A little discussed aspect of the growth of driverless cars is the related assumption that we will need many fewer vehicles overall.
This will reduce congestion and allow wholesale changes to the way our cities and towns look and feel. This is fantastic news, as car parks will be replaced by green boulevards, motorway flyovers turned into gardens and of course no more driveways to park on.
The key question is how far off this utopia might be, and how do we get there safely and fairly?
At IAM RoadSmart we are all about choice. Motorbike or car, bus or train, bike or walk, they are all modes of transport that deserve to be available safely and affordably to those who wish to use them.
MaaS (Mobility as a Service) is the new acronym on the block these days and it’s all about integrating our need to travel using the latest technology. The promises it makes are attractive but they should not necessarily be at the expense of an individual’s ability to choose what works for them.
IAM RoadSmart is involved in a number of projects, such as Drive 2TheFuture, which are looking at drivers views on autonomy and MaaS to make sure we go with the grain of people’s lives.
I am concerned that in the excitement over the technology around driverless cars, many people have not yet considered the wider social changes that they might bring. Do we want a world where you may not be allowed to own your own driverless car but will always be expected to share it? Will a wealthy few still be able to do so and could that be elitist?
From an efficiency point of view it makes sense to call up a car when you need it (a car today spends over 90% of its time parked), however we have also come to expect an element of fun and independence with our motoring.
The key advantage of having your own car outside your house has always been the flexibility it offers. Can a fleet of shared driverless cars, flitting from booking to booking meet our requirements for comfort and wellbeing? Will a driverless car fleet work in the suburbs and smaller rural towns? Will we be willing to wait for a car that might still contains traces of the pervious occupant’s activities? If we don’t change the traditional nine to five working day we will not always suffer from rush hours? Why not just change hours of work now?
These questions and many others are just the start of a wider debate we need to have around autonomous vehicles and new approaches to mobility.
It is important that we have this debate otherwise we risk reducing the benefits of new technology due to resistance from consumers.
As I have said before, the current rush for change is coming from technology suppliers rather than consumers and that needs to be turned around. Engaged and well informed consumers could really drive the mobility market forward leading to safer roads, less congestion, less pollution and a better quality of life for us all.
By Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s director of policy and research