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If you are dreaming about one day owning your own autonomous vehicle (AV), you might be disappointed. It might be illegal.







Image by Image by Jana V. M. Pixabay



There are mounting calls to prohibit the private ownership of AVs for fear they will make traffic worse, destabilize public transport, and erode public health. Consider this headline: “Private autonomous vehicles would be a disaster, comprehensive research finds.”



Can AVs Make Traffic Worse?

One study found that San Francisco traffic would double if commuters used private AVs because it would be far cheaper for them to return home than to park, and then head back to the office to pick up the owner after work — making the same trip twice.


Another study found traffic would grow 15 to 59 percent in Europe. There is also the fear that people would love their rolling lounges so much that they would feel free to move farther from the city and foster suburban sprawl.



Public Transit’s Future

The mass adoption of personal autonomous vehicles could decimate public transit. Ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft have been blamed for pulling riders off of public transit in favor of a more expensive and convenient option, further denting already fragile budgets. If transit ridership declines further, this could impact access for people who rely on low-cost public services to get to work, healthcare appointments, etc.


Some have argued that cities delay investing in traditional public transit because it may be obsolete when autonomous alternatives are available. Delaying investment now could create a self-fulfilling prophecy that ensures a diminished public transport infrastructure.

Multiple Dimensions of Public Health.


It is expected that autonomous vehicles will greatly reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to accidents — a welcome outcome by any measure. But that is not the only public health metric that might be impacted. Pollution causes more deaths than accidents, and while Level 5 AVs might be all-electric, early versions are expected to increase net emissions due to the weight and power requirements of all the AV tech. There is also fear that people will work more, exercise less, and that the result will be shorter life spans from a stressed out, sedentary public.



Shared Future

The way to avoid these doomsday scenarios is to require that autonomous vehicles be available only in the form of shared services that carry more people with fewer tires on the road. Multiple studies have found that shared services can cover most urban traffic demand with a tenth of the number total kilometers driven when the routes are algorithmically optimized. This would dramatically cut vehicle emissions whether gas or electric. The cost of travel should drop dramatically as well, if the services make it unnecessary or undesirable to own a car (a $10,000 per year cost on average).


But there will also have to be supply and demand balance. Too many vehicles in one city will erase the efficiency similar to how today’s ridehailing services have clogged streets — making traffic 180 percent worse in some cities. Cities will likely contract with a limited number of service providers to control access.



Public Transport Integration

Shared AVs will have to be integrated with high capacity public transit, not compete with it. Shared autonomous vehicles “combined with high-capacity public transport could remove 9 out of every 10 cars in a mid-sized European city,” according to the International Transport Forum (ITU). The corresponding reduction in traffic could speed travel times by as much as 30 percent.



Making it Work

Would people still want to own personal AVs if their commute doubled? Autonomous technology could add as much as $100,000 USD to the cost of vehicles. It seems unlikely that mass adoption would occur, though prices often come down as new technology matures. That said, auto prices have steadily increased, unlike computers, for example. It seems more likely that if shared services can indeed offer a less expensive, safer, cleaner, more convenient, alternative to a private vehicle, whether through regulation or due to positive user experience, the shared versions will prevail.



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