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Autonomous vehicles: the opportunity and threat for public transport.

Posted by Luke Upton on Jan 23, 2017

resized_autonomer-shuttle-01_0.jpgIt’s hard to escape news stories about autonomous vehicles (AVs) and their possible role in the future of our society. Experts are predicting they will be fully available by the early 2020s and their arrival on our roads will represents a fundamental change in urban mobility and public transport. And for UITP (the International Association of Public Transport), AV’s will lead to a dystopian future of even more private car traffic on the road unless they are put to use in shared fleets and integrated with traditional public transport services.

This finding is contained in their latest position paper and urges public authorities and transport companies to take an active role now and engage with AV technology and blend into an effective and future proof transport network. Or suffer the consequences. 

UITP ( @UITPnews ) has over 1,400 member companies from around the world and the fascinating paper Autonomous vehicles: a potential game changer for urban mobility,’ demonstrates that despite the risk of increased congestion due to car travel becoming even more comfortable and attractive, an alternative exists. If AVs are put to use in shared fleets as ‘robo-taxis,’ mini-buses or in car-sharing fleets, they could dramatically reduce the number of cars on the road by reaching people and places it was too difficult to before, plugging first/last-mile gaps and feeding into public transport trunk lines.

Shared fleets, integrated with traditional public transport offer the possibility of a better urban future, cutting noise and environmental pollution, improving traffic efficiency and parking and in the process liberating vast amounts of urban space for other purposes. “When 1.2m people around the world die each year in car-related deaths, 90% of which are due to human error, the road safety benefits are also significant,” said UITP Secretary General, Alain Flausch.

The future of urban mobility is a key focus of SmartRail Europe returning to Amsterdam on 5th-6th April, 2017 featuring speakers from Norwegian State Railways, CD Czech Railways,  NS International, SNCF, Crossrail 2, Uber and many more. Plus remember - if you work for a railway or metro, the government or are an infrastructure manager you can attend for FREE! 

Ensuring the successful roll-out of AVs, which are already being trialled in many cities, is also contingent on the use of fully driverless operation, without which AVs will not be able to form a new mode of transport and would be unable to enhance existing public transport.

In Lyon for example, an autonomous shuttle service has been running on the banks of the river Saône since September 2016. Headed by tech-and-transport leaders Navya and Keolis, called Navly (see video below), is running the first fully electric and fully autonomous public transport route in the world. Designed with intermodality in mind, the shuttle service is situated just a few metres from the tram stops serving the Confluence eco-district. And in Sion, in Switzerland since June 2016, Swiss operator Carpostal – Postauto (pictured above) operates two electric autonomous shuttles for passengers in the city centre on a 1.5km circuit. 


The report points towards how public authorities must take an active role in the roll-out of AVs to ensure their shared use with measures to encourage shared mobility and limit single car occupancy (e.g. road pricing or taxation) and provide ‘Mobility as a Service’ platforms (as whoever controls the platform controls travel behaviour). Trials should also begin on public roads to see how best to integrate AVs into the mobility eco-system and preparations made for the impact on employment as some driving jobs could disappear and others needing specific skills could arise.

“AVs are a potential game-changer for urban mobility and cities and countries must act now to shape their roll-out,” concluded Mr Flausch. “AVs offer the chance for a fundamental change – as a key part of tomorrow’s integrated transport systems with public transport as a backbone – but if we do not act now vehicle automation might even further increase the volume and use of private cars with all of the associated negative externalities”.

For more information and fascinating full report: 

For more on urban mobility, autonomous mobility and public transport: 

California's new autonomous vehicle to help solve "first last mile" challenge.

Driverless vehicles to "plug multiple gaps" in transport networks.  

The first US Autonomous Transport System to be launched in Tampa Bay.

How these remarkable water taxis are aiming to make Paris commuting plain sailing.

Read the Rail and Metro Innovation Guide 2017

Topics: urbanmobility

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

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