Can you please explain your concept of “auto-no-emotion” and why you developed this term?
I wanted to push back on the over-hyped and unproven ideas around driverless cars by inventing a new word to describe how they have been “over-marketed”. That’s what the new word “auto-no-emotion” describes.
I put the phrase “no-emotion” in there to emphasise the inhuman aspects of the technology at present because the human aspects and interfaces have yet to be developed, solved or even considered.
Yet without human acceptance, this technology cannot succeed.
The best and most successful technology applications have seamless intuitive human interfaces and, until driverless cars develop this, they will not be a worthwhile or even feasible mobility option.
How will infrastructure change if autonomous vehicles dominate the roads? For instance, the potential elimination of car parks and petrol stations.
In theory, a driverless car city won’t need parking since vehicles can drop you off and drive to the next user themselves. The problem with that is commuter car occupancy today is just above one person per car in Australia. Yet it could go below one as driverless cars reposition without anyone in them.
I’m not sure we need fewer people in congested streets and empty cars clogging them up, but we might get a bit more road space by removing kerbside parking. Off-street parking makes up a bulk of city real estate, but removing and repurposing this real estate provides an opportunity for improved urban economic productivity.
Autonomous vehicles are likely to be electric or fuel cell-powered, so conventional petrol stations won’t be needed. Repurposing petrol station land to other uses again presents an opportunity to use that land in more productive ways.
In practice I suggest that safety is the biggest single infrastructure barrier.
Streets are just too complex an environment for safe autonomous movements of vehicles that can kill people. I suspect a more feasible outcome is selective adoption in defined controlled areas under managed conditions.
Dedicated and segregated freeway lanes for long distance trucks might be an example of sections of an urban area where only autonomous vehicles are permitted, and where pedestrian movements are carefully managed.
My benchmark for this are driverless train stations in operation today. They all have platform doors carefully managing the human-machine interface to ensure no unexpected human movements onto tracks – why would we not also do this for autonomous cars?
What are the main challenges autonomous vehicles must still overcome?
Human interface issues – including human acceptance – remain major concerns. They also have to prove they can help make cities better. I think they have a likely potential to increase urban traffic congestion and I can’t see why we would permit that when traffic has been eroding city liveability.
Is Australia leading or lagging behind the developed world when it comes to public transport? What should Australia do to improve?
The size and quality of public transport in Australia is not as good as in European cities, but those cities have much higher urban density of activity and much lower car ownership. It’s comparing apples and oranges.
Some aspects of Australian public transport are renowned as best practice internationally: Brisbane’s busway network is often cited as world-leading and Melbourne’s legacy tram network is the largest in the world. Many world cities are investing big in new light railways, but they can only dream of having the scale of network Melbourne has.
That’s not to say improvement isn’t possible or even essential. My big ask is to increase service investment. We need to expand the footprint of mass transit beyond inner city and rail corridors into the suburbs to give people better choice of options for travel.
Central areas need more metros and bus frequencies must be upgraded. We have much investment in public transport at present, but our research shows the quantity of service provided is not even keeping pace with population growth.
In effect, per capita service levels are in decline so we aren’t even keeping pace with growth.
You’ve been involved in transport planning for all the summer Olympic Games since 1996 and the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. Do you have a particularly stand-out story from these experiences?
These are real-world examples of the future of Australia’s booming cities. Olympic host cities and Mecca face the largest single mass volume of travel demand in their history – far in excess of their limited and congested capacity to handle these demands.
The only possible way these cities can handle this is using mass public transport movement. So these cities change the day-to-day conventional transport rules because they have no choice.
Cars are banned, vast sums are invested in quality rail solutions and mass public transport movement is the only accepted option.
My stand-out story is that it works. It’s not a theory, it actually works. If you want to see how Australia’s future mega cities will work in 2050, go and look at central Tokyo during the 2020 summer Olympics.
We won’t be using empty and single occupancy private cars to create gridlock; mass rail transit is the only feasible option.