Home How Self-Driving Cars Could Radically Transform Cities

How Self-Driving Cars Could Radically Transform Cities

This post first appeared on the Ferenstein Wire, a syndicated news service; it has been edited. For inquires, please email author and publisher Gregory Ferenstein.

A fascinating new simulation finds that self-driving cars will essentially terraform cities by eliminating 90% of cars on the roads, opening up acres of land and slashing commute times. This per a team of transportation scientists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that analyzed data on actual car trips in Lisbon, Portugal, to see how a fleet of self-driving, shared “taxibots” would change the metropolitan landscape (PDF link).

The “taxibots” envisioned by the researchers are a marriage of mass carpooling and UPS delivery intelligence. They constantly roam throughout cities and match carpool routes with mathematical elegance. Ultimately, the team estimates, nine out of 10 cars would be completely unnecessary — as would public transit.

Simulation of a self-driving carpool fleet by fullness of car in Lisbon, Portugal

“Nearly the same mobility can be delivered with 10% of the cars,” the report notes. It continues:

TaxiBots combined with high-capacity public transport could remove 9 out of every 10 cars in a mid-sized European city…. For small and medium-sized cities, it is conceivable that a shared fleet of self-driving vehicles could completely obviate the need for traditional public transport.

Goodbye, Parking Spaces

Such a dramatic reduction in individually owned of cars would also eliminate much of the need for existing street parking, the authors found. In Lisbon alone, that would free up an extra 210 soccer fields of available space—20% of the city’s curb-to-curb street area—that could be dedicated to “non-motorised transport modes, delivery bays, parklets or other recreational and commercial uses,” the report suggests.

There should also be other significant savings not mentioned in the report. Because parking spaces increase the cost of construction, expensive development gets passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices on retail goods and rent. One study found that parking spaces bump the price of retail goods one percent. The Sightline Institute, an environmental research outfit, estimated that Seattle rules requiring apartment buildings to provide parking push up monthly rents by 15%, or roughly $246.

Uber is funneling some of its sizable cash hoard toward making this self-driving fantasy city into a reality. The company recently invested in a new facility to accelerate technology that could completely automate their entire fleet.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Gregory Ferenstein
Staff Writer

Former Staff Writer for ReadWrite. I started my career as a freelance writer in 2009 covering business innovation, did peer-reviewed research on Silicon Valley,(2016), architected bills in Congress (2017), and ran economic field experiments (2019).

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