Autonomous vehicles will change urban mobility as we know it

The world is on the cusp of an urban mobility revolution with today’s rapidly changing technologies.These include electrification of vehicles, car sharing, e-hailing, connected vehicles, and autonomous vehicles (also referred to as driverless cars or self-driving cars) to name but a few.

Semi-autonomous technologies such as collision warning, adaptive cruise control and automated parallel parking are already widely used with significantly more advanced cars in existence and in various stages of development. Once the broad adoption of connected fully autonomous electric vehicles occurs, it will be like the evolution from horse-and-buggy to motorized vehicles. This is just a matter of when not if it will occur.

                                Mercedes’s 'Future Truck 2025’ concept
You may be thinking “why does this matter?” and “this is decades away”.

There are significant potential benefits from fully autonomous electric vehicles, if properly planned for, including:

• Environmental benefits resulting from reduced emissions and reduced congestion;
• Reduced congestion as a result of reduced headways (space between vehicles), increased average vehicle speeds and potentially fewer cars on the road;
• Increased mobility for seniors, youth and people with disabilities;
• Reduced parking, which we are already seeing as a result of transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft, and is further decreased with car sharing;
• Revolutionize public transport, including fleet vehicles, driverless buses and trucks;
• Increase productivity given the time travelling in the vehicle could be spent as a passenger instead of a driver; and,
• Significant safety benefits as approximately 90% of collisions are caused by human error resulting in substantial collision reductions and associated economic benefits.

In terms of timing, the US Transportation Secretary Foxx expects fully autonomous technologies will be in operation across the US within five (5) years. Lyft recently announced that its platform will provide at least one (1) billion electric autonomous vehicle rides per year by the year 2025. Various automakers have made announcements on the release of autonomous vehicles, including in July 2016, BMW Group, Intel, and Mobileye announced that they were joining forces to make self-driving vehicles a reality by collaborating to bring solutions for highly automated driving (Level 3) and fully automated driving (Level 4/5) into production by 2021.

As with most major changes there are challenges to the implementation of electric fully autonomous vehicles. This includes regulatory requirements, liability concerns, potential for urban sprawl due to the acceptance of longer commutes, financial impacts as a result of a reduction in parking revenue, traffic tickets and gas tax revenue, as well as job losses in some sectors. Although there are challenges to overcome, there are profound benefits that could help address many of the key issues facing our transportation system today.

​At COLE we are excited about the tremendous changes ahead for urban mobility and can assist in planning for the transition.

Article Written by Mr. Chris Day, ​Senior Project Manager and Urban Mobility Specialist