What will the impact of automated vehicle technology be on public transportation?

Posted on December 18, 2013 by Joel Volinski - Also by this author

Google driverless car operating on a testing path. Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons
Google driverless car operating on a testing path. Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons
Although the implementation of automated vehicles on a large scale is probably 20 years or more in the future, it is a subject that will get increased attention in the next few years. Denis Eirikis, director of the Automated Vehicle Institute at the Center for Urban Transportation Research, says we will see more significant change in the field of mobility in the next 20 years than we have in the past 75 years due to enabling technologies.

The automated Google car has already logged hundreds of thousands of accident-free miles and three states (California, Nevada, and Florida) have passed laws allowing their use on public roads. Michigan will soon follow and establish a pilot program in Ann Arbor. Many new cars are already outfitted with cameras and sensors that allow for automated parallel parking and braking. It won’t be long before broader commercialization of these features will accelerate the interest in making vehicle operations more automated.

In the U.S., there are more than 33,000 deaths a year on highways. This is the equivalent of having a fully occupied 737 jet crash and kill all passengers every weekday. If that was actually happening in aviation, we can be sure there would be a full force effort to correct the problem. While considerable progress has been made in reducing highway deaths since the 1960s, we still have a long way to go. Most surface vehicle crashes and fatalities are due to driver error. Automated vehicles provide hope that this great loss of life and even more injuries can be greatly minimized.

So what does this have to do with public transportation? No one has a crystal ball on this subject, but it is worth considering the possible changes occur that could impact the use and provision of public transit. The full use of automated cars and trucks can make travel safer, and thereby, more attractive for some people who get very stressed when driving personal vehicles. Insurance for operating private vehicles would probably be reduced. Travel times may be lessened due to sensors that will allow cars to travel at greater speeds and closer proximity to other vehicles, increasing the capacity of highways (and/or reducing congestion). Private cars could become more like mobile offices in which people can text, talk by cell phone, send emails, or sleep without worrying about the dangers of distracted driving. It would seem that all of these potential developments would work against increasing ridership on public transit. Many transit passengers today use transit because they can engage in electronic communications without worry of causing an accident. Much of this advantage public transit now enjoys in attracting choice riders would be gone with automated cars.

It is possible parents will no longer need to be chauffeurs of their children, and kids might have options other than taking transit or bicycling if their family cars could be programmed to deliver them to their destinations and back after school.

On the plus side for transit, with private vehicles equipped with crash avoidance and automated braking technology, there should be fewer cars causing rear-end accidents with buses picking up or dropping off passengers at bus stops. There might also be less demand for paratransit services if those who need such services could have a car that can be programmed to transport them safely to wherever they want to go. For those uncomfortable with programming their car themselves, there might be other people who could be licensed to program other peoples’ cars and act as remote “drivers.”

RELATED: (video) "Intro to the Ultra Driverless Pod Car."

Perhaps the biggest, and no doubt the most controversial, question would be how would it affect the position of bus driver? If they didn’t have to drive the vehicle, would their role become more of a customer service person, providing passenger assistance, information and security? Is it possible the position of bus driver will not be necessary?

There are other public transit vehicles, such as people movers and even non-fixed guideway buses at places like Dulles Airport, that transport people without operators present. Needless to say, there are vast differences between operating a vehicle on a fixed guideway or an airport tarmac versus operating in mixed traffic where it isn’t known in advance at which stops passengers will be waiting. There are also passengers with disabilities that might need help and people who simply wouldn’t enter a vehicle without someone visibly in charge. Fare collection could also be an issue that requires someone in charge on the bus at most stops. A bus without an operator could not serve as the eyes and ears that can report unusual activities, nor could it serve as a “Safe Place” for kids in need of help. However, one might ask how much more transit service could be provided in a community if there were no direct expenses associated with bus operators — 20%, 30% or more?  

That day of operating a bus in mixed traffic without a driver on board might never come, but it might. If it was possible, what would you do?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Concrete solutions to transit projects' carbon pollution."

 

 

View comments or post a comment on this story. (0 Comments)

More Transit Dispatches Blog Posts

November 9, 2016

How an Innovative Plan Helped a Veteran Find Work Building Railcars

It is the early 2000s, and as the sun rises over Southern California, most people are still fast asleep. Kristian Mendoza, however, is up and getting ready for work. He doesn’t have to be in until eight, but his commute can sometimes take up to an hour-and-a-half each way. This job pays so little that he can barely afford the gas to commute to it, let alone provide the time and care he would like for his two young children.

November 4, 2016

Ridesharing: A Revolution in Transportation for Healthcare

One pioneer in the healthcare transportation segment, One Call Care Management (“One Call”), is harnessing the power of ride-sharing technology in order to eliminate the issues that have historically plagued this area of the market, while also providing a better overall experience for the patient and the payer.

November 2, 2016

'Partnering' with employees, customers key to advancing transit's safety culture

A goal of SEPTA’s safety initiatives is to have customers and employees take the messages presented by the authority’s safety personnel back to their homes, their workplaces and communities to help the agency's safety culture evolve and grow.

October 25, 2016

How the media, transit agencies, and planners should be talking about BRT

...as a transportation planner who has worked on bus rapid transit-style systems in the greater Washington region, I’ve noticed a disconnect in the public’s expectations versus the reality of the systems they’re getting. It got me wondering: do people have an accurate picture of what BRT means or the benefits the systems provide? During public-planning sessions, I’ve heard a lot of feedback on BRT. The gist is, “That’s really nice that the bus is a different color and the station platform is fancy, but I just want it to be on time.”

September 26, 2016

'See Something, Say Something' is Key Anti-Terrorism Tool for Transit

After acts of terrorism — domestic or international — law enforcement agencies are almost always asked: “How are you ‘ramping up’ your security efforts?”

See More

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (0)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation

Please sign in or register to .    Close