Autonomous vehicles may see boost to city life

17 November 2017 4 min. read
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In recent years, congestion has increasingly impacted major cities around the world. With continuing urbanisation yet to slow, new research has considered how autonomous vehicles might help improve quality of life for residents, while lessening the environmental impact of travel on the Boston area in the US.

Boston, Massachusetts is keen to improve its transportation network, as seemingly ever-increasing congestion creates headaches on the streets, with the city’s congestion problems being seen as one of the worst in the US.

A transformation of the wider network is presently seen as the key to improving both environmental and productivity outcomes, with reductions in car pollution, from environmentally damaging exhausts to public health issues, as well as improvements to travel time on the cards. To that end, the city launched its Go Boston 2030 initiative, aimed at "Zero deaths. Zero injuries. Zero disparities. Zero emissions. Zero stress."

As part of its wider work with the World Economic Forum, the Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) has developed a report, titled 'Making Autonomous Vehicles a Reality', into the impact that autonomous vehicles could have on the Boston region – the home of BCG’s global headquarters.

Potential benefits       

Autonomous vehicles would likely benefit the movement of people in a plethora of ways. For instance, BCG contend that the technology has the potential to improve road safety by up to 87%, thereby significantly reducing accidents and their burdens on people and wider infrastructure. The technology may also impact on human health positively, as tail pipe emissions are set to fall up to 66% once self-driving vehicles spread throughout the city.Autonomous mode of transportA shared autonomous fleet also reduces the total number of vehicles, reducing resource demand, while also reducing the demand on the built environment, with up to 48% of parking space available for other uses - such as green spaces. Improvement to traffic efficiency could see congestion slashed, while creating an additional affordable transportation option.

The technology, through a wide range of efficiency gains, is likely to improve overall economic productivity, while integration with wider public transport, could create an overall more reliable and efficient transportation system.

Scenario modelling for Boston

To better understand the impact of automation on the city of Boston, the consulting firm developed two models: A, which assumes an evolutionary deployment and B, a revolutionary one. The model is tested within a 0.45 km area, and excludes walking and cycling.

Two change scenariosIn A, the use of public transport (from 56% to 50%) moves slightly in favour of autonomous shared taxi and autonomous shared vehicles (33%), while traditional taxis and personal vehicles continue to represent around 17% of the mix.

In B, public transport represents 34% of the mix, while autonomous shuttles take 28% of the load. Autonomous taxis and shared autonomous taxis represent 24% and 14% of the mix respectively.

The key impacts of the two scenarios vary. The revolutionary model has a relatively large number of benefits, with number of vehicles on the road falling by 28%, while total CO2 emissions fall by 66%. The area would see a 48% drop in required parking spaces, while average travel time could fall by up to 30 minutes.Change scenarios outcomesThe evolutionary scenario would see a wide range of benefits too, although the number of vehicles on the road falls by only 11%, while the parking space required falls by 16%. CO2 emissions, meanwhile, drop by 42%, while the average trip time falls by 11 minutes in this particular model. However, the study notes that in either case, there may be unintended consequences from increasing transportation efficiencies, from overuse to city planning issues.

Remarking on the future possibilities, John Moavenzadeh, Head of the Mobility Industries and System Initiative at the World Economic Forum, said, “Achieving [positive results] requires the right mix of ambitious planning, regulation, testing, and careful execution. All key stakeholders must be involved—to ensure the greatest benefit to the most people, while minimising unintended consequences.”