AVs could be terrible for traffic

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

by: Sacha Oerlemans

Experts say the autonomous vehicles (AVs) impact on traffic will either be minimal or negative.

Lew Fulton, a co-director at UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies (ITP), said that AVs won’t fix congestion unless a pricing system is put in place that discourages zero-occupancy vehicles.

“We are especially concerned about zero-occupant vehicles that can happen with automated vehicles,” Fulton said. “That scenario is especially plausible with private ownership of those vehicles and no limits to what we can do with them.”

Congestion could also worsen when designing AVs around comfort, like installing reclining seats. Consumers may opt to live farther outside of cities if they can commute in vehicles that allow them to sleep and relax. But that sprawl increases the number of people traveling in and out of cities during rush hour, Fulton said.

AVs can still contribute to congestion even if they operate as part of a ride-hailing network, like Uber. Because without the cost of a driver, Fulton said he worries self-driving Ubers or Lyfts will become so cheap there will be no financial incentive to opt for car-sharing services.

“I think it’s going to take some kind of pricing system that discourages zero-occupant vehicles and also makes penalties for single-occupancy vehicles,” he said.

Fulton isn’t alone in this line of thinking.

Matthew Turner, an economist at Brown University, has studied road congestion and co-authored a paper titled “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion.” Turner found that vehicle pricing structures have had the biggest effect on reducing travel time, more so than increasing public transit access.

“Maybe autonomous cars will be different from other capacity expansions, but of the things we have observed so far, the only thing that really drives down travel times is pricing,” Turner said.

A liberal extract from Business Insider.