Rise of automated vehicles spells doom for taxis, buses in next 15 years
According to research by the Goldman Sachs Group, less than 10% of travel in North America is taken in non-personally owned vehicles. However, the author of the report "Ontario Must Prepare for Vehicle Automation: How Skilled Governance Can Influence its Outcome," Bern Grush—a systems engineer and futurist—says that by 2030, that percentage may climb to 25% or higher as more people turn to robo-taxis, micro-transit, and ride sharing. He says it's because automation will make these systems more reliable and far cheaper than today's taxi and bus services, and even personal ownership, for an increasing number of travelers.
Improvements in vehicle automation, combined with a sharing economy, will vastly expand the robo-taxi and micro-transit industry being readied by providers such as Uber, Lyft, and Google for Ontario's cities and towns.
"We saw what happened with the Town Council in Innisfil, which contracted with Uber rather than investing in a traditional bus system. This type of disruption will spread to other municipalities," Grush said. "Once these commercial providers begin to automate their fleets, their role in public transit and goods movement will accelerate."
Grush encourages governments to prepare for this future by determining now how to influence the role AVs—especially fleets of shared AVs—will have in cities and towns.
The key to harnessing this technology is for governments and the private sector to work together to implement a regulatory system that will enhance mobility for all, Grush says. And that's where his concept, the Harmonization Management System (HMS), comes into play. This system would provide the digital tools to incorporate a subsidy and pricing system, and optimize the distribution and social performance of commercial fleets. In particular, governments must ensure that these services are as inclusive and accessible as possible for the GTHA and the rest of Ontario. HMS would evolve to manage the province's future fleets of robo-shuttles and robo-taxis as more people decide to use shared vehicle services rather than drive personal vehicles in the coming decades.
But there are many barriers to getting people out of their personal cars and into robo-shuttles or robo-taxis. These include the safety concern of having young children in a car seat, being disabled and travelling with assistive gear, driving with a pet, and the fear that an automated car won't take a passenger everywhere (Grush calls this "access anxiety"). As these barriers are dealt with, the need for personal vehicles, as well as non-automated taxis and buses, will diminish dramatically over 15 years.
Much hype currently surrounds the topic of fully automated vehicles that can operate without a driver in any imaginable circumstance. Due to many hurdles, Grush does not anticipate this type of AV until well after 2050, when the technical issues of having driverless vehicles operate in every possible condition will have been addressed.
"Vehicle automation will greatly impact Ontario society, and governments have an important role to play in determining how these new technologies fit with our infrastructure and mobility planning," said Andy Manahan, Executive Director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, which commissioned the report.