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Automation and Smart Cities: opportunity or a threat?

 Sjoerd van der Zwaan & Robbert Lohmann, 2getthere

“There is a clear need here for policy from government and local authorities.”

Driverless Car a threat

Is the driverless car a threat? Unless wise policy choices are made, autonomous cars could well make our cities even busier and more unsafe than they already are. This is the conclusion of the Utrecht-based technology company 2getthere, which specializes in automated transit solutions, in the white paper ‘Automation and Smart Cities: Opportunity or threat?’. According to 2getthere, urban policymakers are gazing at autonomous cars through rose-tinted glasses, and are not properly considering the potential negative scenarios.

In the white paper, the company observes that autonomous cars feature in just about every study on cities of the future – smart cities. In this context, they are regarded as the key to fewer cars on the road and reduced traffic movements in cities, while alleviating parking pressure and improving air quality. It is also believed that automation will significantly enhance traffic safety.

According to the authors Robbert Lohmann and Sjoerd van der Zwaan, however, who respectively hold the positions of Chief Operations Officer and Chief Technology Officer at 2getthere, these lofty expectations are unrealistic – at least, without supplementary policy decisions.

Solving the congestion

Lohmann: “This is because replacing traditional cars on a one-to-one basis with autonomous cars will not solve the problem of congestion: a combination is needed with shared use, or preferably, public transport. Autonomous cars will indeed improve air quality, but this will have to be in conjunction with sustainable electrification for a cleaner and more sustainable environment on a global scale. Autonomous cars must be able to stop anywhere to pick up passengers and they also need a place to park when not in use or while their batteries are charging. This means that car parks and parking spaces will continue to be necessary. It is also important to note that autonomous cars will be safer than regular cars, but they are not safer than public transport. In addition, the transition from manually driven cars to autonomous cars, where both share the road, also entails risks for other road users.”

Four daily rush hours instead of two

In the white paper, 2getthere describes various scenarios in which autonomous cars are likely to cause more rather than fewer problems in cities. Van der Zwaan: “For instance, because people who currently opt for public transport may switch to autonomous road transport. Or because there will be four rather than two daily rush hour periods, as autonomous cars will be parking themselves outside the city limits during the day.”

The authors therefore believe that urban policymakers must concentrate primarily on autonomous public transport type solutions, and where necessary, provide reserved bus lanes to guarantee traffic flow. Lohmann: “It is true that a mix of the ingredients of self-driving, pick-up and delivery, shared car use, and sustainable electricity is conducive to more liveable and pedestrian-friendly cities, but we believe that this cannot simply be left to the market. In that case, there is the danger that there will be many autonomous vehicles on the roads in the future that are used inefficiently, consume a lot of energy, and only add to the chaos. There is a clear need here for policy from government and local authorities.”

Read our free white paper now:
‘Automation and Smart Cities: Opportunity or threat?’

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