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.