Connectivity or congestion: Two visions for an autonomous future

Two visions for an autonomous future

Will we own or share our autonomous vehicles? The implications for transport infrastructure and road congestion are significant and policy makers must act now to avoid jeopardising the productivity and liveability of Australian cities.

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In the near future, autonomous, electric vehicles will become the primary form of transport in our cities with significant implications for infrastructure and road congestion.

The cost of road congestion in Australian capital cities is already predicted to grow from $16.5 billion in 2015 to $30.0 billion in 20301. Adding autonomous vehicles to the mix could have two divergent impacts on this trend:

  1. A scenario with privately owned autonomous vehicles would significantly exacerbate congestion in our cities. KPMG analysis of this scenario for Melbourne in 2046 estimates a 29 percent increase in average car trip time and a 23 percent increase in average car trip distance.2 This would lead to a significant increase in demand for road infrastructure and exacerbate congestion.
  2. In contrast, the introduction of autonomous ride-sourcing has the potential to ease the burden of congestion. KPMG analysis of this scenario estimates a 7 percent reduction in average car trip time and a 9 percent reduction in average car trip distance. This would lower the demand for road infrastructure, ease the burden of congestion in our cities and make our transport systems more efficient and productive.

We know from experience that it is not possible to build our way out of congestion with more and wider roads. Instead, the autonomous era demands an intelligent and proactive response from policy makers. We need to act now to avoid jeopardising the productivity and liveability of our cities.

How should we respond?

Governments must begin taking action now to safeguard the liveability and productivity of our cities in the autonomous era. KPMG recommends the following actions to policy makers:

  • Consider autonomous electric vehicles in our infrastructure planning and investment decision making processes. This includes the take-up of autonomous ride-sourcing services and the implications for travel behaviour and land use.
  • Implement road pricing reform as a matter of priority to manage demand for car travel, and as a policy lever to encourage ride sharing.
  • Encourage an eventual transition from private ownership to ride sourcing and car sharing for daily travel. This includes promoting business models that provide these services. Governments must also ensure high quality alternatives to car travel are available, including public transport, walking and cycling.
  • Address regulatory hurdles to the mass adoption of autonomous vehicles.

References

  1. BITRE, 2015. Traffic and congestion cost trends for Australian capital cities, Canberra: Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
  2. Thakur, P., Kinghorn, R. & Grace, R., 2016. Urban form and function in the autonomous era, Melbourne: Australasian Transport Research Forum 2016 Proceedings.

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