Susan Shaheen is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Innovations in the sharing economy, digitalization, automated vehicles and electrification are coming together as key components of future mobility systems. This development is influenced by socio-demographic trends, mobility trends and disruptive forces, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
The pace of some transportation innovations has slowed over the past two years due to the global pandemic, including the public’s willingness to share vehicles during long periods of lockdown. These effects have added to uncertainty about the sustainability of consumer demand for mobility services as well as the resilience of specific business models and technological development. However, this has not changed the big picture: innovations and converging technologies are likely to play a transformative role in urban mobility, leading us towards a future that includes automated vehicles and shared automated vehicles (SAVs) .
Fleet-based AVs and SAVs will not become commonplace overnight. A long transition period is more likely as cities and vehicles reach increasing levels of AV vehicle penetration. To harness and maximize the social and environmental benefits of these innovations, governments must recognize and prepare for this transition.
To better understand what the transition might look like, it is helpful to know that SAE International has defined five levels of automation for vehicles:
- Level 0: Human drivers perform all driving tasks.
- Level 1: Vehicles automate one primary control function at a time (such as steering, braking, or acceleration) that operates under the supervision of a human driver. Examples include automatic parking or adaptive cruise control.
- Level 2: Vehicles automate two or more primary control functions at the same time, but drivers must monitor driving and be prepared to immediately regain control at any time. Examples include lane centering while using adaptive cruise control.
- Level 3: When automated driving features are enabled, people seated in the driver’s seat can perform tasks other than driving, but must be ready to intervene within a limited time when prompted to do so.
- Level 4: A human operator does not need to control the vehicle as long as it operates under the specific conditions under which it was intended to operate.
- Level 5: Vehicles are able to drive in all environments without human control.
In our new book, which I co-wrote and edited with Ata M. Khan, “Shared mobility and automated vehicleswe present a four-phase framework for AV transition for private AVs and SAVs based on the operational design domain (ODD) – the driving conditions under which AVs operate. This framework can help policy makers determine which public policy frameworks they should build around AVs and VAS in each phase, regardless of the timeline.
First phase That’s where we are with private vehicles. Vehicle models on the road today have level 2 automation, like adaptive highway cruise control and lane keeping.
The second phase outlines possible ODD conditions as AV technology begins to work in more environments and automated Tier 2 and Tier 3 functionality becomes more common in new private vehicle models. During this phase, which we call specific ODD automation, service initiatives and use cases increase to higher levels of automation (e.g. Level 4), with some projects bringing service to the streets of the city. There are a growing number of Tier 4 SAVs pilot projects in the United States, indeed, there were 17 as of December 2019. Many of these pilot projects use low-speed AVs or conventional AVs to serve certain groups of passengers. Policy in this phase should support societal goals for AV and VAS operation, including public safety.
Phase three (city-wide SDG Level 4 and 5 automation) is when Level 4 and 5 automation becomes even more prevalent in private vehicles and fleet vehicles. On-board operators can be safely removed from vehicles and replaced with remote operators who can take control in an emergency.
It is important to note that in October 2020, Waymo began offering a fee-based after-sales service in Phoenix with fully driverless vehicles, with no one in the driver’s seat (level 5). In March 2022, Cruise and Waymo received “semi-full” AV authorizations to provide commercial after-sales service in San Francisco. This phase represents a critical point at which AVs and VAS could see faster growth and adoption in major US metropolitan areas, especially as they become competitive with existing mobility services.
Passenger demand for these services could also increase rapidly, similar to what has happened with carpooling over the past decade. A key question is how customers will react to shared after-sales services without an onboard operator. This request is unclear, given public concerns about safety and security, potential increased travel times and public health. Pricing, subsidies and access strategies will be part of the public policies needed to advance the social and environmental benefits of these technologies in this phase and to prepare for wider deployment.
Phase four (Level 4+ proliferation) is the widespread use of Level 4+ automation without on-board supervision. As AV technology declines in cost, private AV ownership may grow in areas less suited to shared fleets due to lower densities of demand, such as some suburban and rural areas. At the same time, after-sales services could expand more broadly and become cost-competitive with personal vehicle ownership and public transport. Public policy in this phase should further guide the transition to full automation across a broad range of SDGs (rural, suburban, urban) to maximize the public benefits of greater automation and integration with the ecosystem existing transport system, including public transport and active transport.
The future of mobility systems will require coordination and strategic actions from many stakeholders, including governments, policy makers and planners, private sector companies, consumers, insurers, developers and technology experts. public health. Governments will need access to data to effectively integrate VAS and AV into the future transportation system alongside active modes of transportation. In addition to considering the many phases of this transition, governments should consider deployment scenarios ranging from private AV dominance to full sharing models. The timing and distribution of AVs and SAVs across the phases and nation will likely differ with denser areas leading up to the deployment of SAVs.
While the overall impacts of converging mobility innovations are far from certain, the technology has the potential to improve the traveler experience and the efficiency of public transport, allowing existing services to become more dynamic, responsive on demand and automated. Technology alone will not drive public acceptance of car sharing, automation, digitalization and electrification. Policies and planning are needed to encourage and guide this adoption to maximize societal benefits through these phases of deployment over time while complementing public transit and active transportation modes.
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