26 Jul 21

How CAVs will make cities smarter

What’s so smart about Smart Cities? It’s a trendy concept so wide that it can signify anything – and mean nothing. A new paper published in the journal Infrastructures tightens the definition by focusing on the impact of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) – and the benefits they can bring: to cities and citizens, but also to corporates and employees. 

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The paper’s title is The Development of the Smart Cities in the CAVs Era, where CAV stands for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. The Smart City concept dates from the early 1990s, when it became apparent that digital tools could help improve big-city problems relating to traffic, waste management, public safety and health, and the inefficiency of utilities. 

Scaling CAVs

The paper’s aim is to examine how CAVs can be scaled in urban areas. This as part of a holistic approach, whereby smart cities improve the quality of communal services and the quality of life of individual citizens; and reduce operational costs, both for the cities themselves, and for the citizens and corporations that operate in them. 

Making urban traffic ‘smarter’ – i.e. less congested – is not a trivial matter. In the UK alone, the economic loss related to congestion from not until 2030 is estimated at £307 (€360) billion. 

This can be addressed by CAVs operating within an Intelligent Transport System (ITS), which uses V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2X (vehicle-to-everything) connectivity to optimise traffic flow. Crucially, this will contribute to the goal, set in the Paris Accords in 2015, to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. There is no single right answer. The report cites Amsterdam and Barcelona as exemplars within Europe. 

  • Among other initiatives, Amsterdam has leaned into its bicycle culture to help reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Barcelona has worked with OEMs to develop ad-hoc models that reduce costs and waste.

Complex requirements

Of course, this is in a mobility ecosystem not yet populated by CAVs – vehicles that are both connected and highly (if not totally) autonomous (and likely also electric or electrified). They are coming, though – both for private and shared use – and they will make both cities and driving smarter (i.e. safer, more efficient and more cost-effective) than ever before.

One interesting data point: it is estimated that fully autonomous vehicles will reduce the ‘value of time’ by 30% compared to manual driving, meaning drivers will be able to spend as much of their driving time working as is now possible on collective transport. 

However, it will take some time before we’re there, the study says. The researchers estimate that due to complex development, testing and regulation requirements, the first CAVs won’t come onto the market until 2030.

  • At that time, they will still be so expensive they will represent only up to 5% of the new-vehicle market. 
  • However, by 2040 that figure may increase to up to 40%, by which time up to 20% of all vehicles will be CAVs and up to 30% of all car trips will be made autonomously. 
  • By 2050, up to 60% of all vehicles sold may be CAVs, which will represent up to 40% of the total fleet and up to 50% of all trips. 

Human-driven travel

For reasons of privacy or preference, “a significant portion of vehicle travel will remain human-driven, even after market saturation”, the researchers predict. However, CAVs are expected to mesh particularly well with public and corporate transport, and mobility services including car-sharing and ride-hailing. 

When they arrive in cities, CAVs will significantly alter how we use (and manage) urban space.  

Because CAVs can autonomously drive to parking spaces, it is expected they will lead to a reduction of such spaces in city centres, and their increase in the urban periphery. That is one possible driver for the re-densification of city centres. 

On the other hand, CAVs – used as robotaxis, for example – will make it more convenient to drive longer distances, which could lead to a further expansion of low-density building (i.e. urban sprawl). If this is combined with a mainly privately-owned fleet of CAVs, that could exacerbate rather than reduce congestion issues. 

Limiting private ownership

To reduce negative effects such as sprawl, pollution and congestion, the study proposes “exclud(ing) or limit(ing) the private ownership of vehicles, consequently reducing their number.”

In no uncertain terms, the study repeats that CAVs will irreversibly change how urban mobility works. Consequently, governments, citizens and corporates will have to drastically change how they think about transportation. The good news is that, in the digital hubs that our cities will become, CAVs can help us achieve our sustainability goals, as well as improve safety and efficiency. Specifically for companies, they represent opportunities for cost savings – as well as new business models. 

Read the full study here: The Development of the Smart Cities in the Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) Era: From Mobility Patterns to Scaling in Cities.

Authored by: Frank Jacobs