the economic health of the two counties.
Mike Heiligenstein is Executive of the Mobility Authority. Heiligenstein has a Master’s degree in both Government and Business Administration and has 23 years experience as an elected official in Williamson County. His experience revolves around the expansion and improvement of transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure in and around the Austin area.
At the Summit, Heiligenstein agreed that driver-less technologies have the potential to fundamentally change transportation architecture. However, he also believes that these changes are still long ways off from mass adoption and don’t justify ignoring the current transportation needs of a rapidly growing suburban population. He noted that, while Williamson County has done a fantastic job over the last 15 years in improving its infrastructure, even more thought needs to be put into the existing corridors that have yet to be improved. The more people that move into the area, the more important it becomes to be as efficient as possible as new infrastructure projects are worked on and developed.
Also brought up during the discussion were needs to keep building codes and land-use laws flexible to respond to changes that autonomous vehicles present. Charging stations within parking garages, height requirements between floors and maintenance bays were all mentioned as issues that will need addressing as driver-less vehicles become more common.
Uber representative made note of the need for better “first mile” and “last mile” transportation services. That is, getting commuters to from their homes to public transit and from public transit to their places of work. Ride sharing services, like those that Uber offers, could be an ideal solution. Ride sharing could help encourage the mental shift needed for car lovers to adopt mass transit options.