Driverless cars will make more traffic, say transport boffins

Share my car? I'd rather walk, punters tell Australian survey

Australian researchers predict that the rise of the autonomous vehicle will make congestion worse.

That's the somewhat counter-intuitive conclusion offered by researchers from the University of Sydney's Institute of Transport and Logistical Studies, whose Transport Opinion Survey (TOP) has run since 2010.

The most recent release of the study found that while Australian punters love the idea of a self-driving car, they're far less keen on sharing their car with others.

Only one-third of people who think they'd buy an autonomous vehicle, if they could, would be willing to lease their car to someone else for use.

That sharing is vital to any assumption that self-driving vehicles would reduce congestion (including a prediction by Barclay's in 2015, and this author's own speculation in 2013. El Reg colleague Chris Mellor also argues rising congestion is an inevitable consequence of auto-autos).

More precisely, the survey's finding was that 28 per cent of Australians in the sample would consider buying an AV, but only seven per cent would lease theirs to others.

Without a change to attitudes, such a low rate of sharing would be too low to offset population-driven growth in the number of cars on the roads.

The Australian willingness-to-buy was even lower than in Blighty, where a study released in August found one-third of Brits would let technology provide the chauffer.

Australians' unwillingness to share led TOP's director Professor David Hensher to suggest traffic congestion could get worse in the self-driving car era, unless governments encourage sharing (for example, via a levy on private vehicle use).

He said “the real challenge is getting society to become more sharing either by allowing others to use their cars or through a third party mobility plan” in the university's media release [PDF]. ®

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