Will AV Innovation Drive Smart Cities or Exacerbate Existing Congestion Problems?

With proper infrastructure, planning and promotion, shared AVs and integration with public transport methods can accelerate the status of smart city living.
Presently, a dire lack of roads and an overabundance of cars has created a severe traffic congestion problem in many modern-day cities. Commuters spend 100-200 hours per year in traffic, costing them as much as five 40-hour weeks their time, they could otherwise spend immersed in productivity. The rush hour time-crunch and its consequential increase of the time commuters spend on the road are key elements in the 1.25 million deaths and 20-50 million injuries sustained in auto injuries mostly caused by human error. And approximately 385,000 additional lives are cut tragically short due to vehicle emission pollution. These deaths are not only horrific from a human perspective, they are also terrifying from an economic perspective, as they cost most countries 1-2 percent of their overall GDP, and roughly $518 billion globally.

The integration of autonomous vehicles (AVs) could solve the human error problem, and maybe even reduce road rage by enabling drivers to sit back and relax, instead of being upright and alert. But would the ease of AV use really make commuting smarter, or would it discourage more commuters from taking public transportation, clogging main travel routes even more?

On their own, AVs only resolve individual challenges

While replacing existing vehicles with personal AVs may make commuters more comfortable and less stressed while in transit, and may even improve air quality by running mostly on electricity, one-for-one trade-ins will not resolve the traffic congestion conundrum. In fact, they may exacerbate the existing state of urban congestion, by making commuting so comfortable, more and more people stop using public transport in favor of traveling via personal AV, even if it means their overall commute time is extended even further, due to a surge in AVs hitting the streets. 

To truly drive smart cities and improve the general commuter experience, AV innovation must shift gears from resolving individual challenges for individuals, to providing a smart solution that benefits the city and its travelers, as a whole.  

To drive smart cities, AVs must join a holistic transport network

Practically speaking, AVs should become a part of a singular, connected city transportation network, one that includes AVs for ridesharing purposes, as well as real-time information to help people optimize their travels, door-to-door, be it via personal AV, shared AV, public transportation, or a combination of two or more of these methods of transport. 

Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are already on board. They’ve added public transit information to their apps, becoming Mobility as a Service (MaaS) aggregators that enable users to select the best possible mode of transport for them at any point in time. And, according to the International Transport Forum (ITU), shared AVs that partner with “high-capacity public transport could remove 9 out of every 10 cars” from the streets of a mid-sized European city.” This, in turn, could reduce the time spent by these shared vehicles  on the roads (for each individual trip) by as much as 30%.  

The result: overall better user satisfaction, and repeat patronage on future occasions, even if users opt out of hailing a ride in the here-and-now. AVs and public transport companies should most certainly follow suit, creating a mutually beneficial, holistic transport network that is cost, time and effort efficient. Imagine the economic returns they could all earn from such a collaboration!

Integration with smart city infrastructure is key

To optimally nurture such a holistic transport network, there is a need for the entire network and all of its components to be integrated with the metropolis’ infrastructure. This includes sensors, cameras, traffic lights, and other collected data that informs drivers and passengers of the exact state of their city’s urban congestion, at any point in time. 

At Highroad, we understand the importance of stellar smart city infrastructure. This is why we select only the most promising urban tech start-ups to join our Highroad Launchpad cohorts. Our portfolio companies include leading developers of technologies poised to inform city dwellers and municipalities, and pave the way towards a future in which AV innovation does away with existing congestion problems, for a smarter, safer and more seamless travel experience.

For more information, visit highroad.center