Cities are beginning to consider the potential impacts that autonomous vehicles will have on their transportation systems and whether those impacts can be shaped to support city goals. A recent article from The Economist explored how pricing can be used to shape the outcomes of autonomous vehicles.
The article offers ways that AVs can mitigate certain negative impacts created by cars over the past century. The negative effects that vehicles and vehicle infrastructure have inflicted upon cites, like congestion, sprawl, and ecological damage, could all be reversed through the reallocation of space that is currently dedicated to cars. Alternatively, these problems could get worse if the use of AVs is not effectively managed.
As the article states, “It all depends on the rules for their use, and in particular the pricing.”
It is suggested that road pricing will become more feasible due to an AV’s ability to recognize where the vehicle is at all times, allowing for better congestion management. Ride pricing can also be used to reduce congestion, making peak trip times more expensive.
In suburban job centers, public transit systems that have prioritized commuter movement into the central city often no longer match commuting trends of the region. While AVs provide a cost-effective opportunity for ride sharing companies or transit systems to move people more efficiently between suburbs, they could also encourage sprawl by allowing people to live even further from their place of work. Again, pricing mechanisms can be used to discourage this behavior.
Lastly, the current auto-oriented transportation system dedicates large amounts of valuable land to parked cars. If AVs reduce the need for parking, this land can be repurposed for higher value uses, and in some cases can even transform the land to provide valuable ecological functions. The Economist argues that the current overuse of space for parking is due to an improper pricing scheme. Essentially, the negative externalities of cars have not been appropriately included in their cost of use. The authors close on the hopeful note that this time around, cities may have learned from their mistakes and will price AVs appropriately to achieve their desired outcomes.
Steph Nappa is a Master’s Candidate in Community and Regional Planning and an Urbanism Next Fellow at the University of Oregon. She is examining how to re-design city streets to prioritize bicycles, pedestrians and transit in an era of autonomous vehicles.