The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles Refreshes the Need for Strong Congestion Pricing Models


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According to a TechCrunch article published April 29, 2019, the increasing popularity of self-driving vehicles might spell huge problems for road traffic.

Self-Driving Cars to Soon Hit the Road

There’s no doubt that self-driving or autonomous vehicles are the future of transportation in the 21st century.

The rise of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) coupled with studies that suggest that the average cost of living is set to plummet in the coming years, all point to the unavoidable barrage of autonomous vehicles set to hit the roads.

While the advantages of self-driving vehicles are plenty, there’s also the associated fear of increased traffic congestion. A car is a tangible vehicle – be it self-driving or people driven – occupying considerably more space on the roads compared to other modes of public transport like buses, trams, and trains.

Further, thanks to the technological advancement and economies of scale, traveling from one place to another is easier than ever. The rapid transformation of companies like Uber and Lyft into multi-billion dollar enterprises speaks volumes of the strong state of demand for their services.

However, this ease of convenience has unintentionally accentuated the problem of traffic congestion by heaps. A recent study by Schaller postulates that the unconstrained growth of ride-hailing services has worsened traffic in the U.S.’s nine biggest cities.

This problem, however, could stretch far beyond traditional vehicles as a recent study by the Journal of Transportation Policy states that self-driving cars could make the problem even worse.

More than What Meets the Eye

More to the point, what do these vehicles do when they’re not ferrying passengers?

Three of the obvious options that an autonomous vehicle that is not in use could consider are to either go back home, park somewhere, or circle the streets like an aimless vigilante.

It’s safe to say that they’d prefer to wander city streets to avoid paying the parking fee. These obstacles have also forced urban policymakers to rethink congestion pricing models.

Currently, congestion pricing models operate in a few different ways. The majority of congestion pricing schemes pick a part of the city or specific high-traffic zones to establish a flat and variable fee payment system. When vehicles enter these areas, a congestion fee is levied on them. However, this system might not stand the test of time with the impending grand entry of autonomous vehicles.

In a bid to mitigate the impact of such vehicles, New York City has decided to implement a new congestion zone starting in 2021 that is expected to impact drivers south of 60th Street entering Manhattan. Experts opine that the proposed policy could rake in as much as $1 billion a year which could then be spent on furthering improving the state of public transportation.

Similar futuristic initiatives are being undertaken by administrators in places like Washington D.C., and Singapore, among others.

Concluding, it remains to be seen how technological advancements like self-driving vehicles affect the policy-making think-tanks around the world. Hopefully, the industry will witness a future where urban administrative bodies and entrepreneurial and public interests are on the same page.

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