Technology of the month
How will Automated Vehicles (AV's) impact cities and how can city leaders respond appropriately? We asked Tom Vöge, AV expert and Policy Analyst at the International Transport Forum of the OECD. He emphasizes the need to look beyond the hype and suggests different solutions to stimulate shared mobility options. He also sheds light on ways to address the challenges and emphasizes the need for the right vision and political agenda to overcome the negative effects of AV's.
Seeing beyond the hype
The implementation of vehicle automation, particularly its uptake in cities, is now a clear trend; whilst the projected time scales, technology options, and use cases involved vary, it is necessary for policy makers to prepare their responses to these developments. However, the inflated interest in these technologies also requires seeing beyond the hype. Many benefits of vehicle automation are suggested, at the same time negative effects could also be envisaged. A parallel key trend emerging is the mainstreaming of shared mobility services, particularly in large urban areas; this includes both the shared use and the shared ownership of vehicles. The convergence of these developments may enable the business case for early large scale adoption of vehicle automation technologies.
First waves of radical change
Research and demonstration of systems and technologies using automated driving is carried out in many projects in the OECD Member States. Projects cover many research areas, including human behaviour, vehicle design, and supporting infrastructure, examining a range of issues, therefore an overview of developments in relation to technologies, regulations, and policy development is timely. The potential for mobility solutions such as car sharing, car-pooling, and ride sharing to meet urban transport demand is attracting increasing attention. We might now be seeing the first waves of a radical change in both the format of car use and ownership, as well as the general mobility provision in urban areas.
"A parallel key trend emerging is the mainstreaming of shared mobility services, particularly in large urban areas; this includes both the shared use and the shared ownership of vehicles."
It is thus necessary to analyse to what extent shared mobility solutions can be tools for reducing car ownership levels in urban areas and changing use of vehicles and road space. Furthermore, in multi-modal journeys the last-mile is crucial. Lack of convenience and personal safety concerns for this trip segment often deter modal shift. Conventional public transport is in most cases unable to provide last-mile transport, particularly at low-demand times and low density locations. Here new trends and technologies, including shared mobility concepts and vehicle automation, have the potential to radically improve service provision, enabling a paradigm shift for urban mobility.
The right vision and political agenda
Different drivers for enabling early uptake of these technologies can be identified, including industry pushing specific products and services into the market, the public sector based on transport needs, and - perhaps most importantly for the first large and highly visible system implementation - individual champions with the right vision and political agenda. A good example here would be mayors championing the use of innovate solutions for addressing local mobility issues. In the past, demonstrations have mostly been driven by research, industrial development, marketing needs, and policy, rather than in response to specific transport purposes or needs.
"A first step has to be a detailed needs assessment of end-users and other stakeholders, as there is a need to match transportation services with the specific local goals."
AV technology can be the sole provider of urban mobility, but the most likely scenario is that it will contribute to the existing multi-modal transport systems, with a specific importance for the first mile/ last mile feeder functionalities; thus improving the overall quality and comfort of the service provision. Moreover, different operational environments will require different solutions; some of them better suited to AVs, some less. For example dense historic cities or city centres should be built on both non-motorised and high-capacity collective modes, but suburban areas might benefit from completely new transportation options, as an alternative to the privately owned car.
In addition, there is also an ongoing process of redefining the nature of land use and the role of street space in cities. AVs can become enablers in this context, to achieve the desired live-able city of the future, based on definition of specific policy objectives. Minimum parking requirements are the standard in many cities today. There is a chance to modify this with shared mobility modes, although eliminating parking does not mean eliminating transport, but there will be different more suitable vehicle concepts enabling higher occupancy rates. In the urban context denser environments with payment-based management of parking spaces can further incentivise uptake of ride sharing systems.
Address key concerns
Furthermore, potential negative effects of AV technology and shared mobility concepts need to be taken into account, particularly on an urban level. The promise of the systems for vastly reduced congestion levels might well lead to the same phenomenon as so-called “induced traffic” for new or upgraded road infrastructure, i.e. capacity increases being short lived, as travel behaviour changes based on these improved travel times, with people switching modes and routes, quickly leading to similar congestion levels as before, i.e. an overall increase vehicle kilometres travelled.
Another key concern in view of urban policy and development is, that if AVs would provide door-to-door trips, rather than being just a part of the overall multi-modal public transport system, that the ability of doing other activities at the same, could lead to this not being perceived as commuting time anymore, which in turn could lead to increased urban sprawl with these systems allowing users to live even further away from places of work by tolerating much longer (but more useable) travel times. There is thus a need to integrate climate protection policies and much more local urban considerations for the discussion on how and where to use AVs for shared mobility.
Shared automated shuttles
One of the first real world application of a shared automated shuttle carrying passengers was the ParkShuttle in the Rivium Business Park near Rotterdam in the Netherlands, operating on a number of stops on a loop connecting offices with a nearby public transport interchange. This system opened to the public in 1999, with a similar system connecting the long-stay car park with the main terminal building of Schiphol airport. Both systems, although being segregated from other traffic in some parts of the network, were able to operate safely in controlled but mixed environments with manually driven vehicles and pedestrians. The Rivium system has been extended, with second generation vehicles, and is still operational to date.
Similar kinds of shuttles are now being tested around the world (e.g. Paris, Las Vegas, Singapore) and more than 10 different suppliers are present in the market. A recent study by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute compiled a list of over 60 cities worldwide championing the use of automated vehicles. In addition, introducing level 2-3 automation (i.e. low level of automation, closer to assistance functionalities, still with a driver present) for public transport buses could, certainly for the transition period, give a clear return on investment, due to comparably low costs, but highly enhanced performance, e.g. precision-docking at stations, operation at minimum headways, or allowing narrower lanes.
This article is part of our monthly Sharing Cities Magazine for city officials from partner cities of the Sharing Cities Alliance. Want to stay up to date with the latest in the sharing & platform economy? Contact us now!