By Michelle Robertson, SFGATE
Published 12:41 pm PST, Monday, February 4, 2019
A professor at UC Santa Cruz says autonomous vehicles could more than double traffic in cities.A professor at UC Santa Cruz says autonomous vehicles could more than double traffic in cities.
Photo: Kurt Rogers / The Chronicle 2007
Photo: Kurt Rogers / The Chronicle 2007
It’s the not-so-far-away future in San Francisco. One-Wheels and e-scooters litter the road. Your self-driving car has just deposited you at Union Square, and you’ve instructed it to return in an hour, after you’ve purchased the latest it-smartphone, the iPhone Z.
Your autonomous vehicle, intelligent as it is, knows finding a parking spot downtown is nearly impossible at this hour, plus parking lots are known to charge flat rates of $15 and up. Instead of parking, your car decides to cruise. It figures the gas required to circle the neighborhood a few times costs far less than a parking spot.
Your smart car is right on this point, but what it doesn’t know — or care to learn — is that cruising causes major congestion. At least that’s the prediction of transportation planner Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the latest issue of Transport Policy, Millard-Ball explores “The Autonomous Vehicle Parking Problem”: traffic. Autonomous vehicles, he hypothesizes, will become commonplace in cities over the next five to 20 years. When this happens, road congestion will invariably increase, he says.
“Even when you factor in electricity, depreciation, wear and tear, and maintenance, cruising costs about 50 cents an hour—that’s cheaper than parking even in a small town,” Millard-Ball said in a press release. “Unless it’s free or cheaper than cruising, why would anyone use a remote lot?”
Using a traffic microsimulation model and data from downtown San Francisco, Millard-Ball estimated that autonomous vehicles stand to more than double the current amount of traffic in cities. The model focused on scenarios in which a vehicle is primarily used for transportation of a single owner.
Parking policies, he writes in the paper, “have allowed dense, urban centers to flourish” by taking cars of the road and thereby reducing traffic. In an autonomous vehicle world, all bets are off. “It just takes a minority to gum things up,” he said.
Millard-Ball proposes a solution in the form of congestion pricing, which charges drivers a fee for a variety of pre-set factors, including miles driven, the use of particular streets, and so on. In London, drivers pay about $15 to enter the city center, for example.
The professor argues that a congestion pricing policy for autonomous vehicles should be implemented now. “The public never wants to pay for something they’ve historically gotten for free,” he said in the press release. “But no one owns an autonomous vehicle now, so there’s no constituency organized to oppose charging for the use of public streets.”
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