Getting ready for shared autonomous vehicles

car sensor graphic
Photo: Shutterstock

Fleets of shared autonomous vehicles (SAVs) will be on our roads within a decade as part of mobility services offered by both car and technology companies, says Professor Tom Fisher, director of the Minnesota Design Center at the U of M.  “This transportation revolution will have a profound effect on our infrastructure and land use as well as on employment, the environment, and the economy,” he says.

Below, Fisher provides insights for community leaders and planners to prepare for these changes.

A parallel transition?

“This transition may seem unprecedented, but we have gone through something like it before. Over a century ago, we switched from horse-drawn vehicles to automobiles because the latter were cheaper, cleaner, and safer. Most people will switch to SAVs for the same reasons.

“The transition from horses to cars in the early 20th century happened within a two-decade period, slowed down because of WWI. The coming transition to SAVs will happen just as fast or faster, given the greater speed of our economy and the greater cost savings at stake. The infrastructure and land-use decisions we’re making right now will be affected by this transition.”

The role of insurance

Tom Fisher
Tom Fisher

“Drivers cause most crashes. As people move to shared mobility systems because of lower costs, the number of drivers will shrink, which will increase insurance rates. That will prompt more people to stop driving, which will shrink the base even more, raising rates further to the point at which auto insurance—where it is still available—will become prohibitive to all but a very few. Another economic factor will be reductions in healthcare costs, as driving—the most hazardous daily activity we do—disappears.”

The benefits

“SAVs will mostly be owned by mobility service companies that provide on-demand transportation. This will greatly reduce the cost of transportation, greatly expand mobility to the millions of people who cannot drive, and greatly lower the environmental impacts of moving people and goods. SAVs’ electric operation will decrease air and noise pollution, and their continuous use during the day will largely eliminate the need for on-site parking stalls, lots, ramps, and garages. And SAVs will save thousands of lives and eliminate hundreds of thousands of injuries each year.”

The costs

road widths
Unlike current roadways (top), streets with SAVs will leave space
for other uses such as outdoor eating or green infrastructure.

“As with any major technological shift, SAVs will disrupt some people’s lives. The millions who make their living selling, maintaining, and driving cars and trucks, for example, will experience substantial unemployment unless they can transition into higher-skilled mobility service work. The public sector, which currently gets revenue from gas taxes, parking meters, and traffic tickets, will also take a financial hit, although the decreased amount of infrastructure needed and the increased amount of higher-value land freed up may offset the losses.”

Design Center’s role

“The Minnesota Design Center stands ready to help communities prepare for this change. We have developed suggested language for incorporation into comprehensive plans, with accompanying drawings that show the physical impacts (see sample at right). Our researchers welcome the opportunity for conversation.”

Please see the center’s website for details.



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