Will autonomous cars decrease the number of vehicles?
Nowadays, vehicles are parked 90% of their time in parking lots. And when they are used they transport in average 1,4 persons. In conclusion today’s degree of utilization makes vehicles the most inefficient machines we have.
Let’s beam ourselves into the year 2025 or 2030, the year when the final stage of vehicle automation will be reached. The year when vehicles can drive fully autonomous in all traffic situations, on highways as well as in urban environments. The year when passengers of vehicles – then we will call them passengers not drivers anymore – will not be in charge of the vehicle and its actions anymore and when a legal framework for autonomous driving has become effective.
The moment when cars can drive with or without passengers on board.
Then autonomous vehicles can be routed from one passenger to the next one. Which means users of autonomous vehicles can call a car when they need it where they need it. Once arrived at their destination while pursuing their daily activities like work, sports, dining or staying at home this same vehicle can drive other persons.
During the ITS Switzerland Symposium one presenter went even further: through the electronics agenda of a person a system in the background can recognize the need for a vehicle, determine travel time to the next destination based on traffic and weather data and notify the person when the vehicle is available at the bottom of the building in order to drive calmly to the next destination.
Passengers will not need to search for parking lots anymore, as cars will head on to the next passenger. Vehicles can drive themselves to (preventive) maintenance or to the next fuel or charging station or pick up groceries for a family.
In consequence persons or households are not owners of vehicles anymore but there are fleet operators managing and routing autonomous “taxis”. So, what we call today car sharing will thus become a standard.
This scenario seems to be pretty realistic as people are increasingly interested in mobility solutions, transporting them from point A to point B, instead of individual car ownership. Car sharing membership has increased worldwide from 350.000 members in 2006 to nearly 5 million in 2014. Cars are not a status symbol anymore. Brand loyalty decreases.
At the same time the question is how will autonomous vehicles look like? Are they individual means of transportation or is there space for 4, 6 or more persons on board? Cars will become a productive environment where people can work, meetings can be held or, as one of the speakers at the ITS Switzerland symposium suggested, passengers can choose their travel companions by interest for example for professional exchanges or through a dating platform.
Predictions say that once autonomous vehicles become the primary means of transportation, which may most probably lead us rather to the year 2050, urban traffic will be reduced at least by 30%, which accounts today for search of a parking lot. Parking lot surfaces can be reduced by about 70%.
And the number of vehicles? There are studies predicting about 30% less vehicles on roads. On the other hand autonomous vehicles grant mobility to persons that are not allowed to, cannot or do not want to drive today like children, old people, handicapped persons, etc. And maybe we will appreciate it so much to be driven around in our mobile lounges that we will even drive more.
The future will show if we will have fewer vehicles on the road. But what we can for sure expect is to arrive faster, with less traffic jams and more relaxed at our destinations.