December 2022 Vol. 30, No. 4

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Shared automated vehicles: Big impacts for cities, local agencies

shared automated vehicle in downtown Rochester MN

Fully automated vehicles (AVs), or driverless cars, will be commonplace sooner than you think. Right now, car makers and transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft are steering AV development. Without public input, this market-driven approach could worsen traffic congestion, sideline public transit, and increase social inequities. It could also hit state and local budgets hard, as revenues from taxes, parking, and associated activities dry up.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. New research centered at the University of Minnesota shows how, by planning carefully for AVs, we could make the most of this technology revolution to improve transportation and make it more equitable for all.

In a recent study, a large interdisciplinary team examined the potential of one approach: shared automated vehicles (SAVs). The team examined not only how SAV networks could work but also what the impacts on society might be.

The researchers examined considerations around the rollout and regularized use of a hypothetical SAV system in Minneapolis–St. Paul. They explored several scenarios with increasing levels of SAV adoption.

From their analysis, the researchers say SAV systems are feasible—and possibly very beneficial—in communities like the Twin Cities. They show how the technology could work and where revenues could come from. They show how SAVs could strengthen— not weaken—existing transit systems. And they illus- trate what future streets could look like.

The report concludes with key recommendations for policymakers, planners, and other officials. Among the recommendations:

  • Revenue sources such as fuel taxes, parking fees, and fines will dry up. On the other hand, SAV providers that use public infrastructure and customer data could be a source of revenue. Communities should adjust budgets accordingly—and not sell the rights to mobility services cheaply.
  • Cities should start to plan how land that is currently devoted to parking and roads can be repurposed to address sustainability, equity, and housing affordability goals.
  • Policymakers should seek ways to use SAVs to connect people in low-density or poorly served areas to existing transit services.
  • The entire transportation system should be designed for diversity, serving all areas and different populations and user needs.
  • AVs will disrupt jobs for many people who drive for a living. Policymakers should mediate this disruption.
  • SAV development should include public engagement—and should not be planned and controlled solely by private interests.

This research was funded as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Smart and Connected Communities grant (award no. CMMI-1831140)— Leveraging Autonomous Shared Vehicles for Greater Community Health, Equity, Livability, and Prosperity (HELP). Support also came from Dayton Hudson Foundation funds at the University of Minnesota Foundation.
—Ann Nordby, CTS freelancer

Learn more:

What are SAVs?

Definitions vary, but here are some basic concepts as used in the U’s report:

  • Shared automated vehicles might look like today’s passenger cars or shuttle vans. They could carry 2 riders—or 12.
  • Instead of onboard human drivers, they could be controlled by a smart cloud computing system or by remote human drivers, similar to drone pilots.
  • They wouldn’t be owned by individuals or parked in a homeowner’s garage. Off-duty, they could be housed far from riders.
  • They could be ordered up for service the way Uber or Lyft rides are today. Or they might be small buses, part of the public transit fleet.
  • They could take riders all the way to their destinations or connect them to transit stops.
  • They are now in the testing phase or in limited use as airport shuttles and goods delivery carts, for example.

From alleys to arterials: street designs

Researchers in the U of M’s College of Design created detailed designs for the four main types of AV-ready streets: alley, local, collector, and arterial.

Redesign of alley with shared automated vehicles

Alley Street: Shared mobility will have a dramatic impact. As the need for parking goes away,
garages will be available for other uses, while alleys become greener, safer gathering places.
Image: Joseph Hang, Minnesota Design Center

redesign of Local street with shared automated vehicles

Local Street: When AVs become the dominant mode for vehicles, streets will only need a pair
of tracks in each direction and no on-street parking—opening the right-of-way for green space,
sidewalks, and bike lanes. Image: Joseph Hang, Minnesota Design Center

Redesign of collector street with shared automated vehicles

Collector Street: Broad SAV adoption will transform collector streets. The number of lanes
needed will decrease and lanes can be closer together, freeing up curb space for picking up
and dropping off people and packages. The extra space will allow for dedicated bike lanes,
sidewalk-oriented activities, a denser tree canopy, rain gardens, and more.
Image: Joseph Hang, Minnesota Design Center

redesign of areterial street with shared automated vehicles

Arterial Street: Cs to busy arterial streets will be among the most striking—the number
of lanes will drop, turn lanes will largely disappear, and traffic signals will only be needed for
pedestrian crossings. Development can occur where parking lots and garages once stood,
increasing density and expanding the tax base. Image: Joseph Hang, Minnesota Design Center