The first sustained testing of autonomous vehicles in New York State will begin in Manhattan early next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

General Motors and Cruise Automation have applied to begin the testing of the self-driving cars under a state pilot program in a geo-fenced mapped area. During the tests, an engineer will be in the driver's seat monitoring vehicle performance while a second person will be in the passenger seat.

According to some experts, the advent of self-driving cars holds the potential to reshape how transportation infrastructure is funded, with the possibility of using a vehicle-miles-traveled revenue system that would replace the gasoline tax and could fund municipal bonds that would be needed if it spurs a greater demand for better roads and bridges.

“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives and we are proud to be working with GM and Cruise on the future of this exciting new technology,” Cuomo said.

Andrew Cuomo

Legislation in the state's fiscal 2018 budget creates a pilot program that allows the use of autonomous vehicle testing. Cruise will base a team of workers in New York City during the tests.

The Department of Motor Vehicles and State Police will work with Cruise and GM to make sure the tests meet vehicle, safety and insurance requirements.

“The spirit of innovation is what defines New York and we are positioned on the forefront of this emerging industry that has the potential to be the next great technological advance that moves our economy and moves us forward,” Cuomo said.

“Testing in New York will accelerate the timeline to deploying self-driving cars at scale,” said Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise. “New York City is one of the most densely populated places in the world and provides new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations, which means we can improve our software at a much faster rate.”

At the same time on Tuesday, the Alliance for Downtown New York was holding a round-table discussion on transportation challenges and opportunities in lower Manhattan.

Sam Schwartz, Tom Wright, Janno Lieber and Bill Rudin discuss transportation in NYC.
Sam Schwartz, Tom Wright, Janno Lieber and Bill Rudin discuss transportation in NYC. Chip Barnett

Taking part in the panel discussion moderated by ADNY President Jessica Lappin, were Sam Schwartz, CEO of Schwartz Transportation Consultants, Tom Wright, President of Regional Plan Association, Janno Lieber, Chief Development Officer at the N.Y. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Co.

Lappin unveiled a report on transit in the lower Manhattan area that highlighted the progress being made in expanding both work and business connectivity.

“Perhaps the most important finding is that more than 90% of the people who work here can walk in five minutes or less to at least seven different subway lines,” she said, adding that this was unique among New York City’s business districts.

Turning to the private sector’s role in helping solve recent congestion problems, Rudin said that “I think the business community in this city is very, very smart and we’re going to figure out ways and we’re looking to supplement and work with the public sector [on transportation solutions] and if they’re not doing their job then the business community will find other alternatives to get their employees and their visitors to their offices.”

Lieber pointed to the role tax-exempt bonds played in the revitalization of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side and said it could possibly be used elsewhere.

“Value capture is really important,” Lieber said, “A version of it was used in Hudson Yards, where the value of the real estate was somewhat captured in the lease and some of that was used to back the bonds, which certainly helped.”

He stressed however that most big transportation projects had a big component of their funding provided for by the federal government, a situation that currently appears uncertain.

ADNY President Jessica Lappin presents report on Transit on Tuesday
ADNY President Jessica Lappin presents report on Transit on Tuesday Chip Barnett

Some of the ADNY’s recommendations for future projects:

  • To fully fund the Second Avenue subway and connect it to lower Manhattan;
  • To increase current subway rolling stock to allow for more trains on lines where extra capacity is possible;
  • To install state of the art signaling and train control equipment on all subway lines;
  • To integrate the NYC and Hudson River ferry systems to create a rational and connected regional waterborne transportation network;
  • To work with all stakeholders to reduce vehicle congestion in lower Manhattan and better manage freight delivery in the neighborhood;
  • To install an east-west bike lane and bolster a bike network in the neighborhood;
  • To improve districtwide wayfinding and pedestrian connections to the Brooklyn Bridge and Chinatown;
  • To better organize tour buses in lower Manhattan; and
  • To reconnect Greenwich Street to the neighborhood street grid.

When asked about how long it would take to extend the Second Avenue subway line to lower Manhattan, the panel as a whole indicated it would be a long time in coming, with the shortest estimate being in 2050.

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