Autonomous vehicles: the converging factor for private and public actors in

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The rise of smart cities and autonomous vehicles is fundamentally changing interactions between private and public actors, posing new considerations for data sharing between the two. By Christian Theissen

Autonomous vehicles are one of the key pillars of smart city projects. The mobility concept of smart cities is changing the dynamic between private and public actors in these projects. The new German draft bill on autonomous driving demonstrates just how closely autonomous driving and the mobility concept of smart cities are intertwined.

New mobility concepts will change the role of public actors

The common denominator of all the definitions of ‘smart cities’ is that technology and data are used to fundamentally affect the lives of the inhabitants. Thus, the large amount of collected data is essentially made centrally available to organise the city’s infrastructure and services. In this regard, the topic of mobility is a perfect example to show the increasing convergence of the actors’ roles.

In the past, the largest mobility-related disruptions have typically come from the private sector, with private companies leading the way in terms of new taxi services or autonomous driving innovation. The public sector was—and often still is—trying to keep pace and regulate these activities.

Alongside this hype, there has been a parallel development that has received less attention: the offering of existing and new mobility services (such as ride-sharing) through new mobility platforms. The basis for this has been a behavioural shift in many metropolitan areas. As owning a car becomes less important there, many people increasingly view mobility as a service: it must be flexible, easy to use and always available.

Optimus Ride autonomous vehicles
Autonomous vehicles will eventually play a key role in multi-modal urban journeys

Consequently, mobility is gradually moving away from the ownership-model to the provision-of-service model (also known as mobility as a service or MaaS). While many current MaaS-projects focus on public transportation, such as trains, metro lines, and buses, the (near) future of MaaS will include electric and driverless shuttles and cars. This trend is also receiving strong government support as it offers a solution to the problems in many metropolitan areas: high emission levels and the unavailability of land that could otherwise be used for housing or enhancing the quality of life. As autonomous driving, electric vehicles, ride-sharing, and smart cities converge, the current interaction between private and public actors is being fundamentally altered.

The cooperation model of the smart city

In today’s market, service providers in the context of mobility tend to operate independently from each other. They cooperate predominantly for the purposes of strategic partnerships that are mainly profit-driven. The biggest challenge for MaaS, is the alignment and integration of the different service providers, as well as the use of their individual data around customer information, infrastructure status, and capacity. The necessity to share this data with the smart city, as the platform operator, (and to some extent other actors) is one of the key changes to the actors’ interaction.

In smart cities, the power of public actors is now set to increase. This is because until now, public actors’ tasks in many countries have been focused on creating a legal and administrative framework for mobility. While there are, of course, public service operators, they have generally played a lesser role than private operators.

The new German draft bill on autonomous driving demonstrates just how closely autonomous driving and the mobility concept of smart cities are intertwined

In smart cities, there will be less of an uninvolved coexistence of service providers. Instead, smart cities will have a central system in key areas to make organisation and data processing more efficient and enable new services. In this new structure, the public actors take the…



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