What if we shared even more rides such that we could reduce the number of cars needed, and as a result, save on capital costs, energy, time and traffic while lowering emissions? You may see where this is going. Our species pulled horses out from carriages and linked wheels to an engine, and our cities had to adapt to our form of transportation. Today, autonomous vehicles (AVs) once again promise to change the way we live. Several car companies are investing billions into autonomous car technology. If you love the idea of AVs, have you thought about how your city is getting ready to embrace the future?
For various reasons including cost and efficiency, AVs may come to the regular user first through ride-sharing services. However, as with most great technologies, regulatory changes and planning is critical to allow AVs to flourish.
What makes a city more AV-prone? Some key factors are:
- Policies: cities looking to be innovation hubs and to solve real transportation issues must take concrete steps to allow for a less constrained environment for AV adoption. This includes allowing for efficient testing without sacrificing safety, supporting the industry with incentives and creating opportunities for private-public partnerships.
- Infrastructure: Roads that are in good conditions appear obvious requirements for the success of AVs. But, what does this mean? Fixing potholes, visibly and consistently marking lanes and having clear intersections are essential.
- Less dense urban environments: Where the technology stands today, it is easier, more useful and less risky to adopt new transportation technologies in non-megacities or suburban neighborhoods. This is especially true in the US, where most AVs are being tested in neighborhoods of cities like Portland, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Sacramento. The main reason for this is that metropolises like New York City have a better-established public transportation system which already required substantial investment, and created a transit status quo which is harder to change.
There are a number of cities that are rapidly promoting the development of self-driving car technology. The following are among the front-runners:
- Singapore: With little undeveloped land left, the surge in AV-testing in Singapore comes not only from a willingness to drive innovation on behalf of local regulatory agencies but also out of need for more efficient mobility. Singapore, as many other high-density cities, hopes to tap on one of AV’s most promising benefits: Reduce the number of vehicles to the point that many parking lots (and in the future, who knows, maybe even excess streets or lanes) can be reclaimed for other uses such as housing, schools and parks.
- London: With government-sponsored programs supporting the trials of diverse forms of AV products, the British city is not new to AV testing. From valet parking services to grocery delivery, London serves as a lab for what the future could look like. The British government is wearing its heart on its sleeve, and on its pocket. Actively supporting initiatives and legislation, like those to create AV insurance laws, is helping to solidify the foundations for a rapidly-evolving AV economy.
- Phoenix: It might be hard to dissociate the thought of “AVs in Phoenix” from “Waymo”, formerly “Google’s self-driving car” which has been recently valuated at $175 billion. But, truth be told, Waymo chose Phoenix for a reason, and so did many other AV companies. Arizona’s regulatory changes’ permissiveness led Uber, Lyft, GM and Intel, among others, to populate the streets of Phoenix with self-driven cars.
- Berlin: With an already robust public transportation system, Berlin is pushing to introduce efficiencies through automation. The city is piloting automated buses which can be called through an app. The buses are hitting the streets of a lower-density neighborhood of Berlin. The system is still on a testing stage, but it promises to potentially change the face of public transportation in the city.
Governments, both federal, state or provincial and local, have all it takes to help create an environment of continuous improvement for the AV technology. Great cities of the future are thinking about and planning for such changes. After all, a world with AVs as our main form of transportation promises invaluable benefits, from less traffic and spending, fewer accidents, lower insurance costs, less urban land devoted to cars sitting idly by, being able to work, play or sleep while in transit and cleaner air.