Without a concurrent shift away from private vehicle ownership and toward ride sharing, the potential for electric, autonomous vehicles to reduce traffic and sprawl are severely limited, and CO2 reductions will be significantly less than with sharing, according to the report, “Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation” completed by the University of California at Davis’ Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS) and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) (see post, May 4, 2017). The report was just one of the subjects of a wide ranging discussion with lead author Lewis (“Lew”) Fulton, a co-director at the STEPS program of UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies.
The central finding of the study is that while vehicle electrification and automation may produce potentially important benefits, without a corresponding shift toward shared mobility and greater use of transit and active transport, these two revolutions could significantly increase congestion and urban sprawl, while also increasing the likelihood of missing climate change targets. In contrast, by encouraging a large increase in trip sharing, transit use, and active transport through policies that support compact, mixed use development, cities worldwide could save an estimated $5 trillion annually by 2050 while improving livability and increasing the likelihood of meeting climate change targets.
We talked about this finding in depth as well as about the future of fuels and vehicles including hydrogen, natural gas and biofuels as well as Lew’s work with the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI). Following are a couple of highlights from our discussion. You can listen or download the podcast below or listen to it in ITunes.
“There is some reason to believe that we may find the Uber-type services, what we call mobility as a service, more and more compelling as time goes on, partly because if we automate them, if we go to driverless commercial services, they will become pretty cheap. If they’re electric, they’ll become even cheaper, so there’s plenty of projections, including some that I’m working on, that indicate that we may eventually be able to call for our ride to come get us and take us across town, go the 10 miles to get where we’re going, and it might only be a couple of dollars, compared to maybe $10 to $15 right now. That will be a different world, where now we have door-to-door commercial service very cheap, and that may get us out of our own car.
Maybe, maybe not. It’ll depend a lot on some of the details, and it’ll depend on the person, probably. Will we have any incentive to share those rides? It is true that we found that if you can have trips with two to three people sharing a ride, it’s far fewer cars out there than if every body’s in their own separate ride. That turned out to be the critical piece in the United States, anyway, to cut traffic, and to cut the number of cars out there. Obviously, there’s not that much difference between us all driving around in our own car alone, as a single occupant, and taking a service as a single occupant. We may even find that, when we don’t have to drive the car, we don’t mind being in the car as much, and we’re willing to take even longer trips, because we’re doing other things.
That is where, in the scenarios we’ve created, we hypothesize that we may end up living farther away, we may get more sprawl, and all of that just contributes to even more traffic, then the idea that automated vehicles will be somehow more space efficient. They cooperate on the roads better than it happens today. We will have fewer accidents. There are some reasons to believe traffic could improve, but this could easily be overwhelmed by additional driving. It’s just hard to know how it’ll play out. But, in any case, yes, we found that you need to do something other than single-occupancy travel. You’re going to have to deal with congestion if you want livable cities, if you want cities that are pedestrian oriented and people oriented and not all about cars. It is not easy to get there, and I think we’re just at an early phase, collectively, of the people who think about this, in terms of how can you bring that world about, how can you encourage sharing and use of mass transit, those sorts of things, beyond what we have today.”
“So far, I’ve been focused on cities, but yeah, if you pull back and think nationally, then it becomes a broader set of questions around sustainability of transportation systems. It’s not only how do we move around cities. It’s how do we move around cities, in between cities, how do we move freight? There’s the whole air system and air travel. It’s not easy to figure out how we’re going to decarbonize all these things. So, yes, there needs to be a kind of national plan, and we have many of the pieces. But, like you say, we don’t really have that national vision. What is interesting about, let’s say, the Paris Agreement right now, is that the U.S. is backing away from it, but because of this unifying concept, that the whole world needs to be at least 80% lower in 2050 than it is today, if you’re trying to prevent more than a 2 degree increase in temperature. That concentrates the mind on what sorts of steps you need.”
“The entrenched system takes an enormous amount of money to keep it going. Think about new cars, there’s about 100 million new cars sold every year, with an average price around $25,000 dollars. That’s, right there, $2.5 trillion dollars just for new cars. Then, there’s all the costs of operating them, and the systems, and there’s the truck side, and everything else. It’s a lot of money. If we thought of it that way, and we just carved out some percentage of that, even if it were 2% or 3% of that, to move us in a different direction, and improve our sustainability, not to mention, improve the quality of the systems, I think it would be huge, but we’re not even willing to do that.”