Singapore wants Autonomous Vehicles in public transportation and car-sharing services to avoid potential pitfalls of worsened congestion, surging personal car ownership and increased pollution
As Singapore prepares to host the second Autonomous Vehicles Asia Conference next January, much has happened in its autonomous vehicle (AV) space over the months after the first conference back in February 2017.
Autonomous Vehicles Asia Conference 2018
For two days beginning January 30, 2018, leading experts and industry insiders will share insights and compare notes at the conference on regulatory challenges, infrastructure readiness and risk management for AVs, among many crucial subjects.
It is a fitting venue considering how the Singaporean Land Transport Authority (LTA) had actively shaped how developing AV technology will change life for Singaporeans. LTA even previously said a future of driverless cars could come as early as in the next 10 to 15 years in the nation.
In a previous publication, LTA envision a future with driverless cars that could take children to school before sending their parents to work. Then, it said, the vehicle may be routed to send the grandparents to the market rather than being left unused at the carpark.
“Such an automated system could enable car-sharing in a wider sense, with a potential to reduce passenger vehicles to a third of current numbers, according to a 2011 MIT study in Singapore,” LTA previously said.
There is no doubt that self-driving cars, up to level 5 automation (based SAE International’s classification), is steadily becoming reality — it is merely a question of time now. Nearly a dozen major auto players are already looking at around 2020 and 2021 to roll out cars that are at least level 3 automation.
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Singapore Charts AV Road Ahead
In a nutshell, Singapore has shown how rapidly progressing AV technology could be shaped to complement public transportation and avoid potential pitfalls of worsened congestion, surging personal car ownership and consequently increased pollution.
After preparing legislation to regulate self-driving cars last February, it inked a deal in April to launch what would be the world’s first self-driving buses by 2020. By December 2017, Singapore is set to roll-out what would be its first large-scale electric vehicle (EV)-sharing programme.
The programme, undertaken in partnership with BlueSG Pte Ltd (a subsidiary of French transportation group Bolloré Group), aims to eventually have a 1,000-strong EV fleet supported by a network of 500 charging stations (with 2,000 charging points) across Singapore.
“The network of 2,000 charging points that BlueSG will install island-wide will lay the foundation for a national EV charging network to support EV proliferation moving forward,” says Lam Wee Shann, Chief Technology Officer of LTA.
It is a significant step and hints at the long-term perspective being taken by LTA. BlueSG will operate the program for 10 years before the Singaporean government will take over all infrastructure and make them available for public use.
By then, the underlying effect would be that Singapore would have a national public vehicle-sharing platform that could easily and quickly be integrated with AV technology as and when the latter hits level 4 or 5 automation.
By extension, that arrangement would sidestep the potential issue of surging personal car ownership and ensures that AV technology would support, not compete with, public transportation systems.
Why Governments Need To Lead AV Tech
The initiatives taken by the LTA are aimed at tackling a number of potential harmful consequences from AV technology redefining human urban mobility.
Leaving the technology and its application to be shaped by the private sector will simply do much more harm than good, according to the International Association of Public Transport (UITP).
In a nutshell, the private sector is commercially driven. The core interest of automakers is to sell more cars, which would likely be self-driving vehicles someday. That road leads to self-driving cars simply replacing our personal cars today.
That’s not sustainable, says UITP, because the autonomous cars would encourage even more people to buy their own self-driving cars: it would be more convenient, safer and more comfortable. Personal car ownership would surge spectacularly.
In other words, the number of cars on our roads would grow tremendously, worsening congestion while discouraging urban commuters to take public transportation.
That’s a critical problem for the world’s growing population centres, where the worst road congestion issues are and where the push towards becoming car-lite to improve urban liveability is also strongest.
The numbers are discouraging (unless you’re an automaker). By 2035, the value of the core market for self-driving vehicles alone will be an estimated $560 billion, with 250 million cars expected to be connected to the Internet by 2020, according to estimates compiled by the organisers of the Autonomous Vehicles Asia Conference 2018.
And between 2025 and 2035, the compounded annual growth rate for the AV industry could be as high as 63%, implying the potential growth rate of personal AV ownership that could follow.
So how do we avert this? The only logical way forward would be for governments to shape the evolution of how AV technology is applied in our daily lives, as Singapore is doing.
By taking the lead in AV technology progression, governments can ensure self-driving cars are well integrated with public transportation networks and reduce the number of cars on the roads.
Growing Recognition on AV Technology’s Importance
The need for government leadership in the AV space is gaining recognition. Apart from Singapore, other authorities around the world are also taking steps to steer the progression towards the technology’s potential benefits while avoiding its drawbacks.
One example is how Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, launched the Kaohsiung Strategies for the Future of Urban Mobility in early October. Among others, the strategies include calling for self-driving cars in urban areas to be operated only in shared fleets as opposed to via personal ownership.
Last year, Boston city in the United States announced that it is partnering AV technology start-ups to test self-driving cars around the city as part of its Boston 2030 transportation plan following a public feedback solicitation initiative.
Among its partners are nuTonomy, Delphi and Optimus Ride. According to the city’s official documentation of the test programme, it is crucial to ensure AV technology is applied correctly as self-driving cars may also displace workers and encourage both sprawl and congestion.
“We want to shape the development of technology and policy to deliver on the potential promise — and not the potential drawbacks,” the city said.