More autonomous cars – less car ownership?

10.01.2019

Several studies, such as a report on autonomous vehicles in Australia, released by Austroads, show the beneficial impacts that automated driving has on various areas. Some highlight the negative correlation between autonomous cars and car ownership: the more autonomous vehicles, the less car ownership. Nevertheless, following research fellow Jennifer Kent from the University of Sydney, for this calculation to become reality, two things are needed: autonomous vehicles need to be shared and not privately owned and the public transportation system needs to be enforced. However, as her study found out, this will not be not the case, at least not in Australia.

Indeed, as she argues, Australians are not prepared to share their cars because they prefer their own private space over sharing it with strangers. In several interviews carried out in 2013, Kent already found out that people are using their cars to juggle multiple commitments and that they are considering their cars as ‘spaces of climate-controlled comfort and a place to have time alone’. Additionally, the current transport system in Australia does not support the idea of less car ownership as Kent qualified the transport system as useless and not reliable.

Kent already analysed data in 2016 from over 300 residents of Oran Park in Sydney, a habitant area which was designed to be navigated by bicycle or by foot. She found out that 95 percent of the residents who worked within the local area took their cars to get to their workplace. This was mainly because alternative modes are limited, which condemns this habitant area to a car-dependent area.

Sydney public transport only caters for predictable trips,” Jennifer Kent

Kent identifies two weapons that Australia’s transport planners have in their hands to temper car use: parking regulation and traffic congestion. However, as she argues, the concept of automated vehicles is imobilising these tools and make them redundant. Indeed, automated vehicles do not need to be parked in the proximity of their driver and as a consequence, they positively address the issues of parking challenges. Furthermore, automated vehicles can ensure that the time in a traffic jam is spent more useful. Thus, Australian transport planners will face these challenges without having adequate weapons to fight them.

Although the face of AVs may change, the industry is unlikely to voluntarily relinquish its hegemony. Its survival depends on growth. We need to be prepared for AVs to enhance, rather than replace, the status quo of car ownership and use”, Kent concludes.

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