Read, sleep or use your phone without a care: welcome to the world of driverless cars

We’re not in Jetson territory yet but autonomous, electric vehicles will take us one step closer and could be the primary form of transport in our cities in the next 10-15 years.

With autonomous vehicles no longer science fiction, this change has significant implications for transport infrastructure.

Autonomous vehicles will make long distance travel easier. Drivers will be freed from the demands of having to concentrate on the road for long periods. Instead, travellers will be able to read, sleep or use their smart phones or tablets. This will cause some to accept longer travel times, as they are able to tackle their daily tasks or unwind during travel. Electric vehicles are also much cheaper to operate and maintain than petrol and diesel vehicles, increasing the affordability of long distance travel.

Autonomous vehicles will communicate with each other and/or the road infrastructure itself, maximising vehicle speed and flow. When all vehicles are autonomous, the capacity and speed of long distance freeway travel will increase markedly

Two divergent futures await us. A scenario with privately owned autonomous vehicles would significantly exacerbate congestion in our cities. In contrast, the introduction of autonomous ride-sourcing has the potential to ease the burden of congestion.

Bespoke KPMG analysis shows that on a typical weekday morning peak period in 2046, Melbourne has two options:

Scenario one: A recipe for gridlock

  • Congestion would significantly worsen if the introduction of autonomous vehicles is combined with the current norm of private car ownership. KPMG analysis of this scenario estimated a 29 percent increase in average trip time and 23 percent increase in person kilometres travelled in car. This will lead to a significant increase in demand for road infrastructure and significantly worsen the level of congestion.

Scenario two: A better way to move

  • We would see up to a 7 percent reduction in average trip time and 9 percent reduction in person kilometres travelled by car if people relied on autonomous ride sourcing services for daily travel. These autonomous ride sourcing services will be like today’s Uber and taxi services, but with no driver, and a much lower price tag. This would lower the demand for road infrastructure, ease the burden of congestion in our cities and make our transport systems more efficient and productive.

How should we respond?

Governments must begin taking action now to safeguard the liveability and productivity of our cities in the autonomous era. Connectivity or congestion: Two visions for an autonomous future recommends the following actions to policy makers.

  • Review existing planning schemes and controls to ensure they support urban consolidation that is appropriate from a societal perspective. This includes ensuring sufficient supply of affordable housing is provided.
  • Assess development plans to ensure new developments are consistent with the implications of the autonomous era.
  • Invest in decision making tools for understanding the impact of autonomous and electric vehicles on land use. This can be achieved with land use transport interaction (LUTI) models.
  • Consider autonomous electric vehicles in our infrastructure planning and investment decision making processes. This includes the take-up of autonomous ride-sourcing services and the implications for travel behaviour and land use.
  • Implement road pricing reform as a matter of priority to manage demand for car travel, and as a policy lever to encourage ride sharing.
  • Encourage an eventual transition from private ownership to ride sourcing and car sharing for daily travel. This includes promoting business models that provide these services. Governments must also ensure high quality alternatives to car travel are available, including public transport, walking and cycling.
  • Address regulatory hurdles to the mass adoption of autonomous vehicles.

The future is exciting – but it needs careful planning to make sure we end up in scenario two.

Read the full report.

Preveen Thakur


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