New Urbanists Peter Calthorpe and Jerry Walters add a needed perspective on what would otherwise be the overhyping of driverless cars (or, technically, Autonomous Vehicles – AVs). In fact, they conclude that there is one application for which the technology makes sense – transit (or ART).
With Autonomous Vehicles we would supposedly free ourselves from parking hassles, congestion, and many financial and environmental costs. Unfortunately, reaching this outcome is not that simple.
The reality is that AV could actually make things worse. Why? Primarily, the convenience of AV could result in more miles traveled—up to 35 percent for personal AV and 100 percent for AV taxis—as riders acquire a greater tolerance for long commutes and as vehicles develop the capability to travel around on their own looking for parking or riders. The only thing worse than a Single Occupant Vehicle is a Zero Occupant Vehicle (ZOV). ….
There are three district applications of AV technology; in private cars, taxis, or transit systems. Each of the three has differing impacts and benefits. In the end, all three types of AV will exist, but in what sequence, in which environments, and in what proportions? …
Autonomous rapid transit
Autonomous rapid transit (ART) proposes the application of AV technology in shared vehicles on dedicated transit lanes similar to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. Such an approach would achieve the efficiency of AV flow without eliminating private vehicles from city streets. It would minimize the operational costs of BRT by eliminating the need for drivers; reduce VMT significantly by tailoring capacity by time and place to match demand, and cut travel time for many by going direct to destination.
Most importantly, ART could form a feasible, smooth transition from the existing conditions and ownership patterns to completely shared AV environments. …
This autonomous rapid transit system could be efficient in many other ways. The study found that, with either full-size, 20-passenger, or shared 4-passenger AV vehicles, ART lanes would have a peak throughput capacity equal to moderate BRT systems around the world today—about 2,800-4,000 passengers per peak hour. This is more than five times the capacity of a standard auto-dominated city lane.
More importantly: In off-peak periods many vehicles could be demand-responsive, reducing inefficient low occupancy service and saving energy, operation and maintenance costs while eliminating late night shut downs. With a well-mixed fleet of large and small vehicles, ART could operate 24/7 and never run empty. …
An ART future
Autonomous vehicles will ultimately find their way forward in different forms, and in different places. The unintended consequences should be kept in mind as policymakers and manufacturers apply these new capabilities. Foremost is the fact that private or taxi AVs will not relieve congestion, and may even worsen it. Standard private vehicles and trucks must be eliminated before AV can function at full efficiency on local streets. Until then, AVs will lead to increased miles driven–one third more for personal AV, and up to twice as many for unshared AV taxis. In addition, personal AV will certainly heighten suburban sprawl as longer trips become more tolerable.
In the short term and the long term, the best application of AV technology is a network of autonomous rapid transit lines combined with high capacity metro transit systems. This will avoid degradation of AV performance due to mixed flow, and will likely attract users to reduce their private auto use. This can then easily evolve into complete ART districts in which private cars are eliminated. The urban form that ultimately emerges is compelling; a city with almost no on-street parking, housing free of garage costs, abundant pedestrian zones, ubiquitous bike lanes, and no ugly surface parking lots. What’s more, each step along the way will improve our existing communities.