Report studies quantifiable benefits of automation for cities

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According to a report titled Can Self-Driving Cars Stop the Urban Mobility Meltdown? by research specialists Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the University of St Gallen, Switzerland, the global adoption of autonomous vehicles in urban areas will be dictated by local mobility characteristics.

The report’s authors say that in order to cut through the noise surrounding AVs and gain an objective view of their advantages and likely effects on different cities, they conducted a one-year study that combined qualitative and quantitative approaches with current industry insights.

Through the simulation of 1.7 billion trips, they modeled how AVs could improve or worsen the urban environment and quality of life in five urban archetypes developed on the basis of data from more than 40 cities worldwide. The team also simulated the citywide impact of specific mobility scenarios, such as the promotion of micromobility and a strong uptake of robo-shuttles. Planners in any city worldwide can use the tool to help visualize future developments in their transportation systems.

In parallel, the team surveyed more than 30 leading executives from other universities, cities and transportation-related industries for their views on the key enablers, success factors and roadblocks facing AVs.

The report suggests that though the current pandemic has had a negative effect on urban mobility, this will ultimately benefit AVs as users will favor private vehicles over mass transport. It notes that, while some cities will gain significant advantages from introducing AVs, others will fare better by promoting other mobility options, such as e-bikes and e-scooters. Indeed, in some settings, AVs could exacerbate the problems that municipal planners are hoping to solve. Before taking action, the report states, cities must assess whether AVs will be a transportation panacea or a burden.

The authors highlighted the following key findings:

  • Cities achieve significant tangible benefits by actively shaping the urban mobility environment. For example, Los Angeles could cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 2.7 million metric tons a year through policies that promote shared AVs and curb the city’s private vehicle fleet;
  • New York planners could free up the equivalent of about 900 blocks of space currently reserved for parking if they were to create conditions in which robo-shuttles could thrive;
  • New physical and digitally connected infrastructure (including dedicated lanes and sensors that would enable self-driving cars to communicate with the surrounding environment) will be essential for AVs to succeed;
  • Cities that allow private car use to grow in line with past trends will see their urban environment deteriorate significantly, with traffic volume increasing by an average of 6%, and total parking space by 8%;
  • For some cities (such as Hong Kong), promoting micromobility and walking could deliver greater benefits than introducing AVs.
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