Self-driving cars could make city centers like old airport arrival areas - Mobility Lab

February 5, 2019


People who are authorities on autonomous vehicles (AVs) often say a major benefit will be the accompanying mass reduction in parking needed.


And replacing parking with places where people can socialize, lounge, and generally enjoy living does indeed sound like a utopian vision for our cities of the future.


But new research from the University of California, Santa Cruz in the current issue of Transport Policy finds a dark side when AVs replace all that wasteful parking. Author Adam Millard-Ball notes that AVs would be able to cruise around city streets – completely devoid of people – at less cost than having to pay to park during that time.


Science Daily claims that “Millard-Ball is the first researcher to analyze the combined impact of parking costs and self-driving cars on city centers, where the cost and availability of parking is the only tool that effectively restricts car travel.”


Under the best-case scenario, the presence of as few as 2,000 self-driving cars in downtown San Francisco will slow traffic to less than 2 miles per hour, according to Millard-Ball, who uses game theory and a traffic micro-simulation model to generate his predictions.


“It just takes a minority to gum things up,” he said, recalling the congestion caused at airports by motorists cruising the “arrivals” area to avoid paying for parking: “Drivers would go as slowly as possible so they wouldn’t have to drive around again.” Free cell-phone parking areas, coupled with strict enforcement in loading areas, relieved the airport snarls, but cities will be hard-pressed to provide remote parking areas for self-driving cars at rates lower than the cost of cruising — which Millard-Ball estimates at 50 cents per hour.


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