Last modified on July 9, 2024

Steering or floating towards automated mobility?

4 July 2024

Digitalisation of work and leisure, such as remote working and online shopping, have already made it possible to rethink our travel patterns. Highly automated mobility may accelerate this development and even revolutionise everyday travel. It may enable us to use our time more freely and travel only when we really want to, as opposed to travelling mainly for utility like daily commutes and running errands. If it is no longer necessary to drive, travel time can be used for other activities and resting, which may lead to a decrease in the value of travel time and increase in our travel quality.

Automated driving is expected to have the potential to prevent traffic accidents. Whether it leads to gains in traffic flow efficiency and an increase in road capacity depends on the car-following behaviour of these vehicles and their capability to interact with other road users. Energy demand impacts are also dependent on driving behaviour. One key aspect for the overall impacts is how availability of automated mobility will affect our travel patterns: total kilometres travelled, mode choice and the timings and routes of our trips. A large increase in vehicle kilometres travelled may even cancel the possible positive safety and efficiency impacts. Therefore, to improve the sustainability of the transport system, it would be important that automated mobility solutions would be developed and used to make public transport and shared mobility solutions more attractive to travellers.

Societal changes are usually gradual, but they can be remarkable. The long-term impacts of automated mobility are still unknown. With the ease of automated mobility, will we choose to live further away from city centres – to find more affordable housing or to improve our quality of life? Or will opportunities for automated mobility cluster in cities enhancing their liveability and making them more attractive? Or will automated mobility provide better accessibility for people in rural areas – offering a good alternative to private cars and improving the desirability of these areas? Will it boost or prevent urban sprawl or urbanisation? This remains to be seen.

Automated mobility is not just a technical challenge to be solved. Financially viable service models are needed too. Can we find viable models to provide good quality public transport or shared mobility services with automated solutions for under-served populations – and overall? Or will automation mostly improve travel quality for those who already have mobility solutions available for them? Deployed examples show that automated mobility services can improve the quality of life of the elderly by giving them more freedom to move around with an automated shuttle. However, they still require assistance from an on-board operator. Keeping personnel in the automated vehicle makes it harder to lower operating costs. This affects the ability to extend the services to new regions where the operation was not feasible before, or to enhance the quality of service in poorly serviced areas.

If we want to develop automated mobility solutions that help us improve sustainability of transport, they should contribute to environmental integrity, social well-being, and economic stability, and meet the current needs while ensuring resource and opportunity availability for future generations. Understanding the total sustainability impact calls for multidisciplinary evaluation.

There are pilots, scenarios, visions and expectations as well as hopes and fears related to CCAM. We do not know what kind of impacts automated mobility will have in the long run. Yet, being prepared is essential. Therefore, ex-ante impact assessment is of utmost importance. We need to know how to ensure positive developments, and we need to know the potential disadvantages and their causes to take preventive actions.

The FAME project is developing European Common Evaluation Methodology for CCAM (EU-CEM) which allows all the CCAM projects to benefit from the best practices found for impact assessment. It also gives common vocabulary by defining 18 evaluation areas. Common definitions, approaches and metrics allow us to understand the results and to compare the outcomes of different solutions and scenarios and conduct meta-analyses, enhancing the knowledge on how automated mobility will transform our lives and societies.

Written by Satu Innamaa, Principal Scientist, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd.