The arrival of driverless autonomous vehicles (AVs) represents a unique opportunity for a fundamental change in urban mobility as long as public authorities and public transport companies take an active role now to integrate AVs into an effective public transport network. This is according to UITP’s latest Policy Brief, ‘Autonomous vehicles: a potential game changer for urban mobility’.
The Policy Brief sets out various scenarios for the roll-out of AVs, depending on how they are regulated and used. In the worst case, this could lead to more cars on the road, more congestion and more urban sprawl.
However, there is an alternative: if AVs are put to use in shared fleets as ‘robo-taxis,’ mini-buses or in car-sharing fleets, they could dramatically reduce the number of cars on the road by reaching people and places it was too difficult to before, plugging first/last-mile gaps and feeding into public transport trunk lines.
Shared fleets, integrated with traditional public transport offer the possibility of a better urban future, cutting noise and environmental pollution, improving traffic efficiency and parking and in the process liberating vast amounts of urban space for other purposes. When 1.2m people around the world die each year in car-related deaths, 90% of which are due to human error, the road safety benefits are also significant.
Ensuring the successful roll-out of AVs, which are already being trialled in many cities, is also contingent on the use of fully driverless operation, without which AVs will not be able to form a new mode of transport and would be unable to enhance existing public transport.
Public authorities must take an active role in the roll-out of AVs to ensure their shared use with measures to encourage shared mobility and limit single car occupancy (eg. road pricing or taxation) and provide ‘Mobility as a Service’ platforms (as whoever controls the platform controls travel behaviour).
Trials should also begin on public roads to see how best to integrate AVs into the mobility eco-system and preparations made for the impact on employment as some driving jobs could disappear and others needing specific skills could arise.
Acting now to encourage more shared mobility will help pave the way for the shared use of AVs and a better urban future, says the UITP briefing.
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