The U.S. population is aging, with the demographic of people over the age of 65 growing at a faster rate than other demographics (Fagnant and Kockelman, 2015, pg. 5). Elderly people are more likely to develop disabilities that make it less safe or near impossible to drive.
One of the most important benefits of self-driving vehicles is that they will provide safe mobility to the elderly and the disabled, but also to people who are too young to drive. AVs also facilitate personal comfort and independence while traveling safely. All of these factors will further increase automobile travel demands, and eventually VMT and congestion. However, by providing safe mobility for everyone, there is an increase in productivity and efficiency. Generally, many of the expected benefits depend on the shift to mobility services more so than on automation. However, automation can make mobility services more competitive by reducing its price significantly.
Mobility as a Service (MaaS)
The future is likely to see trends that move toward the usage of vehicles as an on-demand service as opposed to an owned product. SAVs can act as an on-demand service for passengers from origin to destination. This can be implemented either by private agencies or as part of public transit.
- AVs are designed to improve mobility, both by making it safer and more comfortable. Since this will potentially offer greater benefits to high income areas, we can expect an automation-induced sprawl in developing areas. This will most likely be similar to the traditional automobile driven sprawls.
- Parking needs may be severely affected. There likely will not be as much demand for expensive paid on-street parking as it becomes easier for an AV to self-park in cheaper areas, to send the vehicle back home (creating empty VMT), or to use SAVs that are generally in a loop providing services.
- As one study notes, “car and ride-sharing programs could expand, as AVs serve multiple persons on demand; and the trucking industry may realize better fuel savings via road-trains, or even one day go driver-less.” (Fagnant and Kockelman, 2015, pg. 5)
- Introduction of AVs may also result in a shift of destination choice. People may tend to travel to places of further distances due to the decrease of the value of travel time and increase mobility. A study from the University of Texas, Austin predicts a 9.6% increase in long-distance travel for personal vehicles (Perrine et al., 2018).