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METRO’s Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Begins this Summer

Published May 13, 2019 by Tess Cook

Buckle up, Space City, because more driver-less vehicles will hit the Houston streets this summer.

METRO, in partnership with Texas Southern University (TSU), will begin Phase 1 of their first autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot this June. A self-driving car, also known as an autonomous car or driverless car, is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and moving with little or no human input.

After three years of developing a plan and obtaining a national designation to conduct the pilot, the Easy Mile EZ 10 Gen-1 vehicle will begin running the “University Circulator” path during the upcoming summer semester at TSU. The route intentionally takes advantage of lighter foot traffic and the ability to operate a slow vehicle down the university promenade known as “Tiger Walk.” 

Arlington AV Vehicle
Easy Mile AV Shuttle Operating in Arlington

The EZ 10 seats six persons with standing room for six more people in it. The vehicles have been operating in Arlington, TX outside of AT&T stadium and a senior-living community in Florida. 

Although the shuttle will drive itself, a trained operator will be on board at all times to monitor it. The rides will be free, but students will have to swipe their METRO Q-card for documentation purposes, in addition to a signing a waiver before hopping aboard the self-driving car.

According to METRO’s Chief Innovation Officer, Kimberly Williams, “A 2017 statute approved the operation of autonomous vehicles on Texas roads without a driver. This pilot puts us on the path of testing the technology in a mixed-use traffic environment. We are starting first with a limited, on campus route for phase one. The next phase includes plans to extend the route to a nearby rail station so we can explore its capabilities as a first/ last mile connection.” Williams, a Detroit native borne into a transportation family has led the efforts of pilot program.

If successful, METRO will request an extension of the pilot through the fall semester. If Phase 1 is successful, Phase 2 of the pilot would require third-party funding, and extend the self-driving path to surrounding streets of the purple line, and hopefully connect to the TMC3 campus. 

The working group to develop this three-year plan included the City of Houston, TXDoT, and Houston Galveston Area Council. The autonomous vehicle was delivered on a container to the Port of Houston in early May, and METRO is now assembling the car and applying branding.

In case you missed it,  Kroger began delivering groceries in via self driving cars in the Houston area back in March. 

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5 Houston City Council Members Talk Resiliency, Education

Providing opportunity for all and a great quality of life through quality city services was top of mind for five Houston City Council Members at the Greater Houston Partnership on Friday. They addressed a sold-out room at a Future of Texas event and included:  •    Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Castex-Tatum, District K •    Council Member Amy Peck, District A •    Council Member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, Ed.D., District D •    Council Member Tiffany Thomas, District F •    Council Member Edward Pollard, District J Here are highlights from the discussion: Opportunity for All: Providing high-quality education to Houston students The panel answered questions regarding the city’s role in supporting education in the city and collaborating with regional partners to improve opportunity for all. Council Member Evans-Shabazz, a former Houston Community College Board of Trustee Chairwoman, discussed the importance of the city’s role in supporting education. She said that it is important for the city to help ensure school safety, including cleaning up communities around schools to foster a safe environment for students. Council Member Evans-Shabazz also discussed workforce development as a priority for residents in the area she represents, District D.  Council Member Thomas agreed. As a former member of the Alief ISD Board of Trustees, she said that as a business community and a city, we need to think differently about leveraging our efforts in workforce development to address Houston’s workforce gap. You can read more about the Partnership’s efforts to strengthen the region’s talent pipeline, here. Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Castex-Tatum addressed public education in Houston. She said that it is incumbent upon the city to support all school districts in the region, and it is incumbent on city leaders to work closely with school districts, including Houston ISD, to support those districts. Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Castex-Tatum concluded, that great communities have great schools, and quality of life within communities is strongly tied to education.  Great Quality of Life: Building a more resilient Houston after Hurricane Harvey Council Members also discussed the city’s response to Hurricane Harvey and how to build a more resilient Houston. Council Member Pollard said that the city’s response to severe weather events needs to be multi-pronged. He called on city leaders to go into each impacted community to talk with residents and learn how flooding affects them and to learn from them how Houston should improve its mitigation efforts. He emphasized that city leaders need to convene experts from Harris county as well as the private sector to mitigate flooding issues. Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Castex-Tatum also agreed that city leaders should look to residents and engage them for input and solutions to Houston’s flooding challenges. She urged residents and businesses to consider the members of Houston City Council as allies in finding solutions. Quality City Services City Council Members discussed their priorities for 2020 and improving city services. Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Castex-Tatum established a clean district as a baseline of what the city offers. She said that combating illegal dumping is a priority in her district, District K, which has launched the #CleanStateofMind campaign. She discussed her district’s efforts to curb illegal dumping, including adding regular patrols around 22 chronic dumping spaces.  Council Member Evans-Shabazz discussed city services more broadly, and she urged residents to utilize the 3-1-1 app to report issues in real time to city services. Homelessness in Houston During Mayor Turner’s inaugural address, he announced plans for an initiative to continue to address Houston’s homeless challenge. During the Future of Texas panel discussion, Houston City Council Members also discussed their priorities for housing and supporting Houston’s homeless. Council Member Evans-Shabazz focused on the homeless population that has been previously incarcerated. She outlined a priority for compassionate second chances for housing, employment and other supportive services to help Houston’s homeless.  Council Member Thomas said that homelessness goes hand-in-hand with Houston's housing crisis. She said that city leaders need to develop a more comprehensive housing plan to address this issue as well as wraparound services to move people from the streets into permanent housing.  Next Month: Future of Texas On February 21st, the Partnership will host a second Future of Texas panel featuring Houston City Council Members.  The Future of Texas series, which is a part of our Business Resource Group (BRG), features elected officials shaping our state's future, giving Partnership members the opportunity to engage with these leaders and hear their perspectives on our city and state's most pressing issues. Learn more here.  
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Houston's Role in Global Energy Transition a Major Focus of Greater Houston Partnership Annual Meeting

HOUSTON (January 22, 2020) - Greater Houston Partnership 2020 Board Chair Bobby Tudor outlined how the organization will work to ensure Houston plays a key role in the global energy transition at the Partnership’s annual meeting on January 22.  Read the remarks from Bobby Tudor and Bob Harvey and see Bobby Tudor's slide presentation. Watch the full meeting below.  Maintaining Houston’s place as the Energy Capital of the World requires that the region’s business and civic leaders address the dual challenge of meeting expanding global energy demand while lowering the world’s carbon footprint, said Tudor, Chairman of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. LLC, an energy investment and advisory firm.  “The economic vitality and growth of our region’s economy is inextricably tied to the energy industry,” Tudor said, adding that the Partnership and its members “should use our convening power to rally our companies, political leaders and fellow citizens to position Houston as the city that will lead this energy transition.” The Partnership will launch a new initiative aimed at accelerating Houston’s activity around energy transition, while existing committees will continue efforts to bring energy tech and renewable energy companies to Houston; explore the policy dimensions of carbon capture, use, and storage; and advocate for legislation that helps ensure the Texas Gulf Coast is positioned as a leader in that technology.  Houston business leaders have a responsibility to lead the transition to a cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable, lower carbon world, Tudor said. “We need to be the driver, not the passenger.”  Highlighting some of the changes and milestones reached in Houston over the last decade*, Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey said that while the last 10 years were transformational for Houston, the next decade may be to be even more critical to the region’s long-term success. “I believe the decisions we make and the work we do together in the next few years will determine the trajectory of Houston for the next several decades and beyond,” Harvey said.  2019 Key Accomplishments  The Partnership’s 2019 Board Chair, Scott McClelland, said he was pleased with the organization’s successful efforts on major initiatives last year. Through its public policy committees, the Partnership influenced key bills during the 86th Texas Legislative Session, including House Bill 3 that brought $5 billion in new state funding into the public education system and Senate Bill 7 that resulted in $2 billion in state funding for statewide recovery and future flood mitigation.  “If there’s one big thing I learned over the last year, it’s that the key to making this city better for everyone is having a lot of Houstonians involved in the effort,” said McClelland, president of H-E-B. “There’s power in numbers. It’s a force multiplier.”  Harvey also pointed to Houston’s recent success in bolstering its innovation ecosystem—a move critical to the region’s ability to compete with other global cities. Last summer, Rice University broke ground on The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot innovation center that will anchor the broader 16-acre South Main Innovation District. Other startup incubators and accelerators have opened their doors throughout the city in recent months, including MassChallenge, The Cannon, Gener8tor, Plug and Play and more. The Partnership also played a role in fintech company opening its first office outside of Silicon Valley here in Houston in September.  In January 2019, the Partnership launched a new strategic initiative, Houston Next, and a complementary $50 million capital campaign to support the effort. Designed to advance Houston’s position as a great global city, the plan focuses on three core areas: creating a strong, diverse 21st-century economy, ensuring a great quality of life and supporting opportunity for all. Houston Next aims to empower local business leaders to accelerate the region’s progress at the intersection of those three areas of impact and ensure Houston’s continued success. Harvey said the Partnership is well underway toward meeting its Houston Next objectives and reported that the campaign has raised $25 million, half of its goal.  See the Partnership’s full 2019 Annual Report for additional facts and figures. *The last decade was one of the most transformative in Houston’s history. Consider:  •    The region added more than 1.1 million residents over the last 10 years an increase of more than 18 percent.  •    Houston became the most diverse city in the nation, now led by its Hispanic population and the fastest growing Asian population in America.  •    The Houston region added $64 billion to its GDP, a 17 percent increase in real terms.  •    Foreign trade expanded by nearly $24 billion, making Houston the most trade focused metropolitan area in the nation.  •    Houston added 615,000 net new jobs over the last decade.  ### Greater Houston Partnership  The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 11 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing 1,100 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at CONTACT:         Maggie Martin      Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications      (o) 713-844-3640      A.J. Mistretta     Vice President, Communications              (o) 713-844-3664 (c) 504-450-3516 |       
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