Are we ready for autonomous vehicles and driverless transport?
Yes and no. The public are ready, but our cities aren’t.
The trend towards vehicle
automation gathers momentum
every day. It is replete with
opportunity, what they might offer
and what they might achieve. But our cities, governments and transport agencies are playing
catch up when it comes to the
infrastructure to support these
vehicles and their understanding and
ability to manage them.
Automated vehicles are already here.
Driverless rail has been operating in
some industries such as mining for
some time now, and Australia’s first
driverless passenger train is now a
reality. The cars that we drive today
have varying degrees of automation,
which we can benchmark against the
Society of Automotive Engineers
(SAE) levels of automation.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) levels of automation
46% of overall respondents and 72% of industry can see the clear advantages of driverless, dedicated rail routes, believing funding channelled in this direction will have the greatest impact on freight routes between capital cities.
Australia is well regarded in terms
of its current engagement and
testing in the AV world. New cars
today come with emergency brakes,
collision avoidance, parking control,
radar enabled cruise control.
levels of automation have been
gradually increasing and will
continue to increase in capability in
coming years, until they (possibly)
reach SAE’s Level 5 — full automation
(as per graphic above).
Perhaps this is why 46% of all
respondents envisage going to work
by AV in 2035; compared to 32%
who indicated they will ‘catch a few
modes, usually bus and train’; 18%
will ‘ride a bike or walk’; and 4% will
book a ride share.
When we gaze into this future,
is this the future we want? Will
automated vehicles and driverless
trains live up to their promise of
being faster, safer, cleaner, more
reliable? Or will they simply produce
a raft of new travel patterns which
create more congestion, pollution
Implications for jobs and safety
Improving safety is one of the great
opportunities, but the full extent
of whether removing human error
could see improved safety outcomes
is still to be proven. The major
challenge will be how a mix of fully
automated vehicles and human
driven vehicles share our road network.
While AVs might save lives, there is a
concern they could destroy jobs and
it’s predicted more than 400,000 driving jobs could be impacted by self-driving technology. These
include train drivers, workers in the
freight sector as well as taxi drivers
and of course we would no longer
need as many driving instructors.
The flip side is that new jobs will be created,
new work opportunities we have previously never
thought of, particularly in the engineering, data analytics and robotics sectors.
For example, human trainers will
be required to teach and modify
the machines plus new roles will be
responsible for supporting machines
in collecting and analysing reams
of data that we’ve never before
had access to.
Just as the tractor
was introduced in farming, creating
jobs in factories and manufacturing
for the design and importing of
tractors and spare parts, whilst also
increasing productivity on farms,
ultimately creating many more
jobs than people could ever have
But making decisions on
future freight solutions must be
inclusive, and operators need to be
part of the conversation. A people
centric perspective is vital – not
only the users, but the transport
Consequences for industry and the impacts on society
Autonomous vehicles will have
widespread impacts on society.
If their integration is not planned
properly with a balance across
the four pillars of future mobility
– connected, automated, shared,
electric – the future could be worse
than today, with larger populations
and higher volumes of cars swamping
streets, creating more gridlock.
Congestion costs our nation
billions of dollars every year,
but if AVs are an integrated part
of an interconnected multi-modal
transport system (Mobility as a Service), we could see reductions
in car ownership and increases in
vehicle sharing. Add in the ability for
passengers to work while travelling,
and the potential economic and
productivity gains could be sizable.
Wellbeing and happiness could also
improve through sharing vehicles and
simply interacting with each other
If technology trends are harnessed
for the greater good, AVs and
driverless transport could see
positive outcomes for society’s
vulnerable – those with physical
impairments, young children, the
elderly – providing more cost-effective
options, and improving
social mobility, equity of access. We have an unprecedented opportunity to improve quality of life.
For industry, it will be a big shift. AVs being shared and electric will see huge changes in mechanics, car dealerships, the petrol industry, and also in the value chain. The ripple effect across other industries will be widespread as adjustments are made to new behaviours: electric cars will bring increasing demand for electricity, connected cars will transform tech companies and insurers.
These impacts will create disruption and opportunity. Let’s learn from history – with the introduction of tractors came concern, but the industry adapted and through automation set a new benchmark, forming a paradigm for further innovation and birthing new industries.
Is policy and regulation holding this back?
With greater automation in our freight and transport networks, comes a greater need to influence at the government level. Every government is grappling with creating policy and how to regulate and respond to changes. Many of today’s policies were created more than 100 years ago when cars first hit our roads, and there’s been little evolution since.
We need to hack into policy at a strategic and ground level. It needs to be more agile to meet changing needs of our growing population.
It needs to be more flexible for city planners and operators to adapt infrastructure to meet people’s
We also need to be cognisant of the significant funding constraints that every level of government faces, that pose substantial challenges
with regard to how well-equipped these organisations are in creating solutions to these very complex problems.
Governments need to enable and clear the path of any barriers to progress, which is challenging when you can’t predict new business models – such as e-scooters, which blindsided many cities. Policy and regulation must have the ability to respond and embrace technology and innovation as it comes and be nimble for an uncertain future.
With new technologies and evolving models disrupting all facets of the transport network, governments need support in helping determine where to focus their priorities. Are the right questions being asked by decision makers, internally and externally with suppliers, to ascertain the right priorities?
The insurance minefield
The insurance industry is set to face massive disruption. Why buy insurance if automation makes accidents far less likely? Without people driving vehicles, will there be a need for personal motor insurance policies or other transport related insurance? How will the industry respond?
The insurance sector knows a shock is coming, and many companies are now heavily involved in AV testing, as they seek to understand the risk and determine how best to diversify their products. There are so many unknowns to the future of freight and transport that it’s hard to predict exact outcomes, but if insurers want to keep their skin in the game, learning about these new technologies, which are tipped to alter the current vehicle ownership model, is crucial.
Is there a risk that we can’t meet demand?
How do we catch up with and manage the public’s expectation?
The Australian public know what they want. In 2035, 46% of all respondents want to jump in an autonomous car to get to work. But the dream for industry respondents differed vastly – with 68% going to work via multiple modes of transport (bus/train), riding or walking.
While the public see AVs as a reality, industry is much more aware of the constraints of the transport system and the ability for it to absorb any more traffic congestion. How do we bridge this gap between the public’s expectation and what industry perceives to be the future reality?
Without appropriate ‘market shaping’ and behaviour changes needed to effectively manage the advent of AVs, these modes could exacerbate the problems we currently face in our network (congestion, safety, less walking space etc).
Engagement with the public is fundamental, for their informed understanding of what all this means now and into the future, and also for industry to understand what people really want.
To meet future demand, regulatory barriers need to be overcome, procurement models for public transport services need to change, and we need to think differently about how these vehicles are procured. Currently most buses are diesel, and it’s only a few years before electric is the norm – how quickly can governments transfer their fleet to fully electric when they are inhibited by the way they purchase the vehicle?
Some government authorities such as Transport for NSW – one of Australia’s biggest energy users – are already preparing for this. Aurecon has developed an Energy Futures Strategy to help the Government achieve their aspirational net zero carbon
target by 2050, including not just electricity but all energy (diesel, petrol and gas) for all transport modes. It’s this kind of leadership that is required across public and private industry to truly make a difference.
We can meet the anticipated demand for AVs if cities enable them to integrate seamlessly with other transport modes and existing infrastructure. Instead of seeing them as competition, AVs need to be seen – and understood – as being part of an ecosystem that better connects people to other modes of transport.
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