MUNICH (July 9): While autonomous vehicles (AVs) contribute to a greener urban environment and help support sustainable transportation systems, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a halt to urban mobility as private forms of transportation are now favoured, presumably for hygiene purposes.

However, many cities will embrace shared AVs in the long term as these vehicles are said to be able to alleviate issues such as congestion, air pollution, and road fatalities.

How the technology plays out will depend on the characteristics of each city, and its mobility ecosystem, according to a new report, Can Self-Driving Cars Stop the Urban Mobility Meltdown?, by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

The report, which was released on Thursday, combined qualitative and quantitative approaches with current industry insights through a one-year study.

According to the report, cities must assess whether AVs will help with sustainable transportation, or become a burden, or consider other mobility options such as e-bikes and e-scooters.

The report also found that cities achieve significant tangible benefits by actively shaping the urban mobility environment. For example, Los Angeles could cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 2.7 million metric tons a year through policies that promoted shared AVs and curbed the city’s private vehicle fleet.

Cities will have to build new physical and digitally connected infrastructure (including dedicated lanes and sensors) for AVs to succeed.

For some cities such as Hong Kong, promoting micromobility and walking could deliver greater benefits than introducing AVs.

After an initial wave of euphoria in the mid-2010s, self-driving cars have become the object of considerable scepticism, due to public perception that AVs are unlikely to be widely available soon.

“Cities need to create a vision of where they want to be in the future and start acting now. If they do nothing, and if the growth in private car use increases in line with past trends, the urban environment is set to worsen significantly,” says Nikolaus Lang, a BCG managing director and senior partner, and leader of the firm’s Global Advantage practice worldwide.

“Our research demonstrates what types of cities will benefit most from AVs, and it examines the benefits and drawbacks of taking different policy actions. This is essential information for city planners. In cities where AVs are the best option, municipal authorities will need to collaborate with operators, manufacturers, and technology companies if they are to succeed,” says Andreas Hermann, director of the institute of customer insight at the University of St. Gallen.