Uncertainties around pace & scale of autonomous vehicle rollout laid bare in new report
‘Considerable uncertainties’ about how fast and how far the rollout of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will go in the UK has been outlined in a report from the Urban Transport Group, the UK’s network of city region transport authorities.
The report, Automatic for the people?, shows that whilst some of the biggest cities are already embracing the potential benefits CAVs could bring through their involvement in trials, the wider uncertainties around how CAVs might develop brings with it hugely complex challenges which require national Government to put city regions’ involvement in CAVs front and centre.
The four main areas the report identifies for action from Government are:
- Greater focus on the highways CAVs will run on rather than just the vehicles themselves. The report finds that in order to operate safely and efficiently, CAVs will require far better maintained, and more digitally connected, highways than is currently the case - and this is on road networks which already suffer from a considerable maintenance backlog.
- A legal and regulatory framework which gives city regions the powers and flexibilities they need to trial CAV innovations and ensure consumers can enjoy the benefits whilst also enabling them to make sure that public transport isn’t ‘hollowed out’ or public safety jeopardised.
- More of the extensive Government funding for the development of CAVs should be available to city regions to build up the expertise and resource they need in order to respond to the challenges and opportunities that CAVs are presenting for city regions. Some of the UK’s largest urban areas currently have few or no specialist staff working exclusively on transformative technological issues like CAVs.
- Less focus just on bringing about an as yet hypothetical end state where all cars are fully autonomous, and greater recognition of supporting city regions in what is likely to be a messy and uneven series of transitions, where public service vehicles may offer more immediately achievable results.
The report also recommends that city regions adopt a ‘principles-based approach’ to CAVs which reflects their goals for inclusive and sustainable economies ‘in order to steer CAVs policy in a way that maximises the wider benefits to people and places.’
Vernon Everitt, Managing Director, Customers, Communication and Technology at Transport for London, and who leads on smart futures for the Urban Transport Group Board of Directors, said:
“Vehicles are already becoming more connected and taking on more autonomous features. Although ultimately we do not know how fast and far the CAV trajectory will take us, this report provides a framework for transport authorities to think through the implications CAVs may have for their transport networks and the role cities might play now and in the future. It also sets out a series of recommendations for national Government and calls for urban transport authorities to be given a place at the top table in determining and implementing an effective national strategy for CAVs.
“Overall, the report shows that if the Government adopts a broad and inclusive approach to the development of CAVs then there could be fantastic opportunities to maximise for the benefit of people, places and the UK economy as a whole. As city regions, we will play a significant role in influencing the appropriate roll out of such technologies. We will continue to put safety first and introduce solutions that support cities’ diverse and complex needs.”