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Report: combination of new mobility technologies creates opportunities for cutting emissions, but requires strategic policy interventions

The combination of connectivity, automation plus shared vehicle ownership and use has the potential to make car travel greener and cheaper, cutting energy use and helping accelerate the introduction of low carbon vehicles. However, these energy and carbon benefits are by no means guaranteed and will require strategic policy interventions to maximize them according to new report by the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) at the University of Leeds, commissioned by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The study—Automated vehicles; Automatically low carbon?— was presented at the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Conference at the Olympic Park in London. According to the study, better coordination and connectivity between vehicles and infrastructure is likely to improve energy efficiency, as well as potentially make road transport safer and quicker.

The research suggests that:

  • The net impact of the technical developments will ultimately depend on how their introduction spurs further innovation in vehicle and transport system design combined with mobility service provision.

  • The majority of system-wide energy efficiency benefits are likely to result from high levels of connectivity and coordination between vehicles and infrastructure, not through automation per se.

  • At full automation (ie ‘driverless’ vehicles), the impacts are highly dependent on the degree to which the current paradigm of individual private car ownership transitions to new models of shared access and use.

  • Automation and connectivity together can result in some vehicle-level energy efficiency benefits.

  • Full automation could help accelerate the transition to low carbon vehicles by reducing the practical difficulties often anticipated with these vehicles such as refueling/recharging.

  • Most of the large-scale benefits of fully automated vehicles can only materialize when they are widespread and affordable which is likely to take several decades.

The research suggests that in order to realize the potential to make car travel greener and cheaper much more work needs to be done to encourage shared car ownership. Government policy can provide a supportive environment for new mobility services to develop by delivering open data protocols, supporting technology incubation and providing local authorities with resources to enhance skills and offer incentives to local mobility service companies.

However, energy demand and traffic may increase, say the researchers, as car travel becomes more popular due to the fact that autonomous cars leave the occupant free to use travel time for other activities. Among other policy responses could be a need for demand management to mitigate against unsustainable increases in the use of cars. Potential policies might include road user charging, low-emission zoning and regulating empty running.

The researchers say that achieving the desired combination of outcomes related to carbon, energy, air quality, safety and accessibility will need careful, synergistic and timely policy design with coordination between the automotive and telecommunication industries, transport system operators and mobility service providers.

They say that regulations or innovative policies may be required to encourage manufacturers to provide efficiency optimizing features such as automated eco-driving, eco-routing, platooning or energy saving algorithms in the vehicles.

Low carbon, alternative fuel pumps and charging stations need to be planned and designed for automated, unattended dispensing or charging in order to alleviate the inconveniences of refueling these vehicles and to encourage their uptake, according to the researchers.

Automation can offer large benefits to the society, not only in carbon terms but also in improving safety and social inclusion. However, a lot of these benefits will depend on how we use the technology. Let’s not be blinded by the excitement associated with driverless cars, saying the technology alone will solve all the problems. We know that there could be some risks - like there are for most new technologies. We need to be careful and be proactive about resolving these risks early on to fully reap the benefits of automation and intelligent connectivity.

—Dr. Zia Wadud, from the University of Leeds Institute of Transport Studies

The LowCVP is a public-private, not-for-profit partnership that exists to accelerate a sustainable shift to lower carbon vehicles and fuels and create opportunities for UK businesses. The LowCVP has been—and continues to be—mainly funded by the Department for Transport but with increasing contributions via membership fees and sponsorship/project income. Approaching 200 organizations are members, from diverse backgrounds including automotive and fuel supply chains, vehicle users, academics and environment/not-for-profit bodies.

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