Self-driving vehicles could exacerbate congestion and result in fewer people walking and cycling, according to a new report from the Department for Transport (DfT).
Published earlier this month, ‘Future of mobility: urban strategy’ outlines the government’s approach to transport innovation in cities and towns and sets out the principles that will guide its response to emerging transport technology.
Transport Xtra reports that analysis suggests motor traffic could grow by 55 per cent between 2015 and 2050 if ride sharing fails to take off and vehicle occupancy levels drop from an average of 1.5 to 1.3.
The report states: “This growth in road traffic could increase to 71% if self-driving vehicles also widen access to mobility and allow passengers to use their time in the vehicle more productively.”
It continues: “If ride-sharing becomes embedded and average vehicle occupancy increases from 1.5 to 1.7, growth in road traffic during the same period could be 5%.”
The report goes on to highlight some of the unintended consequences that extensive use of driverless vehicles could bring for both public transport and active travel.
It says that early evidence from the United States suggests that ride-hailing services cause people to use public transport less frequently.
“If public transport passenger numbers are affected by emerging services, this could reduce the ability of public authorities to subsidise marginal services in areas of lower density of demand. This could exacerbate inequalities in access to transport, as lower income groups tend to be most reliant on public transport.”
As a by-product of this, it says, “Loneliness could increase if a worsening in public transport provision or digital and financial exclusion make it harder for some people to access transport.”
Similarly, it suggests that more convenient door-to-door transport options that compete with walking and cycling over short distances could reduce the rates of active travel, “worsening obesity levels and the associated burden on the NHS.”
Acknowledging this, the third of nine principles guiding the Government’s approach to innovation in urban mobility is: “Walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys.”
The report states: “The greater the share of journeys taken by walking and cycling in urban areas, the better the air quality and health outcomes and the lower congestion. This will always be true irrespective of technological developments in automation, electrification and new ways of travelling.
“In England 45% of all journeys taken by urban residents are under two miles. For many people, these trips could be easily undertaken by sustainable, active modes of transport, such as walking and cycling, which support local economies and have huge benefits for health.
“New technology and platforms should help make choosing cycling and walking easier, supporting the ambitions and objectives of our Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. This could be done through, for example, showing routes and timings and always offering these options for short trips, or fully integrating walking and cycling into the options for longer multi-stage journeys.”