AVs Will Add to City Congestion, Study Suggests

Driverless cars will only add to traffic congestion as they cruise city streets as robotic versions of cab drivers looking for the next fare.

That’s the suggestion made in a research paper from an urban planning academic arguing that autonomous vehicles will have the opposite effect many proponents have made that urban congestion will decrease with their introduction. City regulators will also have to devise a new tax-raising regime to charge operators whose vehicles will not be using parking zones.

In the report, Adam Millard-Ball, associate professor of environmental studies at University of California, Santa Cruz, asserts that if AVs evolve to the point where they do not need to park, then expensive city center parking charges will no longer represent an incentive to keep vehicles out of downtown areas. He cites a 2001 study from Daniel Baldwin Hess as showing a $6 daily parking fee levied in downtown Portland, Oregon had the effect of reducing single-passenger vehicle journeys into that city center by 26%.

Millard-Ball also claims AVs will be able to “avoid parking charges through cruising” strategically while minimizing fleet operators’ running costs by finding and worsening already congested routes. He uses 2017 data from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority as the basis for his claim that strategic cruising could slash the average cost of parking in downtown San Francisco by 90%. He claims the incentive for electric AVs to employ such driving techniques would be particularly strong as for them, “the efficiency penalty for slower speeds is less than for vehicles with internal combustion gasoline engines”.

Millard-Ball cites a 2018 study of “parking price and occupancy data from Seattle” by CD Harper et al as showing “remote parking would save AV users about $18 in daily parking costs, and increase vehicle travel by 2.5% due to the round trip between the downtown destination and the parking facility”.

Millard-Ball gives San Francisco as an example of a city whose use of parking fees as a model for reducing downtown congestion would be disrupted by increased technological advancement and adoption of AVs. He suggests the solution to this increased congestion would be to implement charging for AVs driving into city centers such as those currently levied against many vehicles in downtown London.

He concludes that greater prevalence of AVs within cities and a consequent reduction in parking charge revenues will remove the reluctance by city authorities to introduce city center congestion charging that has thus far restricted implementation of such policies to a select few cities.


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