Cogito, Ergo Vroom: More Autonomous Vehicles Hit Virginia’s Roads

In a press release issued last week, Fairfax County and Dominion Energy announced the beginning of operations for “the first publicly funded autonomous electric shuttle and test of driverless technology in public transportation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.” These new vehicles are now ferrying up to six passengers from Fairfax’s Mosaic District, where the service is located, on public roads to the local Metrorail station, providing free, zero-emissions transportation without the need for a driver (although an attendant is present as a safety precaution).

We first discussed the arrival of these driverless technologies in our recap of last year’s VCU Real Estate Trends Conference (which, like so many other conferences, was not held this year due to the pandemic). While the announcement of this new service does not represent the first utilization of driverless technologies in Virginia (that distinction goes to Brookfield Properties’ Halley Rise development in Reston), it is the first project in which the Commonwealth itself is directly involved. The successful commencement of this new public-private partnership shows that for everyone involved in the real estate industry, issues like walkability, urban density, and carbon emissions are steering future developments.

When these issues are combined with the rapid advancement of autonomous driving technologies, the results are certain to have significant impacts on land use, for both localities and landowners alike. City streets and parking areas formerly filled to capacity may be, in time, freed up for alternative uses (particularly when one also considers a continued and permanent increase in teleworking caused by the pandemic). These alternative uses will need to be developed through more creative and exciting partnerships like the one announced last week. As was observed at last year’s conference, “parking is real estate in hiding,” and it seems that more and more of this real estate will soon be found.