Encourage a big-picture conversation on AVs

Thursday, 1 June 2017

by: Sacha Oerlemans

A city full of self-driving cars might not be a city you’d want to live in. This is the nightmare vision of some transportation experts, who fear what a swarm of privately owned robot cars could do to already-congested urban roads and highways. Imagine roads jammed with “zero occupancy vehicles” circling to pick up their owners or run simple errands. The rise in overall vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) would be dizzying.

So, the logic goes, the cars must be shared: Think driver-less versions of the Ubers and Lyfts we already know and love/hate. That’s the scenario most carmakers and cities are assuming as autonomous testing grounds open up across the country, and the very first robo-shuttles lurch their way across university campuses and down public streets.

But what if this shared-and-automated future arrives, with its low cost and convenience, is so appealing that it becomes the default mode? Transit ridership could plummet. Riders who weren’t driving at all before, whether by choice or by circumstance, could jump into backseats en masse. “Even in a shared scenario, there could be a VMT increase due to increased demand,” says Adam Cohen, a research associate at UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, who presented his research on planning for shared mobility this week at the American Planning Association’s annual conference in New York.

Extract from Citylab

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