The study found that SAVs could, in particular, have a large impact on the public transportation...

The study found that SAVs could, in particular, have a large impact on the public transportation industry.

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The University of Minnesota recently published new research in the Transportation Research Record that shows how, by planning carefully for automated vehicles, cities could make the most of this technology revolution to improve transportation and make it more equitable for all.

A study funded by the National Science Foundation, led by College of Science and Engineering professor Zhi-Li Zhang, examined one potential solution: shared automated vehicles (SAVs). The team examined not only how SAV networks could work but also their likely impacts on society, according to the University of Minnesota's news release.

The researchers used a hypothetical SAV system based on Minneapolis–St. Paul to explore several scenarios for SAV adoption in a medium-sized metropolitan area known for its urban planning and varied weather. They identified issues that policymakers, planners, and mobility-on-demand companies must address to create an integrated system of SAVs.

The study found: 

  • SAV systems are feasible — and possibly very beneficial — in communities like the Twin Cities.
  • SAV systems could strengthen — not weaken — existing transit systems by providing cost-effective service on low-ridership routes.
  • SAV systems have the opportunity to address serious transportation equity issues.

The study found that SAVs could, in particular, have a large impact on the public transportation industry. By combining SAVs with existing fleets, the study suggests agencies could right-size transit routes for the number of riders. Core transit systems would stay in place, and trains and buses would continue to serve densely populated areas, according to the research. SAVs could be deployed on low-ridership suburban routes. The cost savings from removing large low-ridership buses could be invested in high-ridership routes, attracting more demand, and increasing the quality of service. 

The study also found that automated vehicles have the potential to transform transportation services and improve mobility.

“Well-designed, communities employing pools of SAVs of varying sizes with efficient connections to high-quality public transit could bring about far-reaching societal change — providing inexpensive mobility services to all people, building stronger family and community ties, and boosting economic productivity and equity by removing mobility as a constraint,” said co-principal investigator Yingling Fan.

However, researchers emphasize that “could” is the operative word with their research findings. Making it happen equitably depends on many important decisions, including work from policymakers, planners, and other officials to prepare for the next technology revolution.

“How can local communities leverage emerging technology? Ridesharing companies have the data now to know how people move around. TNCs are using public roads, so there should be a benefit to the public from the data,” said principal investigator Zhi-Li Zhang. “Let’s put this money back into the community.”

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