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Demand & Supply Chain Management Evolution

28 Jun 2018
Autonomous Vehicles Will Further Clog City Centers Unless Lawmakers Step Up, Boston Study Finds

The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group

Autonomous Vehicles Will Reduce the Number of Cars and Overall Travel Times in Cities, But Potentially Worsen Traffic and Increase Travel Times an Downtown Areas, a World Economic Forum/BCG Study Shows

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will increase, not decrease, traffic in already overcrowded downtowns. That is one of the main findings of a joint study by the World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) with the City of Boston. A report based on the study, Reshaping Urban Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles: Lessons from the City of Boston, is being released today.

Though AVs will reduce the numbers of cars and overall travel times across cities as a whole, the effect is not evenly distributed, with concentrated downtown areas potentially seeing a deterioration in traffic flow. City and state governments can intervene to encourage sharing of AVs and avoid significant substitution for mass-transit systems, which remain essential for urban mobility throughput.

“Cities can’t follow a ‘wait and see’ approach towards autonomous vehicles,” said John Moavenzadeh, a member of the executive committee of the World Economic Forum and a coauthor of the report. “Cities need to actively explore policies and incentives, such as dynamic pricing, dedicated lanes, and redesign of the curb, to ensure that autonomous vehicles will achieve the full value for society that they promise. If such choices are not made, cities risk losing more than they will gain from autonomous vehicles.”  

A sophisticated traffic simulation model for the City of Boston showed that both the number of vehicles on the road and travel times would decidedly change. While neighborhoods outside the downtown core, such as Allston, would see a reduction in traffic and decreased travel time, travelers downtown will face increased traffic and travel time. The study also showed that a shift to autonomous mobility would reduce the number of parking spaces required in Boston by 48%, which unlocks tremendous opportunities to rethink streets and overall urban design.

The team conducted a large-scale conjoint analysis asking thousands of Boston-area residents what types of autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles they were likely to drive in certain situations (such as going to work when it is raining). The analysis predicts a clear shift toward mobility on demand (both autonomous vehicles like robo-shuttles and non-autonomous vehicles like today’s taxi and rideshare services), which will account for 30% of all trips in the greater Boston area (up from 7% today) and 40% of trips within the city limits in the future. The results of this consumer study were used as the input assumptions for the traffic simulation model.

“Autonomous mobility on demand provides a very convenient door-to-door service with a guaranteed seat and convenient mobile booking—all at very competitive prices,” said Nikolaus Lang, a senior partner at BCG and a coauthor of the report. “For trips shorter than four miles, it is likely that travelers would opt for low-capacity autonomous taxis or shuttles rather than taking high-capacity mass-transit options like buses or trains.” This in turn would increase the number of cars on the road and average travel time by 5.5% in Boston’s downtown neighborhood.

Policymakers must anticipate that the impact of AVs will vary not just city by city but neighborhood by neighborhood, the study concluded. Policies and incentives will be needed to foster the technology’s innovation while ensuring that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Potential levers to improve citywide travel time include:

  • Introduction of occupancy-based pricing schemes to discourage riding alone, which could improve travel time by 15%
  • Conversion of what was once on-street parking to dedicated pick-up or drop-off areas, surface mass transit, or driving lanes, which could lead to a decrease in travel time of 10%
  • Designation of dedicated lanes for shared AVs, which could decrease travel time by 8%

The report details the findings of the collaboration with BCG in partnership with the City of Boston and the project’s community of working group members, made up of about 35 executives from multiple industries and cities. Findings presented in the report include research on consumer sentiment, results from a pilot study facilitated by the City of Boston, and conclusions from a simulated impact study. Through its collaboration with the City of Boston, the project provides five best practices for setting up an AV pilot. All of these are relevant findings for cities across the globe.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.






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