Sustainability and private mobility often don’t go hand in hand. Cars carry a heavy burden: Petrol-driven vehicles emit CO2, heating our planet, they consume raw materials to make, and they take up high-valued space on our streets. In fact, according to the IEA, transportation is responsible for 24 % of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. Cars also cost a significant amount of money to buy and maintain — leading to unequal opportunities of mobility.
Luckily we have a multitude of options to tackle these issues. We can make cars electric, leading to reduced emissions. We can swap private vehicles with shared ones, when one vehicle serves multiple passengers. This public transportation can be extended as well to high-capacity services, such as trains and the metro, to serve highly populated areas.
Public Transportation Is Cost Driven
Yet all this solves just some of the issues we have with transportation. The big question still remains: How to tackle the economics of public transportation, as in many sparsely populated areas the number of paying passengers doesn’t justify the costs and in dense areas building new infrastructure is expensive? In many cases improving services would lead to even more subsidised public transportation.
As budgets are tight, buses don’t drive everywhere, leading to underserved areas where the demand and supply of transportation services don’t match and private vehicles are the only way to move around.
Convenient access to transportation is a question of sustainability itself. The United Nations has defined goals for Sustainable Development, and goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities incorporates the availability of public transportation, setting a goal of less than 500 meters of walking distance to a bus stop or similar.
Autonomous vehicles to the Rescue
Like any automotive company today, Sensible 4 considers sustainability one of the highest priorities.
We develop technology for last-mile autonomous vehicles. We don’t believe in Level 5 robotaxis, taking individual passengers from door to door. Instead we want to enable technically feasible public transportation use-case with Level 4 autonomy.
This approach promotes sustainability in many ways: First of all, it’s all about shared mobility and public transportation. We don’t want to introduce more private cars – neither autonomous nor human-driven – to city centres. We want to enable environmentally sustainable zero-emission transportation.
We want to make shared driverless vehicles mainstream. We can’t change the way people move alone, so we work together with our partners to get there together. This is why we collaborate with companies such as Toyota Motor Europe and Ruter, the public transportation operators at Oslo, Norway.
High Tech Doesn’t Necessarily Mean High Cost
Regarding social sustainability, autonomous driving technology enables transportation to currently under-served areas with limited options for getting around as it reduces the costs per passenger-kilometre when the driver is no longer needed for every vehicle in operation.
Autonomous driving technology also enables better service quality with flexibility: With no driver, the vehicles can be made smaller and routes can be operated demand-based. This in turn means that a vehicle’s driving route can be swapped on the fly based on passenger needs. So, instead of having nearly empty buses driving according to schedule, we could have much smaller, autonomous shuttle buses driving only when there’s a need for them.
Flexible last-mile transportation also provides more passengers to high-capacity trunk lines, such as trains, easing the high cost of investment.
Less operational costs combined with broader service and higher quality will lead to better business. This is the economical sustainability of autonomous, public transportation, enabled by autonomous driving technology.