Research: How to Eliminate 90 Percent of Vehicle Traffic

A new computer simulation foreshadows the future of urban road travel.

by / September 30, 2014
Audi’s autonomous TTS. Merging self-driving cars with ride-sharing services could reduce vehicle traffic by 90 percent, according to a new report. Audi

A new study performed by researchers from the University of Texas, Austin, determined that 90 percent of all road vehicles could be eliminated through the use of new technologies. Today's ride-sharing and rental services like Uber and Car2Go could reach their maximum potential if they were combined with self-driving vehicle technology, according to the research (PDF).

A computer simulation using Austin, Texas, as a sample region found that a fleet of self-driving vehicles would also reduce total parking demand by about eight vehicles for each autonomous vehicle implemented. Researchers theorized that such reduction in urban vehicle clutter could free space for other uses and help cities shift toward the construction of more parks, offices, wider sidewalks, bus parking and bike lanes.

Researchers also concluded that if their model were to be implemented in the real world, there would be improvements to air quality through the reduction of vehicle emissions. Self-driving vehicles using this model would spend more time in operation than today’s vehicles, but heavy-emission vehicles like trucks and SUVs would become less common, thus reducing pollution.

The high rate of vehicle utility in the researchers’ model also  would call for the vehicles to be replaced far more often, but even that could be viewed as a positive. “Since vehicle automation technology is evolving rapidly, this cycling will allow fleet operators to consistently provide SAVs [shared autonomous vehicles] with the latest sensors, actuation controls and other automation hardware, which tends to be much more difficult to provide than simple SAV system firmware and software updates,” the report states.

If driverless car programs like those led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti take hold, models such as these could become commonplace and transform the urban landscape across the nation.

The report is available on the Transportation Research Board website (PDF).