Autonomous, Shared Mobility: The Emperor Has No Clothes?

02.19.18 | Blog | By:

I was lured by this title, “Lies, Damned Lies, AVs, Shared Mobility, and Urban Transit Futures, and further hooked by the first sentence in this paper: “It seems to me there is a gigantic lot of nonsense discussed about the future of transport and the future of public transport in particular.”

Graham Currie, Professor of Public Transport at Monash University and Director, Public Transport Research Group, argues in this paper that the current thinking that public transport is increasingly irrelevant because of the rise of autonomous, shared mobility is just wrong. The paper focuses on public transport, but I think some of the conclusions could relate to transport in general. Here are a few quotes from the paper:

  • “I think ‘the emperor has no clothes’ is an appropriate phrase to apply to current AV thinking. It is far too early to think these vehicles will dominate travel in cities… the overselling or hype about the idea is also quite common and has been enshrined in a theoretical framework called the Hype Cycle (Gartner 2016). This is now a website that is updated with the current progress of new ideas through a progression from the oversold hype phase, past the peak of inflated expectations, and down to the trough of disillusionment. [The figure below] shows a montage of the Hype Cycle for the last few years. AVs reached the peak of inflated expectations in 2015 and commenced their path into the trough of disillusionment.”

  • “I argue that the term shared mobility is a lie; I suggest it is used to imply that travel using these modes involves shared vehicle occupancy and is hence equitable and efficient. But to my mind, the lie is that shared mobility doesn’t involve sharing of travel within vehicles. In addition, there is a view in current debate that the increasing amount of shared mobility in our cities is providing new solutions to old problems. Yet I argue this is also a lie.”
  • “Is a future with AVs including a proportion of vehicles not carrying anyone a realistic solution to high traffic volumes in congested areas?”
  • “So what is transit’s future in this context? My view is that it is highly progressive and big. Transit is far from marginalized by new technologies; it is liberated by them. Continued growth in cities is forecast into the future. There is a key imperative to make the future of humanity efficient and effective, where humans share large capacity vehicles moving effectively through  tunnels and on raised transitways, and with priority on the streets where the majority of humans live.”

I will be exploring these issues further with Graham in an upcoming Fueling the Future podcast.

Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.