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Cities should start riding the autonomous driving wave, report says

The report entitled "Cities in the Driving Seat Connected and Autonomous Vehicles in Urban Development", goes through the correlation between urban development, public transportation policies, power supply, pollution and the increasing share of CAV in city traffic. Thus, any lack of mid-term planning and investment delays in infrastructure could have a negative social, economic and environmental impact.

"Autonomous vehicles must be part of a wider transformation of urban areas. Cities need to ensure that they work towards putting people first - and not cars, or we risk repeating the mistakes of the past," said Pete Daw, urban development and environment director, Siemens Global Centre of Competence Cities.

"The future of our cities could look very different with the adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles and they could help shape future trends in climate change, air quality, public health and more."

The report mentions numerous opportunities as well as risks for cities faced with the arrival of CAV. Talking about the benefits, cities will be capable to provide first and last mile trips and help government provide new transport services and expanded mobility access to the young, elderly, impaired and marginalized.

Moreover, CAV will help reduce pollution and emissions as well as lower the ratio of road fatalities and injuries. In order to go greener, it will enable cities to repurpose land currently used for parking and roadways into green space, housing, schools and protected cycle lanes.

Although there are many upsides for the arrival of CAV, Siemens draws the attention to the importance of establishing clear and thoughtful policies and regulations, otherwise, the arrival of CAV could result in negative consequences, such as:

  • Ongoing effects of climate change if CAV are not regulated to be low or zero-carbon;
  • No decrease in vehicle ownership if individuals prefer their own CAV instead of adopting a shared transport system;
  • Unused CAV may cause congestion and require unnecessary parking space;
  • Increase of vehicle miles travelled if individuals alter their commute from walking, cycling or taking public transport to using CAV.

In order to get the best out of automation and the introduction of CAV, the report recommends embracing four transformations in unison: automation, electrification, digital connectivity and shared mobility. Adopting mobility transformations alone could lead to adverse outcomes or detract from potential benefits.

The study shows three possible scenarios that demonstrate how outcomes could vary depending on the vision and policies that a city adopts:

  • The strong city scenario: considers that the new norm is shared mobility while owning a private car starts to decline, that parking space is unlocked and reconstructed as schools, hospitals, and new housing units, and that most vehicles are electric and powered by clean energy grids.
  • The business-as-usual scenario: provides an outlook of future mobility that is not guided by a coherent vision or effective policies. The assumed revolutions in vehicle automation and electrification do not lift off at scale, and private usage remains the norm, little urban land is unlocked and only a minority of CAV are electric.
  • In the CAV-as-a-luxury-good scenario: only a minority uses CAV, private car-ownership is the norm, shared vehicles and shared trips remain a niche concept and public transport usage decreases rapidly over time. Vehicles promote individual trips and still use internal combustion engines, causing more CO2 emissions than ever before.