Saudi Arabia and the UAE are likely to benefit most in the region from autonomous mobility-on-demand (AMoD) with the adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and robo-shuttles to rejuvenate public transport services.
However, the major obstacle facing the KSA and the UAE is the comparatively new and developing public transport systems, which leads to higher congestion in metropolitan areas, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the University of St. Gallen (HSG), Switzerland.
The report, titled ‘Can Self-Driving Cars Stop the Urban Mobility Meltdown,’ illustrates how emerging mobility solutions will benefit some metropolises more than others depending on the suitability and mobility ecosystem of each individual city.
Although AVs could transform urban mobility, enthusiasm toward them has cooled because they will not be available at scale for at least another decade and could exacerbate urban sprawl or traffic volume if they appear independently of suitable regulations and policies.
Despite the current skepticism, however, AV pilot programmes continue to attract investment.
Riyadh and Dubai’s population is currently over seven million and three million, respectively, and rising every year – emphasising the underlying need to introduce sustainable public transportation systems.
“Many cities, including Riyadh and Dubai, have been grappling with transportation-related issues on multiple fronts, and AMoD solutions could help tackle these challenges,” said Giovanni Moscatelli, managing director and partner, BCG.
“We anticipate around half of AVs alone will be commercial vehicles instead of privately owned, which would deliver greater convenience than conventional mass transit options do.”
To investigate the impact of AMoD solutions on mobility ecosystems in the future, BCG and HSG developed a sophisticated simulation tool to analyse the technology’s effects over time concerning traffic volume, road fatalities, transportation costs, total parking space, energy consumptions, and journey times.
As a first step, five city archetypes were identified – Highly compact middleweight, Car-centric giant, Prosperous innovation centre, Developing urban powerhouse, and High-density megacity.
Crucially, Riyadh and Dubai have both been placed in the Car-centric giant category as they that have large populations but very low density.
Car-centric giants such as Riyadh and Dubai, which are spread out and have developing public transportation systems, would benefit from robo-shuttles and AVs more than any other scenario. As these would replace private cars, BCG and HSG have concluded that annual fatalities and total parking areas would decline by 37% and 35%, respectively.
Traffic volume would drop by 4%, energy consumption by 12%, and transportation costs by 13%, while journey times would also decrease by 3%. At the same time, journeys per year in terms of private cars and public transit would decrease by 27% and 2%, respectively, when compared to current and projected future modal splits – while robo-taxi’s and robo-pods each account for 11% of trips annually in the forecasted model. However, while some automakers and tech companies plan to launch AVs by the mid-2020s, it will most likely take cities several more years to fully prepare for them – meaning such benefits will not come to fruition until the early 2030s.
Both Riyadh and Dubai stand to capitalise, and the development of AVs could make their respective urban environments greener, more flexible, and help support sustainable transportation systems.
“AVs, including robo-shuttles and robo-taxis, are suitable for Riyadh and Dubai, and the onus is on planners to conduct and continue conducting pilot projects – using policy measures such as dedicated lines, easy availability, price advantages, and good user experiences to promote their uptake,” said Edoardo Geraci, who works on the Future of Mobility for BCG Middle East.
“Mass transit systems in car-centric giants tend to be subpar, thus AMoD solutions will have to be extremely convenient and embedded into a wider digital ecosystem to convince commuters to dispose of their private vehicles,” complemented Ingmar Schaefer a core team member of the BCG automotive and mobility practice.
Meanwhile, traffic systems worldwide are broken, and countless cities across all continents are being confronted with mounting urban mobility challenges year-on-year, with congestion, carbon emissions, space, and road accidents all becoming increasing causes for concern.
Although several new mobility solutions are poised to address these issues beyond 2030, determining which solutions to adopt for each city has been unclear until now.
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