Transport automation is constantly advancing in society: every year an increasing number of self-driving pilots are organised, while car manufacturers push out new vehicles that utilise automation technology. Still, the near-future implementations of services operated with self-driving vehicles have received little attention in the scientific literature, whereas studies focusing on the “end state” are published nearly every day.

Forum Virium launched a research project in February with the aim of supporting a responsible and sustainable process of implementing connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) into society. The research pursued to identify, through expert and stakeholder interviews, plausible near-future service designs for connected and automated, rubber-tire collective transport and the essential criteria for evaluating these services. Additionally, the relative importance and the viability of the criteria were investigated alongside the performance of the imagined services with a multicriteria scenario evaluation exercise.

The participants represented a relatively comprehensive and even sample of key actors currently working with transport automation: public authorities, municipal planning, consulting, research, vehicle and software development, vehicle operation, public transit planning, and innovation facilitation. All participants were, at the time of participating, in a leading or leading expert position in their respective organisations. For enabling free expression, the participants are featured anonymously in the publication.

Door-to-door or stop-to-stop?

The participating experts and stakeholders had rather similar views about the future CAVs but some divergence occurred as well. Most participants viewed CAVs, in the early stages, as a way to complement the collective transport system. The vehicles were mostly associated with feeder and last/first mile services. Two service designs were frequently mentioned in the interviews: point-to-point fixed-route services and point-to-point flexible-route services. Flexible services were associated with loosely populated suburban neighbourhoods and fixed services with densely populated areas. However, a conflicting result was obtained from the multicriteria process – in which the services were evaluated according to their perceived safety, reliability, transport system effects, environmental effects, resource efficiency, and travel experience – as the participants expected that the imagined fixed-line services would distinctly outperform the flexible ones in both densely and loosely populated settings. Nevertheless, the participants expected that the CAV-services, fixed or flexible, would be an improvement from the conventional bus lines that were used as a reference point. Besides the service designs and the locations of implementation, divergence occurred in the expected rate of technological development and in the services’ presumed ability to advance equal mobility, especially regarding the services’ ability to cater to people with physical disabilities.

Next steps on the path to automation

The results of this study somewhat diverge from the mass of previously published research, as the majority of participating experts viewed CAVs as a new component of the established public transport system, whereas many previous studies have depicted them as an alternative for conventional public transport.  The reasons for this I have already addressed in my previous blog. The results also paint a more modest picture of the near-future revolutions in the transport system. Most of the participants expected that only a few public transit connections could be fully replaced with automated ones in the examined time window; in other words, automated services would replace only minor parts of the existing connections, coexist with them, or extend them. Hence, it is unlikely that major cost-savings, often mentioned in the literature, will materialise with the “first wave” of automated services. Nevertheless, properly organised, automated feeder services could attract new public transport users.

How an automated service is organised properly, is still – even after this study – quite unclear. However, it is certain that organising such a service is not straightforward, as the new mode of mobility introduces new obstacles and requirements. Already it can be stated with extreme confidence that current practices in public transport planning are insufficient for producing automated services responsibly. The findings made in the study regarding the matter are extensive: the current accessibility standards of public transport are inadequate for automated services; the role of safety, namely social, perceived and cyber safety, will increase in public transport planning; as the services will concentrate on smaller areas, the risk of unjust distribution of benefits and burdens increases… The list is long but incomplete.

All things considered, the findings of this study showcase how little we still understand about transport automation. What we do know is that transport automation has the potential to disrupt transport system and society in unexpected, unwanted ways if we do not truly contemplate and steer the implementation of the technology. The study underlined obvious threats regarding inclusivity of automated services but simultaneously indicated that, quite possibly, many implications remain hidden. The findings can be regarded as good indicators for the next steps to be taken in service piloting and research, as neither has yet been able to sufficiently address the concerns revolving around the phenomenon.

To seize opportunities and combat challenges, collective learning is essential. We encourage organisations working with transport automation to actively share their knowledge. This is what Forum Virium also aims to do. Feel free to contact our professionals regarding future pilots, research or anything transport automation related.

Read the study here:

Expert-based multicriteria assessment of near-future scenarios for the automation of collective transport services in Helsinki – a SOHJOA Baltic Study.

sohjoa baltic

Further information

Janne Olin

Project Planner


Mobile: +358 40 742 1884
janne.olin(at)forumvirium.fi

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