How will cities be impacted by the first wave of autonomous cars?

Press the button. Image: Aviva.
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In the future, everything about cars as we know them may change. Aviva is preparing for that future by conducting tests on connected and autonomous vehicle technologies through extensive real-world trials.

Imagine this scene: It’s the year 2040, and Tom’s home virtual personal assistant has summoned an autonomous car to his home in Edinburgh. He will be attending a meeting in London in a couple of hours. The autonomous car is taking him to a mobility hub, where he will board a pre-booked seat on a Hyperloop. Half an hour later he’ll arrive in London. Tom will walk the rest of the way, or he may even get into a shared shuttle to get to his ultimate destination.

There are incremental steps to get to this future – ten, twenty, and thirty steps along the way that are easier to imagine – and one step we can see happening in the future is fully autonomous vehicles. However, understanding the impact of these vehicles and how people might use them is a challenge. We know that cars with semi-autonomous features are available, but drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take control in all cases.  

Autonomous cars today

There are no autonomous vehicles currently available to buy. We haven’t reached the stage where a truly autonomous vehicle has been designed, tested, manufactured, approved, priced or marketed. Until that happens, along with the development of legislation and infrastructure, we will see trials aiming to find answers to the huge number of questions we all have. New ways of accessing transport are emerging and subscription services and shared mobility models mean private consumers may not be the car owners of the future. Fleet operators are more likely to purchase or lease autonomous vehicles.

There are vehicles being tested in a variety of situations around the world. Most notable is Waymo’s ‘robotaxi’ service in Phoenix, Arizona. The company has deployed self-driving cars onto public roads, aiming to integrate the service with a commercial ride-hailing network. There are also trials happening in the UK. In fact, Aviva is a Founder Member of the Smart Mobility Living Lab: London.

The Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMML), based in Greenwich, provides a real-life environment to test and evaluate new technology, including connected and autonomous vehicles. Along with Honda, BP, Centrica and Hastings Direct, we’re on a journey to answer the burning questions around the future of mobility. The autonomous vehicle trials will be taking place around Woolwich in London.

Autonomous cars will change cities

It’s hard to predict what will change in cities once fully autonomous cars become available, but I’ve had the luxury of being able to create personas and run them through a series of future scenarios for my job. Sometimes they seem far-fetched and technically improbable. More often than not, the scenarios are realistic – and when based on facts like environmental factors, technological innovation, legislation, and manufacturing plans and predictions – a picture of the future slowly emerges. One such scenario is the story of Tom’s morning I invited you to imagine above.

The real certainty for how cities will change is that public transport has to evolve dramatically and blend into a mixed mobility ecosystem. This should see fewer individual vehicles congesting our living spaces and more advanced shared systems, freeing up parking spaces. Oh, and of course: more trees!

The transition to autonomous cities

It’s not so much a question of ‘when’ cities become fully autonomous, but a question of how autonomous and connected services will become integrated into our cities – and how will they work seamlessly with people and businesses. Do we have a flexible infrastructure and are we receptive to the major transformation, disruption and cost that some of these changes will require?

Already, we’re seeing new buildings being built with the tech required for connected living, together with charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Scale this up to communal living spaces and mixed commercial properties and you start to see the challenges faced in planning such an environment. I’m certain though, the first thing we’ll notice about our cities is cleaner air. Beyond that, who knows?

I wouldn’t consider the evolution of mobility as a ‘change over’ to connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), more an adoption and integration of CAVs in certain aspects of life. Mobility is about moving people, goods and services and CAVs are a component of this. To get to the point of having CAVs working ubiquitously in a city environment, one has a multi-faceted set of impacts to address.

Some are positive and others less so. Imagine for example, if all taxis were robotaxis. Where would the former drivers work? If all connected vehicles were also able to predict their need for repair… and fix themselves. And what if cars cleaned themselves, and they never crashed into each other, accidents were a thing of the past, what impact would that have on society?

I’m asked when we’ll see autonomous vehicles in everyday life almost every day, but that’s a very hard question to answer. The adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles depends on the circumstances. Personal individual mobility and commercial industrial mobility will dramatically differ. The latter has already adopted autonomous vehicles over the last few decades, from the Docklands Light Railway to heavy industrial mining trucks. These don’t hit the headlines, but have been successfully used to improve movement, efficiency and safety.

So, we’re already starting to see autonomous vehicles in everyday life – they just aren’t the ones you may have noticed.

Andreas Mavroudis is Senior Mobility Futures Manager at Aviva.


As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.

The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.