Autonomous vehicles not the cure-all for congestion

We often get caught up in the excitement about autonomous vehicles, but we need to remain objective and consider what Autonomous Vehicles (AV) should mean for transport and land use planning.
Without applying this ‘critical lens’, and planning for the most appropriate application of autonomous and electric vehicle technologies, we may even risk further entrenching an over-reliance on the private vehicle to meet our mobility needs, which is completely at cross-purposes with sustainable transport planning principles.
This is the key finding of the Autonomous Vehicles Research Report by transport consultancy MRCagney.  The research, conducted in Auckland, advises on how to prepare for an autonomous future. While the report was produced in a New Zealand context, the findings are lessons for all cities.
By removing the need for a human driver, autonomous vehicles offer benefits such as:

  • Increased accessibility for people who are unable to drive themselves;
  • Reduced costs of point to point transport (taxis and other ride share) and delivery services;
  • Increased road safety and capacity; and
  • Reduced off-street parking requirements (but not short-stay on-street parking).

However, the authors caution that there is the risk of:

  • Increased road congestion from increased demand for private and personal vehicle travel;
  • Increased vehicle miles travelled across the total network (with all the associated environmental impacts) as AVs continue to travel to pick up & drop-off more passengers compared with current vehicles that park at their destination; and
  • Increased pressure on meeting infrastructure requirements due to urban sprawl with longer commutes becoming more convenient in AV, due to the freedom for passengers to do other ‘things’ whilst a ‘chauffeur’ takes care of the driving.

So, how can we best embrace the opportunities of an autonomous vehicle future, while avoiding the potential pitfalls? AV Public transit.
There are great possibilities present when autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles are used for public transit. Availing of these technologies, PT services can be provided at a significant discount, with savings passed on to passengers or reinvested to improve overall service levels.
Managing director of MRCagney Leslie Carter said: “If fare revenues and government subsidies are maintained at 2016 levels, then AV enable PT service levels to increase by approximately 80%.”
AV can, and should, be used to supplement – NOT replace – public transport (especially for last mile access), and extend personal on-demand choices to avoid increased congestion.
Mr Carter said it’s all a waste of time if cities don’t get their public transport planning right.
“Our modelling shows that without public transport, even with full adoption of autonomous vehicles, cities will be heavily congested because of already constricted corridors into cities, the limit capacity of the road networks, and growing populations,” he said.
The report predicts that it will take until 2055 for AV technology to become standard in private cars. AV capable of Levels’ 1 and 2 (semi-automation) are already available in the market place. Level 3 AV (limited self-driving automation with all safety-critical functions automated, and surrounding conditions monitored) are now emerging for application on our city streets.
It is in our best interests to act now to prepare and adapt for the benefits that AV technologies bring to the table. For example:

  • Governments must enable AV advancement via regulation and providing certainty to the market.
  • Parking infrastructure must be updated to enable AV.
  • Public transport connections with autonomous car share vehicles must be facilitated.
  • AV should be trialled in PT vehicles.
  • Road infrastructure should be upgraded to be AV compliant.
  • Connective vehicle/infrastructure/services technologies should be invested in to improve road safety and the overall travel experience for all.

MRCagney’s report describes a future where autonomous vehicles are introduced slowly – commencing with ride-share services and public transport trials –  before becoming more widely adopted for car share and transit. It also highlights key steps to get there. The authors acknowledge this process could take several  years due to the slow rate of vehicle turnover, the high cost of the new technology, and legislative and technological barriers.
 
 

Autonomous connected-cars

Autonomous vehicles: 55% say no

Gartner, Inc. expects to see multiple launches of autonomous vehicles around 2020. However, the full impact of autonomous vehicle technology on society and the economy will not begin to emerge until approximately 2025. Consumer and social acceptance is a key driver in autonomous vehicle adoption.
Consumer adoption of autonomous driving and on-demand car services
The Gartner Consumer Trends in Automotive online survey, conducted from April 2017 through May 2017, polled 1,519 people in the US and Germany and found that 55 per cent of respondents will not consider riding in a fully autonomous vehicle, while 71 per cent may consider riding in a partially autonomous vehicle.
Concerns around technology failures and security are key reasons why many consumers are cautious about fully autonomous vehicles.
“Fear of autonomous vehicles getting confused by unexpected situations, safety concerns around equipment and system failures, and vehicle and system security are top concerns around using fully autonomous vehicles,” said Mike Ramsey, research director at Gartner.
Survey respondents agreed that fully autonomous vehicles do offer many advantages, including improved fuel economy and a reduced number and severity of crashes. Additional benefits they identified include having a safe transport option when drivers are tired, and using travel time for entertainment and work.
The survey found that consumers who currently embrace on-demand car services are more likely to ride in and purchase partially and fully autonomous vehicles. “This signifies that these more evolved users of transport methods are more open towards the concept of autonomous cars,” said Mr. Ramsey.
The percentage of people who used a mobility service, such as Uber or Car2Go, in the past 12 months rose to 23 per cent from 19 per cent in a similar survey conducted two years earlier. However, the transition to dropping a personally owned vehicle will be challenging outside of dense urban areas. For the automobile owners surveyed with a driveway or easily accessed parking, nearly half of the respondents said they would not consider giving up their own vehicle, even if they saved 75 per cent over the cost of owning their own car. The ability to leave at any moment is the most cited reason for not replacing personal vehicles with on-demand car services. Trust and personal safety are also top concerns.
Autonomous vehicle industry development and impact on driving safety and quality of life
“The automotive industry is investing in new safety and convenience technology at a rate not seen since the dawn of the automobile. The experience of owning and operating a car will be dramatically different in 10 years,” Mr Ramsey said.
Dozens of companies are currently developing sensors and other technologies required to enable vehicles to detect and understand their surroundings. As of mid-2017, more than 46 companies are building artificial intelligence (AI)-based software to control an autonomous vehicle and make it operate in the world.
“Autonomous driving technology will fundamentally transform the automotive industry, changing the way vehicles are built, operated, sold, used and serviced,” said Mr Ramsey.
 
 

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