This Week in Urban Affairs: Self-driving Uber Cars, Veteran Homelessness, and Why Climate Change Will Cost Millennials a Fortune

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Our new weekly roundup of the latest reading materials filtered through an urban affairs lens.

Uber announced it will begin using self-driving cars, such as this modified Volvo XC90, in Pittsburgh this month. (Image courtesy of Uber)
Uber announced it will begin using self-driving cars, such as this modified Volvo XC90, in Pittsburgh this month. (Image courtesy of Uber)

Austin, Texas ends Veteran homelessness. Last Friday, Austin, Texas, joined the growing number of cities that have effectively ended veteran homelessness. The city housed 682 veterans since taking on first lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness two years ago. Through enabling new partnerships between varying agencies, implementing innovative programs, and receiving $3 million in assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Austin was able to achieve this goal.

Climate change will cost millennials dearly in lifetime savings. A new report by NextGen Climate and Demos estimates that climate change will cost U.S. residents currently in their 20s and 30s $8.8 trillion in potential earnings over their lifetime. Of the nearly 75 million millennials in the U.S., those with a college degree will lose $126,000 in lifetime income, and $187,000 in wealth, according to the report. The losses get worse for younger generations. A child born last year who earns a college degree will lose $467,000 in lifetime income, and $764,000 in wealth due to inaction around climate change. The report’s authors attribute the anticipated financial damages to bad public policies, including policy inaction.

Uber and Lyft will subsidize taxis in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law this week a 20 cent per-trip fee on ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. Ten cents of that tax will be designated for municipalities, five cents will go to a state transportation fund. The kicker: the remaining five cents of the tax will go to the taxi industry—Uber and Lyft’s biggest competitor. The subsidy for taxi drivers would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Brishen Rogers, a law professor at Temple University, suggests that the funds could be used for retraining taxi drivers to take other jobs.

Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield defends cities’ right to expand municipal broadband. Amid the recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the FCC cannot block states from setting limits on municipal broadband expansion, former Mayor Littlefield argues that the decision is a major setback both for local economic development and the expansion of high speed broadband to underserved communities. Littlefield’s own Chattanooga, Tennessee has provided one of the fastest Internet connections in the world, community-wide, for the past five years with its municipal broadband system. The broadband system has also been able to attract new business investment and innovation in the small city.

Huntington, West Virginia has developed innovative ways to deal with the opioid addiction epidemic in its community. Located in a region that is one of the most affected by the country’s opioid epidemic, Huntington is taking bold steps to mitigate the epidemic’s impacts. In 2014, the city opened an office of drug control policy that brings together law enforcement, health officials, community and faith leaders, and other stake holders to tackle the problem. Eight of the West Virginia’s 28 medically assisted detox beds are located in Huntington. The city opened a center devoted to weaning babies from drugs, the state’s first syringe exchange, and a 100-bed recovery facility called Recovery Point. However, the city says it still lacks the resources it needs to continue to fight the epidemic.

Uber plans to put self-driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh this month. The company will begin using a few self-driving Volvo SUVs and Ford Focus cars this month, with plans to increase to a fleet of 100 in the city. Each self-driving car will be required to have two employees inside: One in the driver’s seat with hands on the steering wheel and another observing from the passenger seat. Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said the technology is necessary to lower the cost of ride hailing and car ownership. Uber plans expand its use of autonomous cars to other cities.

 About the Author: Justin DeWaele is a Housing Policy Intern with NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Justin on Twitter @jdewaele1.