Will Autonomous Vehicles Increase or Decrease Traffic?

You might think significant use of autonomous vehicles would increase--or at least not affect--primary reliance on public transportation. You might also guess that use of autonomous vehicles would reduce use of traditional taxis.

A study conducted by Boston Consulting Group suggests the former would not happen, while the latter would. The study looked at existing and expected traffic patterns in downtown Boston.


The risk of unintended consequences arguably is substantial. If autonomous vehicles make transportation  cheaper and more convenient, traffic congestion could increase.

If people use autonomous vehicles more often and in an ad hoc manner, more congestion could result.

Greater congestion could also result from a rise in certain types of zero-occupancy trips, such as when empty autonomous vehicles cruise the streets to sautonomous vehiclee on the costs of parking.

The base case assumes that 56 percent of the trips start, end or occur entirely within the 0.45-square-kilometer study area involve public transit, 33 percent involve a traditional personal vehicle and 11 percent involve taxi or ride-hailing services.

Scenario A, the evolutionary scenario, assumed a substantial shift from traditional to autonomous privately owned cars and a steady increase in the use of shared modes of mobility.

Specifically, it assumed that 11 percent of trips would be by traditional private car, another 11 percent by privately owned autonomous vehicle, 50 percent by public transit, and 22 percent by ride-shared autonomous vehicle taxi.

Traditional taxis and ride-hailing account for the remaining six percent of trips in this scenario.

Scenario B postulated a revolutionary change from privately owned vehicles to the on-demand use of electric autonomous vehicle fleets. This scenario assumed that 34 percent of trips would be by public transit, 24 percent by single-passenger autonomous vehicle taxi, 14 percent by ride-shared autonomous vehicle taxi, and 28 percent  by autonomous vehicle shuttle bus.


source: Boston Consulting Group

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