Is ridesharing the key to AV success? We talk to an expert

(ACEEE blog, 10 Apr 2019) The environmental impact of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is up in the air, but Judi Greenwald sees advantages to integrating them into fleets that provide mobility as a service.

We sat down with Greenwald, who will be moderating the policy panel at our upcoming Forum on Connected and Automated Vehicles: Energy Impacts, to discuss her new article in Energy Policy and why the future of AVs might be brighter if you can find them on a transportation app—not in your driveway. A former US Department of Energy official, she now runs Greenwald Consulting and is a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Andlinger Center on Energy and the Environment.  

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

What’s driving the development of vehicle automation?

There are two big motivations—to increase mobility access and to make our roads safer.

We have a lot of car accidents in the United States and in the world. Even though we think we’re good drivers, we’re really not. Humans make mistakes. AVs have the potential to be safer than a conventional vehicle with a human driver, but whether we can operationalize this in the real world to achieve that promise is a question.

The other motivation is mobility. There are a lot of people who don’t have access to mobility. There are also a lot of people who can’t drive, like the old, the young, and the disabled. Many of these people live far from jobs and grocery stores and doctors and things they need to get to. And so there’s potential for AVs. While AVs will probably be expensive, if we have AVs as part of fleets that provide mobility as a service then they can really increase mobility access.

What will determine the environmental impact of AVs?

On the per-vehicle emission side, the most important things are the fuel economy standards. The fuel economy standards have been our biggest public policy success in controlling fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, and people like them; they poll 70 plus percent [approval]. What we really should be doing is strengthening them, and making them work a little better for consumers and manufacturers.

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ACEEE blog, 10 Apr 2019: Is ridesharing the key to AV success? We talk to an expert