This opinion column was initially published in Libération on January 16, 2018: http://liberation.fr/france/2018/01/16/pour-reussir-la-transition-vers-le-vehicule-autonome-faisons-dialoguer-nos-intelligences_1622745
Cars have shaped almost every aspect of our cities and territories. Their use has set the pace of our society and economic life. However, over the next ten years, self-driving cars may shake up our habits by profoundly transforming our roads and cities, as well as our mobility practices.
Ensuring a successful transition will require a dialogue between the national government and territories, whose jurisdiction covers public space, as well as economic players: infrastructure, the auto industry and mobility services. VINCI, as a builder and operator of road infrastructure and urban systems, intends to plan for these transformations and open up a new dialogue. To that end, I want to offer up some food for thought in this emerging debate, through four avenues that we can explore at the dawn of these major transformations.
First avenue: cities will become one of the main theaters for the roll-out of self-driving mobility. Both the expectations and challenges are especially high in this area: self-driving vehicles will transform urban mobility and, in turn, the way we use spaces dedicated to car traffic and parking. Public roadways are becoming increasingly complex environments, utilized by a growing diversity of vehicles. Each with their own varying degree of agility or fragility (traditional cars, bikes, motorcycles, pedestrians, scooters, unicycles, rollerblades, skateboards, etc.), the presence of these vehicles will make it a unique and considerable challenge to integrate driverless cars into traffic.
Second avenue: autonomous urban mobility solutions will also be web-connected, electric-powered and service-oriented. These simultaneous transformations will in turn require substantial and lasting changes to our urban systems (adapting electric grids, connecting roads and signage to the web, updating urban forms, etc.), which bring along a host of public policy challenges.
Third, the dream that driverless vehicles will make drivers obsolete – by turning them into ordinary passengers – should not overshadow the vast transformations to come in matters of urban logistics and public transit. In fact, the challenges of “last mile” logistics and the potential offered by automating deliveries have opened up several avenues for improving our urban systems. Autonomous vehicles will also impact public transit, as presaged by the autonomous shuttle bus and robo-taxi unveiled by Navya at January’s CES fair in Las Vegas: these advances may forever alter our “mix” of urban mobility solutions.
For all these reasons, autonomous vehicles provide us with an opportunity to rethink and tremendously improve upon every aspect of our transport systems. Support for these mobility systems will depend upon public policy, which will demand some serious dialogue between public authorities and economic players.
By combining the expertise of industrial players, regulators and territories, this dialogue will give rise to experiments, new services and innovations that will enable us to meet the needs and expectations of all citizens, including drivers, pedestrians and active mobility enthusiasts.