The positive impact of adding autonomous shuttles to the mobility mix
Autonomous vehicle technology is set to transform the mobility industry and rapidly change how people move in urban spaces. The past years have seen a growing need for solutions with a positive environmental impact and a growing awareness of accessibility, which drive new business models and aim for mobility solutions that ignite the mobility transformation. Many new business models have started to answer these growing demands, yet so far have lacked the right legal framework that enables them to be viable in the long-term.
While in recent years, many projects with autonomous shuttles in different environments around the globe have been deployed in pilot testing mode, 2021 marks two milestones in German legislation, which are expected to provide the blueprint for other markets to follow.
The first milestone is an update to the Passenger Transport Act, the Personenbeförderungsgesetz¹, which smoothed the way for ridepooling services by allowing the offers to leave the piloting stages and become established as long-term solutions for on-demand mobility – closing gaps within public transport networks, as well as creating sustainable services that are accessible to everyone.
The second milestone is the new Level 4 autonomous driving law², which builds the foundation for autonomous vehicles to be used on German roads, and thus for including autonomous vehicles in ridepooling and on-demand transport solutions.
With these two laws, the government has created future-proof legislation, which will be a blueprint for other markets to follow. Moreover, the French government, being the first to follow Germany’s milestone-legislation, is set to adjust the highway code to prepare for the arrival of self-driving vehicles.
With these two changes in legislation, the German government has paved the way for autonomous on-demand mobility and ridepooling. Municipalities and public transport providers are now able to combine autonomous vehicles and on-demand transport to reach higher efficiencies and to scale more cost-effective transport solutions. With autonomous ridepooling services, autonomous vehicles will be steered by software solutions like door2door’s, able to pick up passengers and drop them at their requested destinations. Autonomous on-demand solutions will now become an integrative part of the mobility offer in cities and rural areas and are set to start their success story in Germany.
The widespread adoption of autonomous on-demand ridepooling can have many positive impacts. It will take many years until autonomous vehicles are widespread in cities and rural areas, but the reduction of the environmental impact and labour costs, as well as the increase in safety, comfort and accessibility for passengers are predicted and visible in active deployments.
Electrification and pooling are essential factors in reducing CO2 emissions. Most autonomous shuttles are electric and can reduce the carbon footprint compared to other existing transport solutions. An electric, pooled trip can cut emissions by 68% when compared with a private car trip³.
The introduction of autonomous on-demand vehicles frees up parking space and eliminates the traffic generated by the search for parking. In Germany alone, traffic caused by searching for parking accounts for 30-40% of the total inner-city traffic⁴. Moreover, free parking spaces can be restructured to be used as shared spaces, where people and leisure activities are prioritized.
Furthermore, with Local Motors, door2door has joined forces with a partner who focuses its production on minimal resource usage. Vehicles like “Olli” are built with 3-D printing in microfactories that can be easily set up in different cities around the globe according to demand, thereby reducing the production and transportation costs of the vehicles. This production approach makes Olli more resource-efficient than most other autonomous shuttles applicable to on-demand transport.
Vehicles with autonomous technology will increase cost-efficiency. As autonomous vehicles will run without a driver in the next few years, this could save billions of euros. Studies find that due to the savings generated by high utilization and the lack of a driver, the cost of an autonomous shuttle trip will be 50% less than a current public transport ticket, and 25% cheaper than a private car trip⁵. Without the driver cost, trips will become much cheaper and accessible to many, especially those with lower incomes.
According to the 2013 amendment of the Passenger Transport Act, the state requires all public transport operators to include all sensory impairments and hence achieve barrier-free access to public transport by 1 January 2022. Autonomous “people movers” (shuttle-type vehicles made for passenger transport) come equipped with ramps and belts to secure wheelchairs for people with physical disabilities, and therefore are an ideal solution for operators who are looking to improve their services’ accessibility and achieve barrier-free mobility.
Digital solutions like those from door2door can increase accessibility by offering different ways of engaging with the service that reflect the different needs of users. The ability to book the service by telephone provides an option for those not familiar with or who do not own smartphones. Voice-over and increased colour contrast within the app ease accessibility for people with visual impairments. Being able to book seats for children and extra space in the vehicle support caregivers in their daily mobility needs. Even the location of the virtual stops, waiting times and operating hours of the service are important configurations in the on-demand system that increase accessibility.
Furthermore, by eliminating the driver, autonomous vehicles can drastically reduce the number of accidents. 90% of road accidents are caused by human error, resulting in around 1.2 million deaths each year. Autonomous vehicle technology therefore supports the EU’s long-term “Vision Zero” goal of moving towards zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2050⁶.
Overall, adding autonomous vehicles as a transport mode in urban areas offers many potential benefits. Since the German government has signed the Level 4 law and updated the Passenger Transport Act, these benefits overturn any potential risks of autonomous driving by forming a clear framework for applications to run.
- Deutscher Städte- und Gemeindebund
- Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur
- Ride-Hailing’s Climate Risks, UCS, 2020
- Dauerthema Parken: Kommunen müssen mehr Verantwortung übernehmen!, ADAC, 2020
- Urbane Mobilität und autonomes Fahren im Jahr 2035, Deloitte, 2019
- Europe on the move, European Commission.