Could self-driving vehicles make traffic worse?

The title of the story in this Stream (see the box below) is a bit misleading, as it’s not really about traffic but more about carbon emissions, car ownership and land use in cities.

About traffic, as self-driving cars are expected to run smoother than human-driving cars, it seems that self-driving cars will help to avoid traffic jams caused by seemingly insignificant micro events.

So thanks to those cars, the capacity of road infrastructures will increase at basically zero cost1.

Another point I want to make is about a scenario where the amount of land used by cars in cities significantly reflows, thanks to an increase in the average number of riders per car:

It’s a nice vision. But to be realized it must overcome two barriers. One is US aversion to active government. The other is an enormous amount of accrued habit and behavior on the part of affluent Westerners, particularly in the US, who are attached to the current system of private ownership and low occupancy.

The habit of being alone in our car can easily be explained by the service offered by a car: fast and “cheap” transportation with extra room for capacity. To change this habit, an alternative system would have to offer at least the same level of comfort and service, for a similar (or lower) price. Unless an offer like that appears on the market, I don’t believe this habit has the smallest chance to change.

Unless we share them, self-driving vehicles will just make traffic worse

A carbon-free, autonomous car is still a car; it still takes up space.


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