Why Smart Cities need More Than Just Autonomous Vehicles

Cities aren’t just about one thing. There are many aspects of life in the city, and transport is but one of them.

That’s why it’s suggested that smart cities need more than just autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the same way that traditional transport modes don’t make a city in itself. To a certain extent that that’s also the view of Bruno Taratufolo, marketing and product strategy at AGC Glass Europe. Behind anything smart in cities are data and analytics. Both of these tools can be used to efficiently manage a city’s assets and infrastructure, to improve sustainability, and to improve the quality of life of its residents.

Yet there is still a need, in his opinion, for defining: “What is a smart city?” By defining smart cities, he says it becomes clear that AVs are only one element to consider, and so relying solely on them would not be sufficient. He adds: “Relying solely on AVs would not be sufficient and there are several factors that need to be considered when designing a truly smart transport system. Smart transport has to be multi-modal, including cycling, walking and public transport as well as personal vehicles. They should all be integrated in a seamless way.

“The smart transport system should prioritize sustainability, and the needs of pedestrians and cyclists by making cities more accessible and safer for non-motorized forms of transportation. There is also the carbon footprint, which will also come into the game, which smart transport should reduce but I am not sure AVs will represent the lowest carbon footprint, even though there will be electric vehicles. The smart city should go beyond AVs and consider a variety of factors to have a truly integrated and sustainable transportation system.”

Privately owned cars

Christian Bode, director and technical practice leader of Streets at AECOM, looks at it from a different perspective. He claims privately owned cars have inherent efficiency challenge. Most cars have low occupancy levels, equating to an average of 1.1-1.5 people. It is also thought quite widely that they spend 95% of their life parked up, taking up vast areas of space both on-road and off-road.

He therefore comments: “With autonomous vehicles, while home based arrangements may not change, the end trip will.  People will want to be dropped as close to their destination as possible and we will have greater levels of drop off and pick up activity at the curbside. This has potential to create knock-on implications for traffic and would need greater control of curbside access – think how things work around train stations or airports.”

Road congestion

Dr Benedikt Kloss, associate partner, McKinsey Center for Future Mobility (MCFM), says road congestion is the main concern. So smarter transport solutions for him have to involve a mix of transport modes. In his view, the car will still play a role. However, this will be alongside, for example, public transport, ride-hailing, car-sharing, autonomous taxis and shuttles, e-scooters or bicycles. In fact, his organization’s latest survey suggests that 56% of the respondents can imagine replacing private car journeys with shared autonomous vehicle trips in the future.

He adds: “What is also important when it comes to autonomous driving is that we have to distinguish between private autonomous driving, i.e., owning an autonomous vehicle, and shared autonomous driving. Owning an autonomous vehicle will not solve the congestion equation. Shared autonomous driving or a small autonomous minibus could help to resolve congestion and free up space. If these shared autonomous vehicles are pooled, i.e., pooling strangers together, requiring the sharing of driving on the road you could reduce congestion.”

Mobility for rural areas

This is all fine and dandy as much of the focus is on cities and not rural areas. Kloss emphasizes that there is a need to improve mobility solutions in them. People need to be able to get into towns and cities from rural villages to go to work or to do shopping. He thinks that shared mobility could be the solution. “It could help to bring down the costs of today’s public transit solutions, particularly if the solutions are autonomous and don’t have a driver anymore,” he says.

A shared autonomous vehicle could reduce costs because there is no driver and he believes it could become competitive in comparison to the per kilometre of running a private car, especially when you compare it with strangers. “It would pick you up from home or close to your home and takes you to your destination without the need for finding a parking spot too,” he adds.

Surveys by the MCFM have also looked at micro-mobility: e-scooters and e-bikes. They have found that “70% of respondents would be willing to use them for their daily commute”. What’s missing is the provision of sufficient infrastructure and regulation to support. With them in place, it’s thought that more people would seriously think about switching. What’s required is more dedicated bike lanes, and no mixing with other traffic such as cars.

The main AV promise

Thales Automotive Business Development expert, Gilles Chene, believes the main promise of autonomous vehicles in cities is about regulating traffic. Getting traffic to flow with automatic speed adaptation, distance adaptation between cars, real-time route planning while considering pedestrian density and traffic jams, accidents and other road incidents or conditions, including the weather, can ease congestion.

Yet, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it the number of cars will change. “If each worker uses an autonomous car, the number of cars will be unchanged. Then congestion will still be there,” he says. Congestion is therefore potentially an issue that can dog either vehicles that are autonomous or non-autonomous.

Subsequently, he points out that cities are already trying to address this issue by excluding cars from downtown areas (including the creation of Ultra Low Emission Zones), by creating more pedestrian streets, and by allocating specific lanes for buses, taxis, bicycles and e-scooters. Change has been occurring for a while. However, he admits it’s not specific to AVs.

Local government investment

With all this in mind you might think this might lead to an increase in local government investment. However, it is claimed that autonomous vehicles could lower it. Kloss doesn’t think it will though and returns to talking about private versus shared autonomy. “I don’t see why private autonomy would lead to a reduction in investment since you are replacing one car – a traditional car – by another,” he comments. He then suggests shared autonomous driving could work like small minibus, reduce the mileage travelled on our streets, and lead to reduced road infrastructure investment.

He adds: “Parking space of private vehicles could also be reduced and so there would less physical road infrastructure to invest in like maintenance of streets. Investment could be shifted to new types of infrastructure for micro-mobility, for example.  I don’t want to say that there would be more or less investment, but the investment would be into alternative forms of infrastructure.”


  1. Avatar John 22nd February 2023 @ 1:34 am

    Kloss and Bode need to read up on human psychology. They and the WEF would never just come out and say “you give up your freedom and privacy and you’ll get all these conveniences – as long as your social score is approved” because no human wants that. I’ll take the hassles of traffic and paper money and IDs over being a digital slave.
    If you don’t believe me, test yourself: would you be willing to share every email, text message, and in-person conversations you’ve had in the last month? How about every website you visited, every meal you ate, every location you went to, every romantic encounter you had, and all your bodily functions monitored 24×7? And if you read something that the gov’t didn’t agree with, your social score is docked and you wouldn’t be allowed to buy certain products or travel somewhere. Wake up. Smart cities aren’t about convenience, they’re about controlling people.

    • TU-Editor TU-Editor 22nd February 2023 @ 7:21 am

      Thanks John and let me say you are certainly not alone in that belief!

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