- Posted by Vincent Dussault
- On 20/03/2016
- 1 Comments
- Car sharing, carpooling, public transit
- Categories: Autonomous cars, Electric Vehicles, Vincent Dussault
I recently went to a conference on the future of mobility (you can watch it here – in French). Two of the four speakers (Sam Vermette, CEO of Transit App and Catherine Kargas, Vice-President at the Marcon) dedicated much of their presentation to autonomous vehicles. More and more experts see shared electric autonomous cars as the ideal solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other problems associated with the continued growth of the global vehicle fleet.
5 or 20 years?
Much like climate change and the electric car, the arrival of the autonomous car seems to have its share of critics and non-believers. A mistake these deniers make is to think that for autonomous technology to be introduced, we will need vehicles that can operate autonomously 100% of the time. In reality, this is far from true. Several autonomous technologies are already here or about to hit the markets: automated parking (Tesla Summon), automatic braking, semi-automatic driving on highways, and squad driving. It is therefore highly likely that semi-autonomous cars will arrive very soon. Those who have tried Tesla’s Autopilot probably say that semi-autonomous cars are already here. Though semi-autonomous cars will probably still need a driver at the wheel for some portions of the trip or to navigate bad weather, the technology will still radically change our mobility.
There are many advantages:
– Car use optimisation
It is currently estimated that cars remain unused 90% to 95% of the time. The average occupancy rate is 1.2 persons per car. By combining car sharing, urban carpooling, public transit and active mobility, it will be possible to exponentially reduce the total fleet. I think we can easily say that the number will be 50 to 1. Now that’s huge!
– Facilitate electrification
A shared self-driving electric vehicle can easily be changed when its range is not suitable for the planned itinerary. Thus range would no longer be an issue.
- Best Use of space
Parking lots occupy about 15% of urban space and are the source of many inconveniences in addition to pushing up the price of land and housing. Autonomous cars will greatly optimize parking space use. We could double the capacity of parking lots by optimizing the way the cars are parked on the lot, much like parking valets do in New York City. And as autonomous cars will be more often on the road, contrary to current cars that are unused 95% of the time, parking space needs will decrease tremendously.
– Perfect complement to public transportation
It is very difficult to develop effective transit systems because to be profitable, public transportation needs to move large numbers of passengers. But to get enough users in stations and subways, operators must implement expensive infrastructure such as parking lots and bus lines in low-density suburbs, etc. Autonomous cars will bring a large numbers of passengers to public transportation at lower costs. In public transportation jargon, this problem is called the “first/last mile”. The first and last miles of public transit services are often inefficient and fail to offer a competitive service at a reasonable cost. Once public transit operators no longer have to worry about these two segments of the journey, they can focus on what they do best: high-density transportation. Such systems allow envisioning viable public transit systems capable of self-financing their operating costs. This is good news for commuters, because it means that it will be easier and cheaper to meet demand, which is not the case at the moment. Just ask the thousands of commuters crammed in subways and buses at rush hour.
This approach would also have a huge impact on the use of public transit outside peak hours. If the user is able to travel some distance by other means (with a shared bike or a self-service autonomous vehicle), it will be easier for public transit operators to maintain frequency of service before and after peak hours. Currently, the Montreal Metro has a much lower frequency on weekends. If your itinerary includes the use two lines, waiting time can reach near 20 minutes. If getting to the station is made easier, demand is likely to increase, which will justify higher frequency metro lines on weekends (the Hygrade effect ;-)).
– Facilitate urban carpooling
Urban carpooling is gaining popularity. Mobile applications allow drivers and passengers to coordinate their trips more easily. Multimode applications such as Transit App help users to combine car pooling with other transport modes. With real-time data, it is increasingly easy to combine modes and avoid unexpected delays. The iBus service will soon be launched by the STM and will allow carpoolers to check if their bus is on schedule and make sure they get to their destination on time. Autonomous cars will fit into this ecosystem and possibly make urban carpooling more affordable and effective.
– Reduce congestion
With the above advantages, it is easy to see how the autonomous car could have a positive impact on congestion: car sharing, car pooling, increased use of public transit and active mobility, all recognized ways of reducing the number of cars on city streets. But in addition, autonomous vehicle technology opens the possibility of increased traffic flow with more efficient speed control and braking, allowing vehicles to follow closer while avoiding the accordion effect that is often the cause of traffic jams.
Plan now to avoid a “big mess”
Once you recognize all this, it becomes important to take action now to accelerate the development of this technology and prepare for the arrival of autonomous cars and optimize their desired impacts. Because of course, if autonomous vehicles hit the markets without a planned integration to other forms of mobility, they could have the opposite effect. This is what the founder of Transit app, Sam Vermette, called a “big mess.” Autonomous cars might actually encourage people to drive more and reside even further from their workplace. Autonomous cars could then cause what he calls super-urban-sprawl. Also, if people do not have access to shared mobility services, they will want to own a personal autonomous vehicle and use it for purposes not possible before and we will see an ever more growing number of cars on the roads.
This article is a translation of «Il faut préparer l’arrivée de la voiture autonome dès maintenant».
Translated by : Louise Lévesque
I am especially interested in car sharing in all its forms. I share links on this subject at www.twitter.com/autopartagemtl