A group of experts at a briefing on Capitol Hill Monday highlighted how three major changes in transportation—automation, electrification, and vehicle sharing—are poised to greatly increase fuel efficiency and diversity, improve the sustainability of cities, and boost mobility access to low-income and disabled populations.
At a standing room only event hosted by University of California-Davis Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis) and the National Center for Sustainable Transportation (NCST), panelists emphasized the importance of taking advantage of today’s environment to shape technological changes for the benefit of the public interest and to mitigate any unintended consequences.
Panelists emphasized the importance of taking advantage of today’s environment to shape technological changes for the benefit of the public interest and to mitigate any unintended consequences.
Ride-sharing and electrification have the potential to significantly reduce dependence on petroleum—enabling society to realize the broad benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs) without increasing congestion or oil consumption.
Speaking at the event, SAFE’s Amitai Bin-Nun, Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Innovation, emphasized the numerous societal benefits of AVs but also stressed their importance in reducing the use of petroleum in the transportation sector. Bin-Nun pointed out vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will rise with AVs because transportation will be cheaper on a cost per mile basis and easier to access. The higher VMT makes it imperative that each mile traveled be as efficient as possible—achievable only though the electrification of AVs and higher fleet utilization as a result of ride-sharing.
“When we have a lot of vehicles that are autonomous and connected and can talk to each other and travel accordingly, we can have less congestion, fewer crashes, and smoother travel through our cities,” said Bin-Nun. “The most exciting thing is how this new technology changes our lifestyle and changes our cities.”
“We need vision and smart policy to nudge us to that [autonomous, shared, and electric] future,” he added.
Bin-Nun noted that one positive development on advancing the understanding of the impact of AVs on efficiency improvements is the amendment offered by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) that was adopted in the Senate’s AV START Act, which passed from committee in October. The amendment instructs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to study and evaluate how AVs will impact energy security, transportation infrastructure, mobility, and fuel consumption in both urban and rural areas.
Electric vehicles are cheaper to operate than gasoline-powered cars, making electric AVs more appealing to consumers for ride-sharing because of the reduced costs.
Electric vehicles are cheaper to operate than gasoline-powered cars, making electric AVs more appealing to consumers for ride-sharing because of the reduced costs. Against this backdrop, fleet operators using AVs that are electric should spur a positive feedback loop whereby fleets increase the use of automated cars and higher numbers of customers choose to utilize electric AVs, hastening the transition to alternative powertrains. “We believe one of the benefits of autonomous vehicles will be the acceleration of the electrification of the travel system,” Bin-Nun said.
Other speakers also reiterated how vital ride-sharing and the greater utilization of vehicles will be in cutting congestion and optimizing efficiency of AVs. “That’s our goal here—to get higher utilization of vehicles. And that’s transit as well as in cars,” said Dan Sperling, Founding Director, Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.
Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, pointed out that one shared car can replace 12 personal cars and that limiting vehicle ownership can increase the “livability of urban spaces.”
There has been very little system-wide innovation in the transportation sector in the last half century.
There has been very little system-wide innovation in the transportation sector in the last half century, panelists told the audience. They reiterated the need for coordination among local, state, and federal governments, along with input from important stakeholders. As the transportation system is rapidly evolving, a long list of unknowns could cause unintended consequences—but the opportunities that lay ahead to create cheaper and faster transport, improve accessibility, enhance public health and social equity, in addition to increasing efficiency and diversity in the vehicle fleet, are enormous.