How government can enable driverless and zero emissions vehicles

Driverless vehicles zero emissions vehicles

by Dr Allison Stewart, Project Director, Automated and Zero Emissions Vehicles Infrastructure Advice, Infrastructure Victoria

Infrastructure Victoria has completed world-leading research examining what infrastructure might be required to enable automated and zero emissions vehicles. Included in our 17 recommendations are a number of actions that government can take right now to best prepare for the vehicles of the future to enjoy long term benefits.

In Infrastructure Magazine’s September 2018 issue, we highlighted some of our research findings, which spanned areas including transport and roads, energy and the environment, ICT and socioeconomic impacts.

Following on from these findings, we developed comprehensive advice to the Victorian Government on what actions should be taken, and when, to support the roll-out of driverless and zero emissions vehicles. Our advice had a strong focus on maximising the benefits of these new vehicle types to the Victorian community while minimising risks. We also identified pathways and triggers for action to ensure government knows what to look for in order to take action at the best time.

While these recommendations focused on the Victorian context, they could just as easily relate to many other jurisdictions.

What government can do today to better prepare Victoria for tomorrow

While a lot of uncertainty surrounds the roll-out of automated and zero emissions vehicles and their benefits and risks, we recommended that the Victorian Government take some concrete actions now to prepare for new vehicles and business models. These actions are characterised by being low-cost, no-regrets actions that are likely to deliver benefits regardless of how the technologies evolve.

Some of the key actions that can be taken immediately or within the next couple of years include:

Survey and prepare to update road infrastructure, in particular road quality, lines and signage.

Road infrastructure, in particular lines, signs, road quality and maintenance, is likely to be one of the major barriers to fully automated vehicles being able to operate effectively on our roads. Governments and road operators can take action now to prepare our roads for driverless cars, and the improvements could have benefits for all road users.

It will be important to evaluate priority roads to ensure they are well maintained (free of potholes, with clear line markings etc.) and have clear and safe access for cyclists, pedestrians and all road users. Funding arrangements may need to be reviewed, especially in regional and rural areas where local governments have vast road networks to maintain.

Things like the consistency, machine readability and placement of signs, as well as the quality, consistency and reflectivity of line markings should also be reviewed in line with the work going on at a national level led by Austroads.

Incorporate new services like mobility as a service into the public transport mix, in preparation for automated vehicles.

Mobility as a service, or ‘MaaS’, could be a potential game-changer for how we access transport. MaaS allows users to plan, book and pay for different modes of transport, like buses, trains and on-demand vehicles, within a single platform, like a smartphone app.

If fully driverless vehicles were available tomorrow and everyone went out and bought their own, congestion in our cities may actually get worse in some areas, as driverless vehicles could take empty trips to return home, find parking or conduct other tasks. This is where MaaS models could provide a solution to congestion across our transport network by optimising the best mode of travel for each component of a trip.

We modelled the impacts of driverless vehicles on network efficiency and, while we expected to find that they make our road networks more efficient, one surprising result was that driverless vehicles increase network efficiency even when mixed with regular cars. Further, we found that if all vehicles in Melbourne were shared, as with a MaaS-type model, the fleet size would shrink from 3.5 million to 260,000 cars in 2046 – a 93 per cent decrease. While that’s an extreme scenario, if even half of the fleet was shared, 43 per cent fewer vehicles could be needed, significantly reducing waste and congestion.

On the flipside, we also modelled what would happen if all vehicles in Victoria were automated and privately owned, that is, if MaaS and sharing fail to roll out. While the increased operational efficiency of automated vehicles means the network sees an overall improvement on average (despite an increase in the number of trips taken), that isn’t the story in inner Melbourne. We found that the phenomenon known as ‘empty running’ – where driverless cars take empty trips to either get home, access free parking or to conduct other tasks – could contribute to a drop in traffic speeds of 29 per cent in inner Melbourne areas.

If government acts now to enable MaaS within our transport mix, we could see the benefits through reduced congestion and greater ease with planning trips and getting around – even without driverless cars.

Expand the availability of open, real-time data and ensure cellular data networks can support the data needs of driverless vehicles.

If we are aiming for an interconnected fleet of driverless and shared vehicles seamlessly meeting our travel needs, one obvious question that springs to mind is: How will our ICT networks handle all that extra data? In particular, it will be important to ensure operators have access to accurate, real-time data to provide quality services to customers, and our ICT networks will need to be able to handle the volumes of data being sent and received by vehicles and infrastructure.

In terms of the network, our ICT modelling found that cellular data networks should cope with the transmission of data without too many issues. The scale of data transmitted by automated vehicles is forecast to be a small fraction of overall network traffic, so data volumes shouldn’t be a problem.

On the other hand, while it’s a longer-term issue, the safety and performance of driverless vehicles could be improved through upgrades to cellular data coverage, particularly throughout regional and rural Victoria. We estimated that to provide cellular data coverage to all sealed roads in Victoria would cost between $1.1 billion and $1.7 billion, which would also bring significant benefits to regional and rural communities.

The major ICT barriers we identified to rolling out new vehicle technologies were data sharing and back end systems, with the evidence suggesting open data and application programming interfaces (APIs) were critical to enable MaaS and other types of services.

Mobile-based payments, timetables and services, ticketing and validation, mobile device integration with fare gates, and allowing third parties to execute transactions on behalf of the end user could all be enabled by greater data sharing. This is an area where government could act now to put appropriate rules and standards in place.

Undertake a range of actions to support the roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

This includes: developing design standards for the design and placement of public charging infrastructure; establishing principles for smart charging and integrated payment systems; reviewing state-based rules for electricity providers to allow them to offer deals for charging electric vehicles; and creating flexibility for property owners and local authorities to adapt to future changes due to automated and zero emissions vehicles.

Where and when people charge their electric vehicles could present a range of challenges for governments, including managing the strain on our energy networks and the placement of public and private chargers. Our research found that if privately owned electric vehicles become the norm, most people will charge their vehicles at home. This could present significant issues for the energy grid if everyone were to plug in their car in to charge in the evening when they return home from work, particularly during the afternoon peak in summer when air conditioners are already straining the network. Allowing the market to introduce electric vehicle charging plans with cheaper prices in off-peak times could help with some of these issues.

Another challenge for state and local governments is how to manage households who don’t have a garage or off-street parking. Will apartment buildings have enough chargers for every resident to charge their vehicle, and how will people pay? What if you park your car on the street – can you install a charger on the nature strip? And how will public charging stations be rolled out – is there a role for government, or will existing petrol stations simply convert to electric?

Creating design standards and building flexibility into the planning rules will help promote positive outcomes.

Where to from here?

Driverless and zero emissions vehicles are coming, whether we’re ready or not. We already have vehicles on our roads with autonomous features, such as cruise control, lane keeping assist systems and automatic emergency braking. And while electric vehicles might be expensive today, prices are coming down quickly as more models hit the market and manufacturers invest in new technologies.

The key for governments – in Victoria, Australia and around the world – is to be prepared and do everything they can to ensure these vehicles are rolled out in a way that provides widespread benefits to the community, especially when it comes to safety, efficiency and the environment.

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