Autonomous vehicles represent a societal revolution that will affect every transport authority, community, and citizen | 🕒 3-min read.
I have been focused on the transport sector for my entire career and have always been passionate about it. But what is happening today with electric and autonomous vehicles (AVs), along with the rise of mobility-as-a-service, is so dramatic that I defy anyone not to be excited. It will change all of our lives, but it needs all key stakeholders – policy-makers, businesses, and civil society groups alike – to plan for it now to ensure that these changes bring benefits for society.
Cars, as we know them today, are dangerous. In fact, they kill 1.3 million people every year1 and the vast majority of those accidents are caused by human error. Imagine saving more than a million lives a year when every car is driven autonomously.
Cars also pollute. Imagine a city where the air is free of vehicle fumes, and where you don’t constantly hear the roar of motor engines, because every car on the road is electric.
Cars are far from universally available, and for those who do not own one it can be hard to get around. Taxis have existed for a long time and ride-sharing companies have increased their availability, but the introduction of fleets of driverless taxis should open access further. Imagine children and older people able to travel to activities and appointments, boosting their health and happiness, without having to rely on cab companies or family members to drive them around.
As well as lives saved, cleaner air, and mobility for all, this is a revolution that offers huge economic impact potential. One bank has estimated that in the United States alone, driverless cars would benefit the economy by US$1.3 trillion a year2, with $507 billion from making the time currently spent driving in cars more productive. KPMG in the UK undertook a study for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in 2015, which forecasts a GBP51 billion annual benefit for the British economy from AVs3.
While some will argue that it will be many years before all vehicles are autonomous, this is not a reason to delay the dialogue. Public resources are scarce and transport infrastructure is costly, so whatever is built needs to be fit-for-purpose in the decades to come. That is why public authorities need to engage now with what an AV future will look like.
In some ways, it is not yet clear what the impacts of AVs are going to be on our cities and roadways. If ride-sharing takes off, then inner-city densification is the likely result. If people continue to want to own their own cars and the time spent in them is now productive time, some may choose to live further away from work than they do today. And imagine what the middle of cities could look like if car parks were turned into real parks. These possibilities should all be taken into consideration for how we plan and build for the future.
There are many sceptics who say ‘come back to us when this is real’. Leaving aside the fact that you can ride in an autonomous vehicle today in Pittsburgh4 or Singapore5, I am convinced this is going to happen much faster than many people think. Unprecedented alignment between private sector investment in AV technology and the demand of public policymakers to have AVs is driving an astonishing pace of innovation.
While public authorities need to prepare for the future, they cannot afford to do so at the expense of the present day. The good news is that a number of countries are already taking a practical, long-term approach. The Netherlands, which leads KPMG’s first Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index, does so because its government is providing strong support to private sector innovation, making legislative changes, running trials, as well as maintaining the country’s existing high-quality road infrastructure.
This is not just a transport revolution. This is a societal revolution, and it will not only affect every transport authority in the world, but every country, every community, and every citizen.
Visit www.kpmg.com/AVRI to learn more about KPMG’s first Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index.
Richard Threlfall is the Global Head of Infrastructure for KPMG International. He has over 20 years’ experience in infrastructure policy, strategy and financing. Before joining KPMG, Richard was employed as a civil servant at the UK Department for Transport where he held positions in the road, rail and aviation directorates. Between 1996 and 1998 he was Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Deputy Prime Minister. He is a member of the Infrastructure Board of the Confederation of British Industry and also chairs The Infrastructure Forum, which is an independent infrastructure think-tank.