Zero-Occupant Vehicles?

By L. Dennis Burns, CAPP

From an urban transport perspective, what is potentially worse than the dreaded single-occupant vehicle? The answer may be a zero-occupant vehicle!

In the most recent Mobility Lab newsletter, Howard Jennings, managing director, discusses the potential impacts to communities and traffic systems autonomous vehicles might have. “Ironically, the efficiency of AVs has long been touted as a solution to traffic, but new research is beginning to suggest that AVs will, in fact, generate more of it. Simply put, there is no guarantee the traffic effects of AVs will be handled. It is entirely possible that they will spread widely and, without adequate policies, many places may never manage their impacts.”

This insightful comment should be considered a call to action for all parking and transportation practitioners, planners and policy makers.

Jennings writes, “By eliminating most of the hassles of driving, such as parking and lost productivity time, AVs will induce not only more trips, but longer ones. Additionally, AVs waiting to pick up new riders will add ‘deadheading’ miles. For traffic, the only thing worse than a single-occupant vehicle is a zero-occupant vehicle. Placed all together, this suggests they will almost certainly increase vehicle-miles traveled, energy use, and emissions. These impacts might be locked in by further sprawl and other shifts toward less efficient land-use patterns.”

Jennings further notes that the advent of autonomous vehicles is fraught with uncertainty and a key issue will be how they are deployed. While widespread adoption may still be decades away, significant numbers will begin to be on the roads in less than 10 years, according to manufacturers and other observers. Ultimately, many expect them to have major transformational effects on our transportation systems and built environment.

Jennings reflects that the national dialogue around AV policy is a unique chance to rethink how we prioritize our transportation systems and the incentives within it.

I encourage you to read the full article.

Dennis Burns, CAPP, is regional vice president with Kimley-Horn.

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