Will AVs save the world? History says it’s no sure thing
July 9, 2019 | In The Press
Researchers at the University of Texas modeled traffic in the Austin area and found that one shared autonomous vehicle could do the work of nine conventional vehicles, with wait times between 20 seconds and five minutes.
Five minutes appears to be a magic number for ride-sharing. Researchers at MIT and Cornell University looked at 150 million New York City taxi trips found that 95% could be shared with just a five-minute delay in trip time, and that the overall impact would make trips 40% faster, due to reduced traffic.
Could it work? A study of Chicago taxi trips conducted by Bestmile using its fleet orchestration platform simulated how a shared service would perform in comparison to the citywide taxi service. We found that 200 shared vehicles could do the work of the city’s 2,700 taxis, also with an average wait time of -you guessed it — five minutes.
A 10-fold decrease in the number of vehicles would go a long way toward reducing the energy and materials needed to build them. Will the public adopt shared electric autonomous services? The “shared” part seems to most to be a bigger barrier than the electric part. The services will have to be more convenient than driving. A study by ticketing platform Masabi found “convenience” to be the number one factor in people consider when choosing how to get around — more important than cost. A delay of five minutes could be a powerful incentive for using a shared service, considering that it takes 13 to 32 minutes just to find a place to park in the world’s cities.
Achieving the kind of efficiency these studies promise at scale, though, is not easy. Look at peer-to-peer ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. They have made congestion 180% worse in cities as they travel twice the miles empty than they do carrying passengers. Vehicles — horses or autos — alone don’t solve environmental or congestion problems. For electric autonomous vehicles it is the nature and quality of the services they provide — economically, socially, and environmentally — that will determine whether, 100 years from now, we’re not desperately searching an alternative.
Anne Mellano is Co-Founder of Bestmile