Congestion has proven to be a far bigger problem than automakers and city planners ever predicted. Global auto sales are fast approaching 90 million annually, adding to the 1 billion vehicles already on the road. That number could double over the next few decades, increasing the challenges endured by billions of commuters worldwide.
Few solutions have yet to materialize, but many hope that smart and autonomous technologies will reduce the need for more vehicles. For example, a group of salesmen could share one autonomous vehicle that chauffeurs them around in a timely, well-calculated manner. In crowded cities, consumers could rely on shared vehicle services to commute to and from work.
That’s the fantasy, at least. But is it realistic?
“I think that as cars become smarter, some of that will help resolve traffic issues,” said Dillon Blake, senior director of business development at Runzheimer, a business vehicle technology and solution provider. “Most traffic jams, you can contribute that to the person 10 miles ahead of you that hit their brakes unnecessarily and the chain reaction leads to a nice big traffic jam. If autonomous vehicles don’t have that same level of error, traffic will continue to flow better.”
New Tech, Same Number of Cars
Alternative mobility expert Lukas Neckermann is hopeful that congestion will be reduced, but he does not expect smart technology to make an impact without a drastic change in transportation.
“If we just make all of our vehicles autonomous, then we have autonomous vehicle congestion,” said Neckermann “Until we actually get to the point that our vehicles change in terms of their usage characteristics – in terms of, frankly, the way they’re designed and shaped and structured – we haven’t solved the problem.”
The good news, Neckermann added, is that automakers are beginning to introduce self-driving vehicle concepts that could make it easier and more convenient for consumers to share their rides.
“You’re going to see all kinds of different vehicle types,” said Neckermann. “Take a look at Easymile, Navya, Next Future Transportation [and] Local Motors. You have a whole different breed of vehicle that’s going to solve that urban congestion problem.”
Don’t Skimp on Infrastructure
Automakers could develop the best, most efficient cars in the world, but if the road infrastructure remains the same, congestion will still be a problem.
“As you become better with autonomous vehicles, hopefully these major metropolitan areas are taking the time and investing in their infrastructure for their public transportation,” said Blake. “I live in Austin, Texas, [and] while it’s a technology mecca of amazingness here, our public transportation is terrible. You have no choice but to drive your own car. Congestion is only going to get worse because we’re adding bodies to the city but we’re not adding a better public transportation-type solution, so people have to drive.”
Blake believes that autonomous technology will improve the situation, but it’s only one piece in a very complex puzzle.
“If you don’t want people on the road, build a great infrastructure,” Blake concluded. “And if you don’t have a great infrastructure, be ready for some traffic.”
About the author:
Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.