Autonomous Vehicles and Future Mobility
Trends and Governance Issues
We are now in the midst of a highly transformative phase for transport and mobility. Attempting to look into the crystal ball, either the disruptive and gig economy enabled mobility revolution is upon us, or the rumours of the death of the private car are greatly exaggerated. It is thus important to distinguish between hype and uncertainties. Vehicle automation is now a clear trend, but there are varying expert opinions on projected time scales, the level of disruption it will cause, the technology options, and use cases involved. But at the same time positive and negative scenarios are possible and policy makers need to prepare their response.
Many potential positive effects of vehicle automation are being quoted, including improved road safety levels, decreased vehicle emissions, and increased network capacity. In addition, the emergence of related mobility services also holds the promise for even larger benefits for society as a whole as well as on the city level. This is based on the concept of shared mobility, which relates to both shared access to vehicles, as well as shared use of vehicles, i.e. a move from vehicle ownership to vehicle “usership”. Through such concepts vehicle occupancy rates could be drastically increased, decreasing the number of vehicles within the network and thus freeing up capacity and urban spaces.
But at the same time some negative effects could also be envisaged, including network capacity gains leading to induced traffic, zero marginal cost leading to increased demand and trip numbers, a modal shift away from public transport and other green modes, the ability of using travel time more productively leading to longer trips as people move further away from urban centres (which in turn then leads to further urban sprawl), potentially huge fleets of empty vehicles running errands (e.g. picking up the dry cleaning, your shopping, or a take-away) and thus generating much larger congestion levels, and wider labour market effects.
Governments around the world are investing in Research and Development (R&D) and demonstration of near market-ready systems, showcasing their ambitions for leadership in this space. Furthermore, emerging companies with a much stronger Information Technology (IT) focus in technical background and leadership mentality are aggressively pushing into the market. Vehicle automation is thus part of the concepts of the sharing economy and disruptive innovation, but the “road” ahead for Automated Vehicles (AV) is still far from certain. The car industry appears to betting a slow and evolutionary process with little transformation, for which they have full control. The disruptors on the other hand are predicting much larger transformation and much faster implementation of new services.
These developments require a look at government roles and responsibilities. Policy makers need to manage the transition period, acknowledging that this period started already. But at the same time they also should provide sufficient flexibility during uncertainty, locking-in bene fits while avoiding potential risks. Key tools here are legal and regulatory frameworks, which are often seen as a barrier to wider implementation. Whilst the mostly technology-led discussion often is overly optimistic, the technology certainly is mature for variety of use cases. Leadership from policy makers is thus essential
Regulation in the context of AVs typically centres on the vehicles, where work ongoing on many levels here nationally and internationally. This includes updates to the texts of the agreements under UNECE WP.29, concept of a “driving tests” for AVs, and test tracks simulating various real-life scenarios. In addition many Governments are amending their legal frameworks in order to allow testing on public roads. A key future challenge will be how to deal with the regulatory aspect of vehicle functionalities changing through over-the-air software updates. Options include more self-certification elements as currently used e.g. in the USA.
The current regulatory situation sees a “stretching” of current rules and regulations, which is an imperfect but comparably easy approach. This approach has both advantages and disadvantages. It is still viable for current low automation level (assistance), but the “breaking point” might occur when nearing full autonomy, risking regulatory difficulties and losing control, or risk hindering technology and service uptake. There is therefore a need for more flexible regulatory approaches. A move to data-driven governance and regulation models should be considered in this context.
Regulating the automotive aspect of AVs (e.g. through type approval processes) of course is key, but the likely implementation of this technology as an enabler for different types of shared mobility concepts might require regulation of mobility services to be considered in parallel with more vehicle-centric regulations. There is direct competition with legacy transport services in that case, which are often heavily regulated and protected. Here the disruptive potential is most directly experienced, thus new more flexible frameworks need to be found.
While policy responses need to be developed to ensure that the promise of positive effects of the mobility revolution can be achieved, there is also the potential of undesired effects even from this, which need to be addressed too. This may include avoiding a modal shift away from green modes (walking, cycling, and mass public transport), ensuring appropriate minimum mobility levels for all citizens, guaranteeing high levels of road safety and personal security. There is thus a need to monitor e.g. overall person-miles-travelled. AVs need to be seen as part of overall multi-modal system. Also the livelihood, training and pension of sector employees need to be considered. Access to data sets for analytics and enforcement purposes is necessary, and an element of pricing might be necessary to provide “nudges” for transport users to make the right choices.
*Dr. Tom Voege joined the International Transport Forum at the OECD as a Policy Analyst in 2015, where he is coordinating work on vehicle automation, shared mobility concepts, big data in transport, and data-driven regulation and governance. Prior to joining the ITF he worked for the United Nations as a Road and Traffic Safety Expert, following on from earlier roles in management consulting and in academia. He also acted as an independent consultant to the World Maritime University, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Commission, and the East African Community Secretariat. He holds an MSc and a PhD in Transportation Planning and Engineering, both from the University of Southampton. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Expert Network, serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Springer Lecture Notes in Mobility and on the Advisory Board of the Intelligent Transport Magazine. He is a Member of the SAE Committee on Shared and Digital Mobility, and of the TRB Committees on Intelligent Transport Systems and on Vehicle Highway Automation. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at international conferences, he is the author of a large number of publications including books, book chapters, technical and policy reports, scientific papers, magazine articles, and blog posts.