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Paul Godsmark
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It's all about policy. If a city desires to reduce congestion then it will put in place policies to promote ride-sharing of fleets of shared autonomous vehicles, and discourage private ownership. The transit community, more than anyone, knows how powerful policy can be in steering transportation towards a city's desired goals. My own calculations suggest that if a city can achieve an average vehicle occupancy of 1.8 during peak hour flows, as opposed to the current 1.1-1.2 in most cities, then even allowing for a considerable degree of induced demand, congestion reduces. Combine this with new modes, such as pods that combine into road trains, and the situation will improve further. But if a city sets no policy, then we may see continued high levels of private vehicle ownership, which as noted in Jarrett's post, is not such a great idea. Interestingly enough, how a city deals with the Uber issue may well indicate how successful it may be in the future when negotiating the autonomous vehicle policy minefield.
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If a municipality chooses to promote ride-sharing of fully autonomous vehicles (AVs), then this could have a significant impact on the number of vehicles on the road at peak periods, reduce congestion, reduce emissions (especially if the trend of AV development continues to focus on EVs). My own calculations show that if we can increase average vehicle occupancy during peak periods from the current 1.1-1.2, to around 1.8 or more, then the number of vehicles in peak periods can drop dramatically. Shared AVs then become a hybrid of transit and the private car, offering on-demand point to point service. The ride-sharing aspect pushing the cost of the service way below using Uber or conventional Taxi services and potentially on a par with conventional bus transit. The higher service/convenience levels of point-to-point service could see significant modal shift even if prices are slightly higher. We mustn't forget also that we should be talking about autonomous VEHICLES that can come in completely new modes. Especially important to this discussion is individual pods that can collect passengers in the suburbs, city outskirts and then physically combine into road-trains to enter the urban/downtown cores. Thus the service levels of a taxi, but close to the passenger density and footprint of a conventional bus. An increasing number of studies support the reduction in vehicles required in ride-sharing AV fleets that are not noted in this article. In particular studies by MIT-Singapore, OECD (ITF) and the Earth Institute, Columbia University. We perhaps should not be looking at a VMT problem, but perhaps the increase in Passenger Miles Travelled as if AV fleets prove as successful as the above studies suggest then people will be making a great deal more journeys. In addition, the 'forgotten 30%' that don't have a driving licence or can't drive (many that are disabled, seniors, too young, too poor, medically at risk etc.) will now have much easier access to road transport. This group will generate a significant amount of new journeys that they otherwise find difficult or not possible in the current paradigm.
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Why no discussion of the massive socio-economic impact that shared Level 4 automated vehicles will have? As soon as we raise the average vehicle per person from around 1.1. upwards then we see all sorts of capacity benefits irresespective of close following and platooning. There's the Earth Institute, Columbia University study that suggests one sixth the number of private cars would be required and the average transportation cost for a person would fall by 40%. A recent Singapore study shows that they could serve their entire transportation needs with only one third of the current number of passenger vehicles by using shared automated fleets. This study is a great introduction, but it doesn't tell a complete story. A recent Morgan Stanley study estimated that autonomous vehicles when fully deployed will save the US $1.3 trillion/year - and that is the base case figure - which is 8% of the 2012 GDP. In my presentations I keep making the point that fully automated vehicles are both the biggest opportunity and the biggest threat to transit.
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Jan 8, 2013