A Systemic View on Autonomous Vehicles: Policy Aspects for a Sustainable Transportation Planning

A Systemic View on Autonomous Vehicles: Policy Aspects for a Sustainable Transportation Planning

Over the past few years, many studies have provided detailed descriptions of the potential benefits associated with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, such as improvements in traffic flows, local and global emissions, traffic safety, cost efficiency of public and private transport operations, etc. Additionally, the mobilization of mobility-impaired people and the independent car use of travelers without a driver’s license have been identified as potential benefits for users. However, merely estimating the benefits of these direct (or first-order) effects is unlikely to show the full picture of the consequences that will emerge once autonomous vehicles enter the roads. In this paper, we therefore put emphasis on discussing systemic (or second-order) effects. The paper presents a conceptual exploration of these effects based on literature and research findings to date. We show that these systemic effects have the potential – especially in urban areas and without adequate policy intervention – to eliminate at least some of the benefits initially associated with autonomous vehicles. Following this systemic view on autonomous vehicles, we discuss policy aspects for responsible authorities and planners on how to prepare transportation systems for the challenges related to the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and conclude with areas of research that seem highly important in terms of further investigation in this context.

Key findings

Over the past few years, many studies have provided detailed descriptions of the potential benefits associated with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, such as improvements in traffic flows, local and global emissions, traffic safety, cost efficiency of public and private transport operations, etc. Additionally, the mobilization of mobility-impaired people and the independent car use of travelers without a driver’s license have been identified as potential benefits for users. However, merely estimating the benefits of these direct (or first-order) effects is unlikely to show the full picture of the consequences that will emerge once autonomous vehicles enter the roads. In this paper, we therefore put emphasis on discussing systemic (or second-order) effects. The paper presents a conceptual exploration of these effects based on literature and research findings to date. We show that these systemic effects have the potential – especially in urban areas and without adequate policy intervention – to eliminate at least some of the benefits initially associated with autonomous vehicles. Following this systemic view on autonomous vehicles, we discuss policy aspects for responsible authorities and planners on how to prepare transportation systems for the challenges related to the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and conclude with areas of research that seem highly important in terms of further investigation in this context.

It is expected that autonomous vehicles will lead to a reduction in the generalized costs (understood as the monetarized sum of all costs experienced by the users, such as fare, travel time, waiting time, etc.)

Many studies associate autonomous vehicles with improvements in traffic flow and increases in road capacity, which are likely to affect both private and public transport.

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