By: Jennifer Huddleston
Transportation is on the verge of its biggest renaissance in almost a century. From dockless scooters and autonomous vehicles to “flying taxis” and supersonic air travel, technology is rapidly changing the way we get from point A to point B in the 21st Century. In many of these new transportation technologies, cities and states have found themselves positioned as the key policymakers in letting consumers and entrepreneurs embrace these new innovation.
Florida has already given a green light to a variety of transportation innovation through innovation promoting policies for autonomous vehicles. It was one of the early states to declare autonomous vehicles legal and has minimal regulatory requirements to be able to test such innovations. Thanks in part to these innovation-friendly policies, a variety of autonomous vehicle companies both large and small have chosen to test in Florida. Recognizing the broader life-saving potential of this technology even when faced with the rare news-making accidents involving such vehicles, Florida has continued to allow widespread testing and operation and addressed specific concerns rather than ending all testing after such incidents.
Entrepreneurs have also been finding new and exciting ways to solve many of transportation woes across the country. Building on past sharing economy successes, entrepreneurs have deployed dockless scooters, bicycles, and even mopeds that have solved many of the last mile problems (the short distance between traditional transportation options and someone’s final destination that is often difficult to cover). At the end of the day, the approach policymakers take to new transportation innovation does not only impact a particular innovation like scooters or autonomous vehicles but signals more broadly to innovators whether or not they are free to reinvent transportation.
While some states and cities have taken an overly precautionary approach and banned or placed incredibly burdensome restrictions on these devices, they have been successfully deployed in several Florida cities including Fort Lauderdale and Gainesville. However, not all of Florida’s cities have welcomed these new innovations. For example, Miami sent cease-and-desist letters to companies that deployed the scooters following what they considered to be a potential interpretation of existing laws that banned the operation.
This battle has happened before for other sharing economy innovations. For example, cities have enforced, amended, or reinterpreted zoning laws and permitting to go after homesharing companies like AirBnB. Rather than embracing new innovations and encouraging opportunities, these types of regulatory restrictions can result in a red light or at least a speed bump for entrepreneurs and consumers.
Florida seems poised to engage in a careful balancing act to extend its overall welcoming approach to transportation innovation in micromobility space. Proposals in both state House and Senate would clarify the legality of electric scooters and other micromobility devices statewide and provide clear exemptions to certain licensing and permitting concern. These proposals at a state level still provide a great deal of individual choices to cities regarding specific operations based on local knowledge. Such a balance could allow for the best of both worlds by recognizing that every community is unique, while still encouraging the next phase of transportation innovation.
A century ago, fears and concerns could have regulated away cars, subways, or bicycles. Luckily forward-looking policymakers overcame such concerns and created the space for many transportation options we rely on today. Hopefully states like Florida will continue to embrace a permissionless approach allowing the next wave of transportation innovation to have a fast lane to revolutionize our lives.
Jennifer Huddleston is a research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.