Harnessing the Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) Mitigation Potential of On-demand Mobility and Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)

Two emerging trends in mobility—Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and on-demand mobility (also referred to as ride-sharing or ride-sourcing)—have the potential to dramatically impact travel behavior and by extension, the environmental and social impacts of transportation. Both trends have many potential/claimed benefits, such as better road utilization; increased safety; reduced traffic; enhanced access to jobs, services and amenities for low-mobility individuals; reduced parking needs; and energy conservation and emissions reduction. Nevertheless, adopting these technologies also carry risks and under certain scenarios may even exacerbate, as opposed to relieve, mobility problems such as increased Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT), high cost of transportation, and diminished support for public transportation investments.To maximize the benefits and minimize the risks, these technological developments should be accompanied by a holistic vision, greater interoperability among transportation services, and stronger policy support for shared and low-carbon mobility.

Recent literature emphasizes the potential energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) impacts of vehicle automation and technology-enabled on-demand mobility and offers detailed scenario analysis to estimate such impacts. For example, researchers have estimated that Autonomous Vehicles can result in up to 80% energy use reduction through various mechanisms such as platooning technologies, more efficient traffic flow, reduced parking needs, light-weight or efficient vehicles, and real-time or dynamic ridesharing. However, these emission reductions are not assured, and outcomes depend on how automation and on-demand mobility might impact travel behavior, vehicle operations, vehicle design, or the entire transportation system. Ironically, VMTs and fuel consumption might significantly increase, if energy intensity benefits of AVs are not realized. Also, people may choose to live further from the city-center when they can convert their commuting time to productive time, which could potentially increase VMT and GHGs. Therefore, it is critical to seize the energy and emissions mitigation opportunities of these technologies and minimize the risk of counterproductive outcomes through long-range policies and plans that offer a comprehensive vision of future mobility.

Despite the significance of incorporating potential impacts of AVs and on-demand mobility in Climate Action Plans (developed to reduce GHGs and adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change), it is unclear how municipal CAPs can benefit from such emissions reduction impacts. A review of long-range transportation plans revealed that uncertainties involved in these new technologies and their impacts on investment decisions have resulted in an elimination of AV discussions in virtually all long-range transportation plans. On the other hand, to meet California’s long-term GHG emissions reduction goal (i.e. 80% below 1990 levels by 2050), it is crucial to combine technological advancements and policy packages to mitigate emissions from transportation—the second largest source of overall GHGs. This research addresses this gap in the literature by identifying ways to incorporate potential impacts of AVs and on-demand mobility into local Climate Action Plans (CAPs).

University: 

Mineta Consortium for Transportation Mobility

Principal Investigator: 

Serena Alexander, Ph.D.

PI Contact Information: 

Mineta Transportation Institute
San José State University
210 N. 4th St., 4th Floor
San Jose, CA 95112
serena.alexander@sjsu.edu

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization): 

U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology – $25,836

Total Project Cost: 

$25,836

Agency ID or Contract Number: 

69A3551747127

Dates: 

September 2018 to November 2019

Project Number: 

1818