Self-Driving Vehicles, Robo-Taxis, and the Urban Mobility Revolution

Self-Driving Vehicles, Robo-Taxis, and the Urban Mobility Revolution

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Self-Driving Vehicles, Robo-Taxis, and the Urban Mobility Revolution

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    Shaping the Future of Urban Mobility

    The deployment of SDVs in cities—along with the development and commercialization of robo-taxis and the promotion of ride sharing—requires collaboration among, and experimentation involving, multiple stakeholders. A prerequisite of progress is that each participant in the urban transport ecosystem—including policymakers, private industry, and consumers—must be willing to accept and try out new ideas.

    Building an Integrated City Roadmap

    We believe that, from an urban perspective, the overall benefits of SDVs outweigh the costs. Cities need to start working on how to reap the benefits, simultaneously addressing the challenges to the development of integrated transportation plans that include autonomous transportation. An initial list of questions and issues, which focuses on such topics as the transportation ecosystem, urban policymaking, societal acceptance, and financing, includes the following:

    The Transportation Ecosystem

    • What role should autonomous transportation play as part of a city’s broader transportation plan?
    • What is the ideal operating model and ownership structure for SDVs in an urban environment?
    • How should SDVs connect with other means of transportation, in particular public transit?
    • How should cities use mobility data for transportation planning and management?

    Urban Policymaking

    • What are the right policy measures and other tools for encouraging the population’s adoption of SDVs—at the desired pace?
    • Should cities mandate electric-only SDVs to limit emissions?
    • How do cities provide incentives to encourage (or mandate) ride sharing and shared fleets to obtain the maximum benefits of SDVs?

    Societal Acceptance

    • How do cities manage the widespread disruption of traditional transportation models, such as taxis, and the associated impact on employment and labor?
    • How do cities collect, share, and protect the mobility data of their citizens?
    • How can cities help get the general public accustomed to SDVs?


    • How do cities finance, manage, and provide incentives for the development and deployment of new mobility models and the necessary (nonautomotive) SDV infrastructure?
    • How do cities adapt their revenue models and decrease their dependence on vehicle-related taxes and fees?

    Each city will have to optimize its own mobility model and make tradeoffs to best address its specific challenges and pain points. In general, to provide superior mobility to citizens, transportation plans should be multimodal and combine the best of all available solutions. Policymakers may also find that they need to rethink the process of transportation planning and the length of investment cycles. It is no longer feasible—or advisable—to plan 30 years in advance. Game-changing technology advances come too quickly today. Cities need to adopt a more entrepreneurial mentality and combine it with a test-and-learn approach—trying out new mobility ideas, adding those that show promise to the mix, and discarding those that do not.

    Singapore is an example of continual experimentation and adoption. For years, the city-state’s government has experimented with, and adopted, monetary and nonmonetary disincentives for private-car ownership, including requiring a quota license (a “certificate of entitlement”), charging for vehicle access, and controlling parking availability and pricing. As Singapore’s growing population and economy continued to increase the demands on its transportation system, the city moved early to develop a long-term vision of how SDVs and new mobility would complement its already multimodal land transportation system. Singapore has a wide array of goals: to reduce congestion, especially during peak hours; improve convenience, particularly with respect to the last mile; help alleviate a labor shortage by reducing the need for professional drivers; further reduce reliance on private cars; improve safety; and provide more transport options, particularly for the less mobile.

    The centerpiece of Singapore’s transportation system is public transportation, and the city intends that SDVs complement rather than replace it. Singapore’s ambition is that by 2025, 75% of all peak-hour journeys will be undertaken using some form of public transportation.

    In August 2014, the government established the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore (CARTS) to guide SDV development efforts along four paths, each with a distinct role in the city’s trans-port ecosystem:

    • Fixed Routes. Mass transport for intra- and intercity travel on fixed routes and schedules
    • Point-to-Point Travel. On-demand shared-mobility services for point-to-point and first- and last-mile travel
    • Freight. Autonomous truck platooning for last-mile delivery
    • Utility Operations. Utility vehicles for cleaning roads, collecting rubbish, and watering plants

    Four trial activities are already underway or planned. These will help shape mobility concepts that can meet the city’s requirements, also providing insights into how the urban environment might be redesigned to better use this technology:

    • Private sector-led development of SDV prototypes, including vehicle-to-infrastructure cooperative systems in the One-North district
    • Testing of self-driving shuttle buses in the Gardens by the Bay district (see Exhibit 16)
    • Three-year testing of autonomous trucks, including a ten-kilometer route between two port terminals along the West Coast Highway
    • A two-year trial in Sentosa of on-demand point-to-point self-driving shuttles that can be summoned with a smartphone

    Like Singapore, other cities will need to develop their own roadmaps for integration of new technologies and mobility solutions.

    Flexibility and Collaboration in the Private Sector

    The road to widespread adoption of SDVs is likely to take twists and turns. While the pervasive use of shared driverless vehicles might mean that fewer cars will be required to provide the same amount of mobility, those cars will likely be used more intensively, shortening replacement cycles and potentially fueling the continued sales of new vehicles. Moreover, every city will take its distinct path, which will mean various opportunities and requirements for OEMs, tech companies, and infrastructure companies.

    Standards and rules for how vehicles communicate with each other and with the surrounding environment (buildings, roadways, traffic signals, bridges, and tunnels, for example) need to be developed, and the various stakeholders need to reach agreement. The benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to complement SDV technology need to be further evaluated and tested. New vehicle types will emerge to meet the needs of shared-SDV fleets. These could be electric and more robust and, potentially, vary in size, interior design, and occupancy capacity. Car makers are already investing in new-mobility providers in order to be part of this development. General Motors and Lyft recently announced plans to test a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads in 2017. Toyota has invested in Uber. In Singapore, nuTonomy, a startup spun off from MIT, is planning to start trials of autonomous taxis in late 2016.

    Cities will look to the auto and tech industries, among others, for support in redefining their mobility landscape. Car manufacturers, tech companies, infrastructure builders, and insurance and finance players will all have opportunities to contribute relevant expertise and invest in solutions. Almost all will need to develop products and services that do not exist today. This will be hard, if not impossible, to do in isolation or with only the end-user in mind. Companies will need to partner with each other, across industries, and with the public sector if they want to be at the forefront of this development. Established car manufacturers in particular will need to move fast, as new players are emerging and pushing into automakers’ core business.

    Each party can learn from the others. Agility based on a test-and-learn approach will likely be essential. This is something the tech industry does well—but less so more traditional industries. At the same time, the investment and payback cycles are likely to be long, and traditional manufacturers are much more familiar with these cycles than are most tech players.

    Will Consumers Lead or Follow?

    Consumers’ views of SDVs vary considerably: plenty of consumers are excited; others will be hard to extract from their current driver’s seat. Consumers’ needs and requirements will differ widely depending on location, the type of city in which they live, and other contextual factors. An SDV in Mumbai will be quite different in both design and use from an SDV in Berlin. How well cities plan and private-sector companies design may have a lot to do with consumers’ eagerness to adopt SDVs.

    In cities, the biggest benefits of SDVs are associated with widespread ride sharing, yet for the majority of urbanites, this concept will take some getting used to. How much of an incentive—or push (such as a ban on traditional cars)—will it take? The success of services such as Uber, Drivy, and DriveNow indicates that many consumers value the convenience of shared on-demand transportation. Millennial consumers are more flexible in their approach to car ownership and use than are their parents and grandparents. Still, change is likely to come slowly—unless it is pushed along. And the safety and security issue looms large in the background. As with the “technical” safety of SDVs themselves, the impact of early personal-security problems in ride sharing will be magnified. Persuading consumers to change their current behavior and accept different ways of moving around will be key for the long-term success of new mobility models based on autonomy, sharing, and EVs.

    City Initiatives: A Tour d’Horizon of Global Experimentation

    When it comes to cars—and especially SDVs—a trial-and-error approach might seem like a bad idea. But controlled experimentation is exactly what will move SDVs forward in a pragmatic but timely fashion. Always keeping safety front of mind, policymakers, industry, and consumers need to figure out what works. In addition to the examples of Helsinki and Singapore, numerous trials are already underway:

    • Milton Keynes is conducting trials with autonomous pod cars on public pedestrian roads as part of the UK Autodrive project.
    • The City of Toronto is collaborating with the University of Toronto on developing a better understanding of the impact of SDVs on cities.
    • In April 2016, Amsterdam conducted small-scale SDV demonstrations as part of the Netherlands’ EU presidency.
    • In Pittsburgh, Uber and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University are developing self-driving taxis.
    • In the Greenwich area of London, GATEway is testing zero-emission autonomous pod cars that are intended to provide shuttle service to and from public transit.
    • Gothenburg is currently planning trials of 100 SDVs on its ring road. The trials will commence in 2017 as part of an autonomous-driving pilot project, Drive Me, with Volvo, which is endorsed by the Swedish government.

    The Drive Me pilot is part of Drive Sweden, one of the largest and most ambitious programs of experimentation. A public-private undertaking, Drive Sweden involves some 30 partners that include the Swedish national and city governments, companies from several industries, and universities. Its ambition is to develop a new approach to mobility that includes automated transportation systems but also encompasses all other modes of transportation—personal, public, and freight.

    Launched in 2015, Drive Sweden already has multiple projects underway that are notable for the complexity and breadth of the issues they seek to address. Cooperation and collaboration are cornerstones. The program seeks to combine data from all sorts of connected vehicles and traffic management systems “to allow industry and research partners to collaborate on both a national and international level.”

    Within the Drive Sweden framework, the Drive Me project focuses on studying the potential benefits of large-scale SDV use. Test vehicles will be put into real traffic environments to collect data for analysis, modeling, and quantification. The trial will be conducted on some of Gothenburg’s most heavily traveled roads at average speeds of 70 kilometers per hour. In addition to gathering data, the trials are intended to help build consumer confidence in SDVs.

    Drive Sweden is only one ambitious undertaking. But like the experiments underway in Helsinki and Singapore, it provides a model for others through its bold vision, multi-stakeholder composition, and collaborative approach.

    There is a compelling case to be made for SDVs—especially in cities. The potential benefits are significant and easy to see, even if some will be difficult to realize in the short term. The major players in the private sector—industry and consumers—are excited and engaged. The public sector is moving too, albeit a bit more cautiously.

    Technologies and new business models already under development can substantially transform and improve urban transportation—and by direct extension, livability—while providing new opportunities for the private sector. It is a powerful and exciting starting point for a truly transformative revolution on our city streets.