Why European cities are pioneers in transport automation

5th November 2018

By Peter Staelens, Senior Project Coordinator, EUROCITIES

Digitalisation, connectivity and automation are expected to radically transform the urban traffic environment. This is why cities are preparing to tackle the challenges and maximise the benefits of connected, cooperative and automated vehicles.

At EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities, we view transport automation as an enabler, rather than an end goal, in the quest towards greater sustainable mobility. Of course, this comes with its own set of opportunities and challenges. On the positive side, transport automation could help significantly reduce traffic, energy consumption, emissions and accidents, and the need for on- and off-street parking, which can be reclaimed for public use. On the other hand, the widespread introduction of cheap-to-use automated vehicles could encourage a shift away from other forms of sustainable transport such as public transport and cycling, stimulating unnecessary travel.

The above list of pros and cons is not exhaustive, and many elements of this debate remain unclear, such as the extent to which cities will need to adapt existing physical and digital infrastructure, and how this will affect the public domain and the role and budget of road managing authorities. That’s why at EUROCITIES we worked with our member cities to develop a joint vision and a common set of principles on how to integrate connected, cooperative and automated vehicles in the urban system.

The deployment of automated vehicles will need to comply with the strategic long-term objectives of a city’s sustainable urban mobility plan (SUMP), to maximise the potential and mitigate negative impacts. This implies that–apart from optimising road capacity and traffic flows–local transport automation strategies should also support societal goals such as better social inclusion, health and wellbeing, quality of public space, access to jobs and services, climate protection and energy efficiency. With this in mind, automated transport should help improve accessibility for all by offering a consistent level of on demand services, which are shared, flexible and integrated across the public transport network.

Many local authorities are already preparing for a driverless future. London, Paris and Copenhagen are just a few examples of cities that are currently testing automated shuttles. Gothenburg and Volvo are cooperating on a large demonstration project with automated cars, and recently also tested a prototype of an automated bus. Other cities like Lisbon, Vienna and Amsterdam have done pioneering work in developing models, scenarios and strategies for the deployment of automated vehicles.

At the European level, the European Commission has recently published a strategy on connected and automated mobility. Given that this has a high impact on cities, we are calling for European cities to be involved in the development of a pan-European strategy and roadmap. We need a platform at the European level where representatives from national and local authorities can work together with industry, operators and service providers to identify common challenges and solutions.

More city-focused research and pilot schemes are needed to address knowledge gaps and further experiment with the rollout of connected and automated vehicles in urban areas.

Further efforts should be made to publicise and disseminate the findings of research and innovation projects–both EU-funded and otherwise–on transport automation, especially those that are industry or technology-led. Having access to specific datasets collected by automated and connected vehicle operators and digital platforms, more specifically anonymised data related to origin/destination travel patterns, occupancy rates and environmental performance, would allow cities and transport authorities to better enforce traffic rules and to better design, manage and optimise sustainable local transport networks and services.

In the coming months, as part of our wider aim to directly engage citizens in strategic European debates, EUROCITIES will be working with the EU-wide campaign organised by Missions Publiques, which collects opinions from the wider public on how autonomous cars could shape the city of the future.

Cities, and city networks like EUROCITIES, can connect the dots in the automated transport debate to help create a more sustainable future that works for all people. Cities are the place where these challenges come together, and cities are the place where tomorrow’s solutions will be met.

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EUROCITIES is the political platform for major European cities. It networks with local governments from over 140 of Europe’s largest cities and more than 40 partner cities that between them govern some 130 million citizens across 39 countries. www.eurocities.eu

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