Will Self-Driving Cars Make Traffic Worse?

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A study by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group took a look at how the introduction of self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs) in Boston might affect future traffic in the city.  To do this, a traffic simulation model was developed to contrast current traffic flow and patterns with hypothetical traffic incorporating AVs.  The model ran a scenario incorporating both personal and shared AVs (these are self-driving vehicles with shared usage rather than personally owned by an individual or family).  The study resulted in three main findings:

  1. The use of shared AVs would result the overall number of cars within the city of Boston by about 15%.  However, the total number of miles traveled would increase by 16%
  2. Traffic congestion in downtown Boston would worsen as people opt for shared AVs over using public transportation.  The model estimated that the average travel time in downtown Boston would increase by 5.5%. On the flip side, areas where residents rely more heavily on personal vehicles over public transportation would see a decrease in travel time as people switch to using shared AVs over personal car ownership.
  3. The use of shared AVs would dramatically reduce the amount of parking spaces needed.
Modelled traffic flow in Boston comparing current traffic conditions with future conditions incorporating self-driving vehicles. Source: Source: World Economic Forum, BCG analysis.

Modelled traffic flow in Boston comparing current traffic conditions with future conditions incorporating self-driving vehicles. Source: Source: World Economic Forum, BCG analysis.

The Study

Reshaping Urban Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles Lessons from the City of Boston, World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group

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