Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Public Transportation

January 31, 2017  |  By Matthew Young  |       

The backbone of every modern civilization is built upon the strength of its infrastructure, the common utilities and services that all have come to rely upon. Though as we continue to progress it is essential to revisit our current methods and find new ways to improve tested systems as our world moves towards a more sustainable future. Of the current systems in place, none can benefit more and in a quicker fashion than public transportation.

Millions of people rely daily on the most fundamental aspect of public infrastructure and as the demand on transportation continues to grow, it becomes necessary for the service to continue to improve not only in terms of efficacy but also decreasing the use of combustion engines within public transport.

Within the last thirty years, the world's consumption of energy for transportation has doubled and it is only predicted to increase further, by the year 2050 energy consumption will increase an additional 70%.  Without responsible action taken, public transportation will help drive our society into a tipping point in which damage to the environment cannot be reversed. 
Moving Towards a Cleaner, Driverless Transportation System


Though a bleak prediction, we live in a time full of possibilities and measures that can help us move forward into the future safely with a smaller impact on our environment. Technology has advanced the dream of electric vehicles from simple novelty into an actual competitive market producing vehicles that are only becoming more efficient and less costly to manufacture and own.

Added to advancements seen within the EV industry are the new possibilities arising from autonomous vehicles. These two industries are converging around the common goal of creating a truly driverless and low impact vehicle that eases the demand on current transportation by facilitating a cleaner world and less congested roadways. Current experimental programs are testing the benefits of autonomous fleet vehicles used to transport not only goods but help ferry people across cities.

Companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Google are not only building vehicles that will have marketable value to the companies operating the fleets but can also be applied to remedy public transportation issues such as pollution and schedule management. Major automakers have taken notice of the usage of autonomous vehicles and have begun allowing these companies to test their systems out on their individual line of vehicles. Partnerships between Lyft and General Motors or Google and Fiat will only speed up the rate of advancements bringing the idea of an environmentally-conscious and driverless public transportation closer to reality. 

Falling Rates of Individual Vehicle Ownership

Studies conducted by Navigant Research have shown a decrease in individual vehicle ownership as ride sharing programs continue to increase their reach and availability in cities across the globe. It is predicted that private vehicle ownership will continue to decrease until the idea of an individual driving their own internal combustion vehicle from place to place goes the way of the horse-drawn carriage. The study further concluded that the current research being conducted within the autonomous vehicle industry will lead to a future in which autonomous ride sharing fleets will commonly be the chosen method of transportation, allowing for a cleaner and less congested future.

As vehicles lose their drivers, they gain the ability to become part of an interconnected system of communicating vehicles, each with the goal of lessening time spent on the road, which as population sizes continue to grow will help decrease the tide of vehicle traffic currently seen on roadways. Autonomous vehicles  will become indispensable within the on-demand ride sharing industry.

As more people begin to opt into a system of on demand vehicles, following the path of Uber and Lyft models, a significant decrease in vehicles on the road should follow. Automakers have even begun to embrace this new business model, building vehicles that can more easily fit into the changing market, Hyundai's latest vehicle, the Ioniq, and its accompanying Ioniq Unlimited subscription are the first of many strategies to take advantage of a ride sharing culture.

Governments Recognize the Benefits of Driverless, Electric Future

The current push towards creating autonomous, electric fleet vehicles has not been lost on local governments across the globe as many cities are the testing grounds for the new wave of transportation vehicles.   Trial programs are already underway in major cities across the UK, Greece, the United States, and Sweden. Beyond the initial benefit of contributing to a cleaner future, autonomous EVs can begin to remedy many of the common complaints held against the current transportation model.

Moving towards driverless taxis and buses would mean a decrease in spending for traditional public transportation freeing up taxes to improve other flagging infrastructures such as health care and education. The new wave of autonomous vehicles will be able to operate more efficiently and without any of the complications caused by having a human driver prone to accidents behind the wheel. Every aspect of the driving experience can shift towards reaching its full potential. Gone will be the long waits in traffic as cars trudge along at a stop and go pace; as vehicles will be able to detect minute changes in traffic flow while continuing at the best pace for movement.

The collection of advanced sensors, radar, and lidar currently being utilized by autonomous EVs, allow for vehicles to operate safely while taking up less space on the road. Though governments and cities are beginning to take notice, private ventures have long recognized the benefits of EVs with many private transportation companies having already made the switch to EVs in efforts to cut costs and increase profits. Uber, Lyft, SF Green Cab, and Eco Taxi have fully embraced the benefits of an increasingly electrified fleet of vehicles. As the technology necessary to facilitate a true driverless future will rely heavily upon electricity as a sustainable means of power, companies who have incorporated the vehicles into their business stand to easily adopt the soon to come changes.

As we continue into the future, it is imperative that the very infrastructures we rely upon continue to adapt and follow us into creating a more sustainable world. The problems of traffic, pollution, and environmental disasters are only that, problems in need of a solution. One which has already begun to develop and needs only time to efficiently address the unique situation presented by global transportation. While the reality of vehicles with zero emissions powered by wind or hydroelectric plants is still a distance away from becoming true, the journey to making it possible is well underway. The changes we will be privy to witness in the coming years should create a feeling of hope for the future and the very least remind us of the excitement possible when venturing into a new future. 

Topics: Automotive Trends, Fleet Telematics, Autonomous/Driverless Cars, Connected Car - Other

Matthew Young

Matthew Young is a freelance automotive journalist and blogger hailing from Boston. He is passionate about everything on 4 wheels and new, emerging tech in the industry. When Matthew is not busy writing about cars or awesome new technology, he usually spends time fiddling with his camera and learning a thing or two about photography.

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