City plans to eliminate cars have regularly garnered media coverage over the last few years. Some examples describe initiatives and plans in London, Madrid, and Brussels. Most major cities already have limited areas where cars are not allowed, but a detailed examination of the proposals reveals that there is a wide variety of approaches and nothing close to a uniform policy.
Some cities want to eliminate the use of diesel cars. Some want to restrict private vehicles on certain days or during business hours. Some want to control when commercial vehicles can be driven within city boundaries. Some cities implement congestion charges but allow electric vehicles in for free. Few have tackled the question of how to deal with plugin hybrid vehicles that can drive just for short periods on electricity.
While currently there is much soul searching about the car and whether it has a future in the cities of tomorrow, there is a need to define the goals and benefits of restriction or elimination of certain vehicles and also decide what is going to replace them. If the goal is cleaner air, strong legislation on emissions will do the job, but all vehicles must be included. Eliminating private cars but continuing with large numbers of trucks and buses running on diesel will have a limited effect on air quality. If the main problem is congestion, encouraging people to choose electric vehicles is unlikely to deliver a solution.
City Transportation Needs
Vehicles are needed in cities to move people and goods. Garbage must be collected and disposed, and stores must be restocked. Public transport offers efficient point-to-point movement of large groups of people at busy times, but for much of the day large city buses contribute to congestion and poor air quality without actually moving many people around. Established subway systems are almost all electrically powered and don’t affect air quality or make congestion worse, but building them is very expensive. Trams, though they use electric power, do influence congestion because they operate on city streets.
The challenge is to provide a clean transportation system that meets the needs of the people who wish to travel in a cost-effective way with maximum efficiency. Low cost and easy access are what most people want. The system must cater for people who are prepared to pay a little extra for comfort or privacy to convince them that they no longer need to own private vehicles. It must be able to collect and drop people off within a short walk of where they are or want to be. The ideal system will interface with longer range point-to-point transport by providing first- and last-mile service on demand.
The Autonomous Fleet Option
As a large range of companies continue with self-driving vehicle testing, from established OEMs and Tier One suppliers as well as new market entrants such as Google and Tesla, consideration is being given to the potential for these vehicles to operate in a shared fleet rather than being owned by individuals. The biggest challenge for autonomous driving technology is interacting with existing traffic and drivers. If a fleet was given exclusive access to certain roads, the implementation would be easier and the benefits could be properly assessed.
Implementations of autonomous fleets are already under consideration. In California, the city of Beverly Hills wants to be one of the first to do this. The city council believes it can afford to fund the investment in vehicles and fiber optic infrastructure to add another layer of security. In Europe, a new agreement to standardize traffic laws is laying the groundwork for an autonomous fleet in Amsterdam in 2019. More details are available in Navigant Research’s recent study on Autonomous Vehicles.
Tags: Autonomous Fleets, Autonomous Vehicles, Smart Cities, Transportation Efficiencies
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