By Guido Di Pasquale, Managing Director at PAVE Europe

Mobility is a key booster of economy and society – for Europe, and the world. The transport sector directly contributes over 5% to European GDP and employs around 10 million workers, second only to expenditure for households. The secondary impact is immeasurable – no industry or individual can go without it. However, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, road safety, and congestion remain big challenges.

Digitalization and automation are expected to increase the safety, security, reliability, and comfort of our transportation systems, and are contributing to change in mobility and travelers’ behavior – which has been further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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I have been working in the Public Transport sector for many years, and today we can say that digitalization and automation contribute significantly to the efficiency and safety of our public transport systems. Deploying on-demand shared services, including micro-mobility, to complement mass public transport and taxis offers the opportunity to meet different mobility needs and serve more people, all while ensuring inclusiveness and equity.

Fully automated vehicles will even push it to the next level. This technology has terrific potential to radically improve the functioning of the entire transport system and contribute to global sustainability and safety goals. But this can only be achieved with the integration of all transport modes into an efficient multimodal system. Integrating automated vehicles of all kinds into the wider transport system is vital, and an active role of public authorities is necessary.

Think about giving all individuals, including those with limited mobility, the elderly, children, and those who live in rural or suburban regions, access to inexpensive, sustainable, and easy mobility alternatives. Imagine these mobility options paving the path for decarbonization, allowing your community to reclaim precious urban space for green spaces, commercial endeavors, or affordable housing, and offering adaptable, 24/7 on-demand transportation that is safe and economical. That future can be built with the aid of automated vehicles.

The shared use of automated vehicles in fleets and the deployment of totally autonomous operation are the key elements that will determine if the aforementioned goals are realized. If completely automated operation is not possible, automated vehicles will not be able to create a a new mode of transportation and hence won’t be able to improve the current transportation system.

Cities in Europe are actively promoting alternatives to private vehicles and have strong climate agendas. Studies, like the Lisbon study by the International Transport Forum, have shown that it’s possible to replace every privately owned car with a fleet of shared vehicles, eliminating 90% of privately owned vehicles in cities, and reducing by 30% the vehicle kilometers traveled. This would also have an impact on infrastructures: why would you need to build additional roads if there is less traffic?

The quality of services you can obtain by automated vehicles directly affects marginalized groups, underserved groups, or groups that either don’t own a car or can’t operate cars. Consider an aging population, for example, for who driving a private vehicle is impossible or even prohibited. This population could take a direct point-to-point, fully automated journey and possibly save money and time.

Automated mobility – shared robo-taxis, on-demand shuttles, autonomous buses and trucks, urban logistics – will be very cost-effective. Improved safety also can minimize damage and insurance costs.

Automated vehicles would also address first- and last-mile trips, serve as feeders to mass transportation, or provide door-to-door mobility. They will be a component of a flexible and incredibly effective integrated public transportation network where users can select the optimal mode of transportation via an integrated multimodal mobility platform that offers mobility as a service (MaaS). Maas and Autonomy are going to be the win-win solution.

To prepare for the authorization of autonomous operation, communities and countries across Europe must actively shape the introduction of automated vehicles now. Relevant authorities – mobility, road safety, urban planning, traffic control, etc. – must work together in an integrated effort. Without it, we risk missing the possibility of a major shift in urban transportation and ending up in a situation where vehicle automation would significantly increase the number of kilometers driven by private cars and other vehicles, with all the related drawbacks.

Even still, there is an important element and key actor that needs to be included in the equation: the customer, the people, us. We need to include customers, engage with them, learn from their experience when deploying and operating automated vehicles. This brings us to the point of PAVE Europe.

In public transport and as well as in other shared modes, we are used to get into a vehicle with a driver who can interact with us and stops when we wave our hand. Now and more in the future, we want to invite people to a vehicle that doesn’t have that kind of driver and that is still developing and changing over time. And if we want to have a faster user acceptance, we must bring customers on board. If we ask today who has ridden in an autonomous vehicle, you shouldn’t expect many raised hands and that’s really what needs to change, and that’s what we need to be able to do, which requires growing up, earning people’s trust, and involving them in the process.

I truly believe that PAVE Europe can have this crucial educational role and help technology and service providers engage with customers and decision-makers – just as PAVE does in North America. At PAVE Europe, we are dedicated to educating on the benefits of fully autonomous driving. With an ever-increasing number of headlines and ever-more bullish forecasts creating confusion, we see the role of PAVE Europe to cast light into this fog. With every step on the regulatory journey, we believe that users and riders need to be informed.

PAVE Europe (Partners for Automated Vehicle Education) is a European not-for-profit organization focused on educating the public about the benefits of automated and fully autonomous vehicle systems.

PAVE Europe has been established by Achmea, EasyMile, Mobileye, Swiss Re, TÜV Rheinland, Waymo, and PAVE International, with the support of Neckermann Strategic Advisors and the University of St. Gallen. It is a sister-organization to PAVE International, founded in the US in 2019, and featuring over 90 member organisations across the automated vehicle ecosystem.