In a few years, every car may be outfitted with a built-in chauffeur. People will only have to tap their smartphones to summon a driverless vehicle that will take them to a train station or a shopping center. We’re not there yet, but car sharing services show that rental vehicles are becoming increasingly popular in big cities – especially those that can be flexibly driven and parked in their operating area. Creating a public fleet of self-driving vehicles is the next logical step. Simulations conducted for Lisbon, Pittsburgh, and Singapore have shown that only between ten and 30 percent of the current number of vehicles would be needed to meet today’s mobility needs if self-driving vehicles replaced today’s fleets and automobiles were more extensively shared.
The Future of Mobility
A Chauffeur in Every Car
Self-driving vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce traffic congestion if they are shared. Such vehicles will include share taxis that people can summon via smartphones. Automation and connectivity will also make local public transportation more flexible in the future.
The Key to Individual Mobility
In such scenarios, smartphones become an integral part of individual as well as of shared transportation. The precondition for this is that vehicles are indeed shared to a greater extent than they are today – for example, if owners permit their self-driving vehicles to perform taxi services when the vehicles are not otherwise needed. However, instead of reducing traffic, self-driving vehicles could have the opposite effect. For instance, if people begin to rely more heavily on cars for long-distance travel because self-driving vehicles enable them to perform other tasks while on the road. This could encourage travelers to switch from trains, which have inflexible schedules, to cars, which are more flexible.
In view of this, future public transportation systems will need to meet individual mobility needs better than they do today. In addition, they will have to enable passengers to quickly travel from door to door. The automation of public transportation could contribute to such a development. For example, in the future, smartphone connectivity may enable buses and share taxis to deviate from fixed routes and pick people up directly at their homes. In southeastern Bavaria, the town of Freyung is working on just such a system – and demonstrating how on-demand local public transportation service can work. Moreover, smartphone apps will make it easy for passengers to book and pay for trips and thus smoothly combine car sharing services, local public transportation, and rental bicycles. Siemens is working with cities, local public transportation companies, and research institutes to develop such future transportation concepts.
The Alternative to Cars
Local public transportation companies will have to adapt their fleets to growing demand for individualized servce. This task could be ideally performed by self-driving minibuses that would cover the last mile from the subway station, for example, to the front door. In the future, such vehicles could supplement existing driverless subway trains. In Barcelona, for example, subway Line 9 is fully automatic along a distance of 20 kilometers. The line’s trains, which were developed by Siemens, have an automatic control system that continuously transmits their location and speed data. This improves the route’s capacity utilization and enables trains to travel at shorter intervals if necessary. Thanks to Siemens, for the last three years, an automatic system has also continuously tracked the position of the commuter trains that connect Istanbul’s eastern and western districts. Sensors record each train’s position along the route and transmit this data to a control center. Although the trains aren’t driverless, their sophisticated technology enables them to speed up so as to arrive at stops at two-minute intervals, depending on how many passengers want to use the route. As a result, up to 75,000 passengers per hour travel along the commuter rail line in both directions under the Bosporus – without any congestion.
All of this adds up to a clear message. The automation of shared transportation is already in full swing. And self-driving cars will constitute another big step forward – toward the creation of comprehensive networked system that will ideally require far fewer vehicles than are on the road today.