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Will AVs be a disaster?
Autonomous Vehicles embody advanced AI, and are likely to radically reshape the future of traffic. AVs can improve accessibility by providing a reliable mode of transport for those who may have difficulty driving due to age or disability. This would allow these individuals to access facilities and services that might have been challenging to reach before.
“[Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) will not help accessibility for those who do not have access to a car, it will gridlock our network and give more of our precious public space to machines. We in the transport profession have been fighting single occupancy travel for a long time and in Australia 40% of people have a license. To then suggest that AVs can open up car travel to the remaining 60% where they may also be capable of zero occupancy travel boggles the mind at the potential increase in VKT, therefore carbon emissions and therefore air pollution.
We should be advocating for less cars on our roads and giving back our public space to people.”
My previous post was mostly positive rather than normative (though I was optimistic about the future, a rare state for me lately).1
I believe we should have relatively less space for cars and more for people. I think I have said that. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to automate cars, or keep disabled or people who cannot now drive imprisoned in their homes for lack of effective mobility. Public transport does not serve most people on most trips in most of the world. It can serve more, it will never serve everyone. Nor will bikes. Nor will walking over longer distances. Even if sustainable modes can serve all independent travellers in cities, not everyone is in cities, and not everyone can travel without assistance. Furthermore automated cars facilitate more space for people instead of vehicles, because they are much more capable of staying in their lane, lanes can be narrower.
On energy and CO2 emissions: AVs will in general be EVs, and energy will in general be renewable. That won’t make AVs pollution free (tires, brakes), but it will be better.
Complaining about congestion and gridlock is a bit of nonsense. Obviously roads should be priced, and if they are not, AVs will have no incentive not to drive empty. But because they will have no incentive not to drive empty without pricing, and without pricing there would be gridlock, AVs will be regulated or priced to discourage that kind of behaviour once a critical mass is hit. The Hell Scenario is self-negating, it is only a question of when.
Finally AVs can help more by increasing safety and allowing right-sized vehicles that are either privately owned (as people won’t need to own their own tanks if driving a small vehicle, even a bicycle, is perceived as safe), and in denser areas, appropriately-sized vehicles can be shared and delivered to users on demand.