Monday, 25 September 2017 13:24

Will self-driving cars deliver more traffic congestion?


A new report by the University of Sydney’s Business School, dubbed the Transport Opinion Survey, suggests self-driving cars won’t ease road congestion but might even increase it.

The Sydney Uni’s Business School says that, “Australians are looking forward to self-driving cars but are unlikely to share their vehicles with other travellers, contrary to predictions made by transport experts and the motor industry”, according to its latest Transport Opinion Survey.

The findings of the quarterly survey, with the second survey for 2017 here, are conducted by the School’s internationally respected Institute of Transport and Logistic Studies.

They indicate that “road congestion in our major cities is unlikely to ease with the arrival of self-drive cars and could be worse than it is today".

The results of the survey, known as TOPS, have prompted the director of the ITLS, Professor David Hensher, to suggest that the government “may have to impose a levy on the use of private cars in order to combat increasing congestion".

Of course, my immediate thought is why is a levy or yet another tax one of the answers academics and often politicians reach for?

Why not build better roads or do something other than extracting ever more money from long-suffering every people? The answer to this question is not covered in the media release.

Indeed, everyday Australians likely aren’t paid has much as academics or politicians, so the answer to my question isn’t probably something you’ll find covered in any academic survey ever, but we can live in hope that one day these people will join the rest of us in the real world and call for fewer levies and lower taxation, instead.

That said, “one in four survey participants said they would buy a self-drive car for family use if they were available but only one-third of these adopters would lease their vehicles to other travellers when it was not in use".

In addition, “40% of participants also said that they would probably use their cars more as travelling became easier while more than thirty percent said they would use their car rather than use some public transport".

“No survey participants expected their daily travel to remain the same in the driver-less era.”

The results, according to Professor Hensher, “indicated that there could be more traffic congestion on Australia’s roads rather than less as predicted by some transport analysts, and a deterioration in public transport services".

Hensher said: “The survey suggests a strong uptake which is encouraging at this stage in the debate on the future of driver-less vehicles; however the real challenge is getting society to become more sharing either by allowing others to use their cars or through a third party mobility plan.

“Pundits promoting the virtues of driver-less cars, were suggesting that they would contribute to a significant reduction in traffic congestion. Our findings appear contrary to that view.

“We now need to contemplate how society more broadly and government might respond through new laws ensuring that disruptive transport technologies serve the public while managing their negative impacts through various measures including a private car use levy.".

The TOPS index “also indicated that Australians have steadily regained confidence in their local transport services but this is still a long way from the high recorded in September 2013".

We’re told that TOPS is the only regular national survey to measure public opinion on transport related issues, with its second report for 2017 here.


Ok, so the above image is of a robot driven car, but seeing as the car will be the robot... I went with this free image from Pixabay for this story anyway. Enjoy! 

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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