The trending topic these days in mobility is autonomous cars — a starting revolution that will soon transform our interaction with the city and its inhabitants. No longer will we need to operate a machine in order to commute; we’ll be able to work or relax feeling safer and more carefree while moving from one place to another.
Autonomous cars could save up to 1.2 million lives around the world by reducing accidents caused by human drivers.
Google has already recorded over 1 million miles of autonomous driving on the road, becoming the pioneer in testing cars with no steering wheels, forcing the traditional industry to welcome a brand new philosophy. All the leading car manufacturers are now investing their resources to create the ultimate driverless machine, conceiving vehicles with interactive screens, charging outlets, desks or facing seats. Being driven, as opposed to driving will turn wasted time into productive time.
The major impact we’ll witness is the transformation of urban life. If managed equally, the future urban mobility will take us to unimaginable new bounds, enabling a wider multimodal access to all socioeconomic classes that are more efficient and safe for all.
Early adopters, often urban and eager youth, commonly become the opinion leaders of solutions that are not immediately welcomed by the rest of society. The digital divide is a big barrier, for example, as many people may not have the skills and knowledge to understand new systems, highlighting the importance of inclusivity as technology develops. Society will also need to detach itself from dated views of the human-to-vehicle relationship.
The future success of driverless cars will depend on the public’s ability to remove personal attachments to vehicles.
We’ve become blind to the inefficiencies of current transportation and have accepted its shortcomings. Those inefficiencies and shortcomings may be due in part to the fact that our cities have been planned not with people in mind, but with cars — over half of our urban space is dedicated to cars.
Today, the question we all ask before buying a new car model is “Which one matches my lifestyle?” Soon the question may be “What ride do I need now?”. This sort of temporal customization will be possible in the multimodal on-demand city. New vehicle sizes and capacities, routes that are more adaptable to users, new experimental fuels to be tried in a faster and more effective manner. Cities will have to evolve with technology; gradually adjusting their space usage to new supply and demand ratios.
The future city will not yet be crowded with flying cars, as the current direction seems to be more grounded. Many studies agree that current cars will evolve to Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES) vehicles, within a multimodal environment. To support this model, cities will have to facilitate adaptations for the different social sectors, to ensure access to all vehicle options at the touch of a button. It’s what’s been called MaaS (Mobility as a Service), where cities allow for “asymmetric trips”, combining a trip with various modes of transportation.
In order to benefit the city at large, urban mobility must be inclusive, equitable and sustainable.
As shared autonomous vehicles will be on the move during a larger portion of time, they will be capable of storing themselves for maintenance, cleaning or recharging purposes. The need of parking space will be much less, providing an opportunity to transform parking lots into parks, shopping malls or apartment buildings. Such vehicles will not require major changes to infrastructure, but will instead improve it easily.
The self-driving revolution will provide more quiet walkable areas in urban centers, we may even see children playing safely in the streets. In much more fluid traffic, deliveries will skyrocket, bringing any physical goods we need within 30 minutes for less than one euro. This will give a strong boost to retail.
It is paramount to start running pilot programs to ensure inclusive access to all multimodal options for everyone.
Some governments have rushed their legislation in order to set for new mobility laws in response to pressure from private lobbyists. However, a rushed process can result in downfalls in the long run.
Urban municipalities will have to focus on infrastructure improvements needed to guarantee the ubiquitous connectivity and speed of data that urban populations demand. Such an initiative will require planning and sustainable funding, where public-private cooperation will have to ensure that infrastructure is technically available for everyone.
There is a lot happening in the urban mobility space, but in the years to come, many tests and research and development will be needed to make technology and infrastructure interact in a way to best benefit end users. A successful collaboration needs to consider the current deficiencies of modern infrastructure and data system networks. The most innovative and successful cities will be those opened to partnerships with startups to form living mobility labs, where advances can be tested in real environments.
It is not going to be a revolution that will happen overnight, as growth will be organic and progressive. It will be an incremental evolution.