Autonomous Vehicles: Deployment and Consequences

Recently I did an interview with Adam Branson  for MODUS, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ magazine. [I am not sure when or if this gets published.]
Google/Waymo car, soon to be retired
Google/Waymo car, soon to be retired
  • Adam Branson questions with bullets.
My answer in block quote.
  • A lot of the claims made for the driverless cars seem to assume a 100% switch in major cities. Is that realistic?

Eventually. Over the next 25 years (say), there will be a transition from 0% to 100%. But eventually, just as there are essentially no horses in the cities (aside from a few police horses), there will be no human driven vehicles.

  • To what degree do you think that city government will have to intervene to maximise the benefits?
 City governments will need to manage when and where  and how cars can be used, as they do today. They will not be able to regulate the nature and form of the automobile itself, as that will be done at the national level to simplify life for manufacturers. Deciding which roads are for movement, and which are for local access, will remain an important function, and this will involve setting speed restrictions and the like. With AVs one hopes these will be adhered to by design.
  • Do you think the proponents of driverless cars have sufficiently considered the general public’s addiction to regular cars?
The new paradigm emerges when the proponents of the old paradigm die off. Over the next 25 years well more than 25% of the population will be new residents to a city. While some people like to drive, eventually the safety consequences of that will be recognized as unacceptable when there are safer cars available. The use of the car itself is likely to remain.
  • What do you think the impacts will be for investment in conventional public transport?
Infrequent service with few passengers is likely to get replaced with more taxi-like services. High flow services in large cities cannot be easily replaced, as AVs, as efficient as they are and might become, will still consume more space per person than a crowded train. To the extent that taxi-like services (automated, shared vehicles) become popular in cities, cities might grow even larger, suggesting more transit. To the extent that instead people choose to live more remotely now that AVs make driving long distances more acceptable, transit will get weaker.
  • Could the advent of driverless cars free up a significant amount of land for housing-hungry cities such as New York and London?
The space reduction of AVs will occur on land that is otherwise used for moving and storing cars. In terms of parking lots and structures, there should be some significant gains in cities. In terms of on-road space, this is not generally useful for development, and if some is freed up due to AVs and vehicle sharing. It might more productively be allocated to bike lanes, transit lanes, or even landscaped linear parks.