How can we use the potential of automated vehicles to improve urban mobility? It was this question posed by Keynote Speaker Yann Leriche that captured well the essence of the first Automated Mobility Conference, held in Brussels on 24 October.
As set out in UITP’s Policy Brief on AVs, automated vehicles can provide huge potential to our cities when integrated into the public transport system, but various questions must been raised before AVs will actually appear on our roads. With this thought in mind, UITP in 2018 launched the SPACE project, aiming to place public transport at the centre of the AV revolution and paving the way towards a combined transport ecosystem.
The Conference was opened by Johannes Fischer PhD, Delegate of the Germany Ministry of Transport of Baden-Württemberg to the EU. In his introduction, he mentioned the need for a common regulatory framework for AVs in Europe, saying that lack hereof could end up producing more traffic on our roads than is currently the case.
In his keynote speech Yann Leriche of Transdev North America, highlighted that while AVs provide great technology, it is up to cities to truly use their potential. “The truth is, we can’t be sure of the real impact AV technology will have on our cities. The potential is there, but it is up to us to decide what we do with it.”
During the day, various sessions were held shedding light on AVs from very different perspectives. The high-level discussion on AV strategy in leading cities welcomed five representatives from Singapore, Oslo, London, Shenzhen and Hamburg to the stage. Moderated by Timothy Papandreou (Emerging Transport Advisors, USA), the session clarified that all cities have different expectations from AVs. “In Singapore, a big win from AVs can be on the accessibility front: they can release green, urban and community space. Important here is that AVs should be fleet-owned and not privately owned”, said Jeremy Yap of Land Transport Authority. Also in Shenzhen, accessibility was mentioned as a possible advantage of AVs: “In a huge city like Shenzhen where population is spreading quickly, first and last mile is a huge issue. AVs can help to solve this issue”, according to Joe Ma from Shenzhen Bus Group.
Another session shed light on the technical challenges that are still faced when integrating AV services in public transport operation. Amongst other things, we need to work on new vehicle design such as Scania with their NXT modular vehicle or Navya with HD mapping. Also essential are common standards and interfaces to allow interoperability and integration into existing public transport systems, like Transdev is doing in Rouen (France).
The third session provided an international overview of shared automated mobility pilots and services, aiming to show that public transport is at the heart of the autonomy revolution. We heard from cities where vehicles are running on the streets today - Finland and Norway are even preparing to take out the ‘safety driver’ from the vehicle in the coming months.
It’s all about public space - we need to ensure that we reinvent the hierarchy of space allocation
Shared automated vehicle services will co-exist with other modes of transportation like walking, cycling, public transport … but how will the general acceptance of this new mode of transportation be? This was the main question during the session on public acceptance of AVs. “It’s all about public space,” emphasised Bronwen Thornton, CEO of Walk 21. “We need to ensure that we reinvent the hierarchy of space allocation.” The discussion also showed the importance to bring together behavioural scientists to build the mobility systems of the future taking into account the needs of all users.
Some final learning points were given by UITP Secretary General Mohamed Mezghani, who insisted that only a large diversity of stakeholders working together will be able to overcome the challenges ahead and lead the way to a future where shared AVs will help to build more liveable and attractive cities. Partnerships are the key. “The more you talk about technology, the more you need to put people and users at its heart.”
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