Autonomous Vehicles won’t help congestion, they will make it worse.


Autonomous Vehicles won’t help congestion, they will make it worse.

Forbes Magazine was picked up in Astrid featured an article about how autonomous vehicles won’t really solve the congestion and traffic issues of modern cities, but in fact might make them worse. See the “Autonomous Mobility, its not just about the Cars” over at

What they are saying is that we need to solve the problems of congestion now, not rely on the techno marvels of thirty years from now. Here’s what AVs aren’t going to do:

  • They aren’t going to get more people to ride on buses and rapid transit. They won’t do any more than uber/lyft are doing now.
  • They won’t make traffic better. They will in fact increase traffic as uber/lyft have done in New York City.
  • They won’t get people out of the car, they will get more people into cars. Consider:

Shared, multi-modal services are what will be needed for autonomous vehicles to create the social good that we hope they will, which means the vehicles will need to be managed as fleets that work together. Think air traffic control for vehicles, which requires the ability to distribute vehicles intelligently, to match supply with demand, to synchronize with public transit and to pool passengers based on journey origins and destination.

So what’s the solution. Take baby steps.

For autonomous transit to deliver on the promise to reduce congestion, shared services will need to be developed. A University of Texas study modeled an Austin neighborhood and simulated weekday travel for a 10-mile by 10-mile zone. It found that if just 5% of residents shared rides, each shared vehicle would replace about 11 private autos and the 20,000 people who made up this shared network would need just 1,700 vehicles to get around. Just 1,700 vehicles for 20,000 people — that’s getting cars off the street!

Multiply that by the millions that drive each day, get 5% to share rides. And voila. You have solved the problem. Surely we have a way to convince 5% of single car drivers to rideshare? With all the convincing power of the media, can’t we change the habits of 5% of the people? Of course we can. But we need the will to do it.

It won’t be a huge public works project, or something that costs billions, or someone’s fly by night idea. It will simply be a way to convince 5% of the populace to make new friends and rideshare.

AVs won’t help. Why wait. We can solve the problem now.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

2 Responses

  1. “……convince 5% of single car drivers to rideshare?”

    Carpooling has been around for ever, there are even tax incentives and other financial programs available that make it almost a no-brainer for people to participate. The benefits for these programs extend to both employers and employees, but getting buy-in from either group is nearly impossible. There are also programs for van pools and transit programs that have been promoted and pushed for years with very little success. There’s even “an app for that”.

    Nobody seems to be against these programs, it just that the normal response is “that won’t work for me” or “I don’t think that’s a viable option for our employees”. I deal with this at least 1 or 2 times a month with prospective tenants and projects.

    Ride share is just a “new” way of saying carpool or van pool, except that with the autonomous concept you’re actually reducing the number of bodies that can share the same vehicle. In reality for every 3 autonomous ride-share trips (3 passengers per trip) you add 1 more vehicle to the road versus an old fashioned carpool (3 passengers plus the driver per trip).

    In some markets the concept works, but those are the exception not the rule.

  2. rta is right. Institutions, employers, and government have been pushing carpool and vanpool use for decades. Neither option has been successful in more than isolated cases. With few exceptions, transit ridership has been decreasing in large cities. The National Transit Database noted that in 2017, transit ridership fell in 9 of the 10 largest markets. One of the reasons is rideshare services, although there are certainly others. But people likely will not be more eager to have a “transit” experience just because it is in an automated vehicle. Individuals like privacy, flexibility, their own music, their own route, and the ability to complete several tasks in one drive. That just doesn’t happen in transit-like situations. It is not hard to imagine that automated vehicles may bring more vehicles to the roads, rather than less. This blog is dealing with “unintended consequences” as well!!

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