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Development plans, trams and autonomous mobiles

Kim Huynh 15 September 2016 57

Autonomous vehicles

Tom Chen and Kim Huynh revisit the best case for light rail and argue that autonomous cars are better

Last week, we wrote an article arguing that light rail is no good for Canberra. Much of the constructive criticism that we received revolved around two points: firstly, that we did not sufficiently take into account the benefits of the projected high density development relating to the tram; and secondly, that we did not provide a detailed alternative.

This article responds to both criticisms.

Light rail is not the only or necessarily best way to improve land value. Indeed, proximity to rail stations has a variable and often meagre impact on property prices. Here’s some of the related studies on the matter.

  • This 2015 article finds that an increased number of bus transit stops also correlated with higher property prices.
  • This study of Brisbane’s transport system found that proximity to both light rail and bus rapid transit had uplift benefits, but only if there were frequent services.
  • This 2007 study and this 2013 analysis of 23 research projects found that the uplift impact of additional light rail services is low if an area is already well serviced by bikes, buses or cars.
  • The most comprehensive 2016 analysis of 140 studies from 60 examples stretching across 40 years in the US concludes that proximity to rapid transit had very mixed outcomes in terms of both increases in land value and the quality of development.

That is why we should be worried that 60% of the government’s reported benefits of light rail are from wider economic and land use benefits, especially when the benefits are  marginal compared to the costs.

We should also be wary that the government is not double counting benefits when it comes to value uplift. Incorporating such benefits when assessing proposed infrastructure is widely regarded as poor analytical practice.

But let’s suppose that house prices go up because of light rail. Who would gain? Experience from other projects gives us reason to believe that the land sales, rezoning laws, and government expenditure on urban renewal associated with light rail will provide lifestyle benefits to a small minority of Canberrans along with a windfall for property developers. All of this will be largely paid for by taxpayers across Canberra.

It would be better for us to invest in driverless vehicles (see infographic below) which offer all Canberrans an effective, exciting and environmentally sound way to get from A to B. The technology is ready. And they could be operating in a similar time-frame to the tram network at a fraction of the cost because the infrastructure is largely in place.

Driverless vehicles would give Canberrans what we want now while also future-proofing us into the twenty-first century.

Figures from the ABS indicate that 88% of people in ACT used private motor vehicles for commuting in 2012. Unpacking the motivations of these people, 7.5% had no access to public transportation at all, 10.7% had to carry equipment or passengers, 19.7% needed a vehicle to before/during/after hours, 22.0% said that services were not available at the right time, 30.5% found public transport too slow and 45.9% preferred the convenience of driving.

But acknowledging that Canberrans use, need and like cars does not mean that we cannot be green or forward-looking when it comes to transportation.

We envision embracing electric driverless vehicles capable of ferrying passengers around without human input. The benefits of driverless vehicles are many: they significantly reduce vehicle accidents by removing human error; they save you from having to drive so that you can rest, read, eat or type; they reduce requirements for parking and driveways; they can transport the disabled and elderly; they improve air quality; you don’t need to pay for a driver; and they take you directly to where you want to go.

Most importantly, driverless vehicles can be networked together into a self-driving taxi fleet that provides the transportation capabilities of private cars without ever having to buy a vehicle or drive yourself.

Some readers might find the prospect of driverless vehicles frightening. But that’s what people thought about elevators and automobiles when they emerged.

This is not science fiction. By the end of 2016, Uber will have 100 self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh ferrying passengers around. nuTonomy started offering driverless taxis in Singapore as of August. Google’s fleet of self-driving cars have already clocked up 2.4 million kilometres. These are driverless cars that are engaged in real life driving through real traffic. There are 33 major companies committed to rolling out driverless vehicles, many of which have committed to being on the road by 2020.

Shane Rattenbury is thus wrong to assert that driverless cars are at least 15 years away. The “thorny issues with the technology” are being solved, it’s now up to politicians and planners to fashion the appropriate laws and regulations.

A more detailed feasibility of driverless vehicles should be conducted by the government given both its promise and the progress of other cities. We should aim to have a trial of driverless vehicles in Canberra within the next five years. If that works out, we could have a working fleet by 2025.

The value of a fleet of electric self-driving vehicles beats just about any other transport alternative. The $963 million cost of light rail could purchase a fleet of more than 19,260 driverless vehicles at $50,000 each which modelling suggests could provide Canberra with 600,000+ journeys each workday with no passenger having to wait for more than five minutes to get a ride. The cost of recharging an electric vehicle is about 70% cheaper than running a conventional car. We estimate that the electricity cost of providing the entirety of the ACTs passenger travel 2014 though electric vehicles would be less than the annual cost of running ACTION.

There are no doubt people who believe in light rail not so much because of the numbers or evidence, but because they have a vision of a more sustainable and sophisticated Canberra. Autonomous cars are a better way of achieving that vision.

What do you make of the government’s push to increase population density in Canberra generally and along the Northbourne Avenue corridor in particular? Under what if any circumstances would you ride in a driverless car?

Tom Chen works as a research officer at the Australian National University and believes that people are capable of making the right choices when presented with the right information. Kim Huynh is a RiotACT columnist and is also running as an independent for Ginninderra in the ACT election. Check out more on Facebook at gokimbo or GoKimbo.com.au

 


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Development plans, trams and autonomous mobiles
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scentednightgardens 7:47 am 16 Sep 16

How will the ‘driverless car’ model work for those instances where the occupant climbs into the vehicle without an immutable plan to go from where they are, to another pre-ordained point, in a direct and logical fashion? Like a road trip in the back country, or a lazy meander in the Brindabellas, or just packing the car with kids and just making it up as we all go along? What about folks who don’t live in communities framed by well connected, paved, urban thoroughfares. Surely there’s a couple billion of them. Seems a somewhat exclusive technological future. There just seems to be so many journeys that aren’t of the mode ‘get in conveyance, convey directly along logical path to place of work’ (say, one’s commute into Palo Alto, for example). Here’s to the big red manual override switch.

wildturkeycanoe 6:57 am 16 Sep 16

Innovation said :

Canberra would be an ideal place to trial autonomous buses!

Small, approx ten seater electric vehicles, could be trialled by replacing a handful of current slow and circuitous suburban bus routes to ferry passengers to main transport corridors. I think suburban buses average around 25km/h so the replacement buses, which would be more frequent, could be speed limited to around 20km/h and still provide a better service. (I’m sure that someone could create an app even that alerted people to the proximity of these vehicles – as already should be the case for emergency service vehicles.)

OpenYourMind said :

where the Google car takes a very conservative and safe approach and human drivers don’t anticipate that!

So basically we are advocating putting more ultra slow drivers [in this case instead of silver hair, they have silver outer shells] onto our roads. These vehicles will wander around the suburbs, doing well under the speed limit, stopping frequently and basically making a right nuisance of themselves to all other road users. Instead of me being able to take a 20 minute journey into civic in my own fast car, I will be either a passenger to one of these mini buses that meander around the burbs picking up other souls who have to get ready an extra half an hour early to get to work on time, or I am stuck behind one, cursing at the inability to overtake anywhere because of the double whites along the entire route.
Buses already do this now, putting along doing 25km/h because they are ahead of schedule due to not enough passengers. You can’t overtake them on back streets whilst they are moving due to oncoming traffic or double lines, nor can you go around when they are stopped because there is usually a traffic island right next to it. Have Canberra planners done this deliberately to frustrate motorists? This isn’t made up either, I have many times had my journey to the local shops slowed down to the pace of the local bus, obviously running early as there was indeed no attempt to speed up to anything over 30km/h. They are almost as bad as three cyclists riding abreast.
The “statewide” multi-vehicular approach to infrastructure is not going to improve people’s journeys. Presently you walk to the local stop, get the bus to the nearest interchange, jump onto the next express, to the next interchange, to the next local service and then you walk the last few hundred meters or kilometers to your destination. Just because you are taking a mini bus or autonomous vehicle for the first part of the journey, it won’t eliminate the need for the rest of the network or make it any faster. Booking an autonomous vehicle from your phone [because they won’t be driving around on pre-specified routes like buses], will mean you need to wait for a car that is doing a similar journey to yours. It won’t be parked near your house so you have to wait for it to come from wherever they are stored during the day/night. It has to contend with the same slow buses I just mentioned, plus it is also not going to drive aggressively to get to your home faster. There is many wasted minutes before you even leave. Then the same over-cautious car will drive you to the bus interchange, deviating around some side streets to pick up more fares, making your previously five minute DIY trip now up to three or four times slower.

I cannot see an improvement in travel times, but rather a degradation of our current transport system, clogged up with paranoid AIs that are too scared to do the speed limit.

“I’m sure that someone could create an app even that alerted people to the proximity of these vehicles – as already should be the case for emergency service vehicles.”
There isn’t even an app that warns of road congestion in peak periods now, let alone tracking of our buses. The NXTbus page had no real time vehicular tracking or movement in the 5 minutes I stared at it. The only thing it could tell me was that it’d take me nearly an hour to get to Civic, which I can do in half that driving my own car.
All this talk of new technology and we can’t get one working that was installed how many years ago?

gooterz 10:25 pm 15 Sep 16

Kim do you actually know the status of Autonomous vehicles?

Roadwork. You can’t use them
Unmapped roads you can’t use them.
Any sort of change the car doesn’t expect the user has to take over control.

If you want a decent car it’ll probably cost you 60k extra for the system which isn’t released yet and not approved in Australia at all.

Who has public liability if a car hits someone? is ACT government going to pay for every accident?

Perhaps if instead of Autonomous vehicles we employed drivers for the cars. Made the cars bigger and sold tickets. Then instead of random routes just fixed some routes in place that people would normally be able to get to. You could call it a bus.

Have you seen that Action ridership is down again this year?

Kim Huynh 9:12 pm 15 Sep 16

devils_advocate said :

bringontheevidence said :

Kim and Tom, I’d like to address a few technical issues around the economics of light rail, benefit/cost analysis and the economics of ‘alternatives’ of light rail that you may have neglected. Sorry for the excessive detail.

That is the most – in fact, only – logical and well-articulated defence of the tram that I have read so far. The arguments regarding the discount rates and network effects were particularly well explained, despite being relatively complex concepts.[/

I agree with devils_advocate and – at the risk of sounding obsequious – it’s great to share website space with the likes of bringontheevidence and KentFinch. If I happen to win then I’d be grateful for your advice and expertise, assuming you’re not party people.

KentFitch 7:23 pm 15 Sep 16

in_the_taratory said :

Disclaimer: I’m a Labor candidate for Ginninderra.

This article misses two critical points:

1. The major fallacy in the article is that it’s not just about light rail OR buses OR autonomous vehicles. We can do it all as part of an integrated transport solution – and we already are. The Chief Minister said in his State of the Territory speech and in earlier media releases this year that we are pursuing opportunities in semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles.

I quote from the speech:
“Autonomous vehicles are not a mass transit solution and they are not
the solution to congestion. But they are a very promising complement to
strong public transport networks and will give mobility to those who need
it most, which will make our city even more inclusive.
That’s why we have been engaging with the main players in this space –
companies like Google and Tesla – to see what structures they need, so
that we have the best idea of future advances before we move to
develop a particular regulatory regime. That approach worked for
ridesharing in the ACT, and it will work for this technology too.
ACT companies, such as Seeing Machines, are also at the forefront of
technology supporting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles with
the work they are doing here and with overseas research partners.”

2. To draw further from the Chief Minister’s point, autonomous vehicles are an exciting technology that should be pursued, but they are not a mass transit solution like buses and light rail are. Here’s an example. On the weekend I went to the Raiders game and afterwards we had over 20,000 people streaming out of the stadium and a large number of them got onto the buses which were able to move these very big numbers of people out quickly. This is because buses have a much greater capacity than autonomous cars (and a light rail carriage has 3x the capacity of a bus). Can you imagine tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles arriving at the stadium at once? Who do they service first, and how long do they have to wait?

The point is: there is no one transport solution. There are different solutions for different circumstances. Autonomous vehicles may well have their place, but they are not a mass transit solution. This is why we’re pursuing an integrated transport solution.

Well, modelling shows a shared fleet of AVs (note, not private AVs) are indeed a solution to transport congestion in the ACT: the ACT has excellent roads, and by increasing average vehicle occupancy in peak periods from 1.2 to 2 on heavily trafficked, there just is no road congestion. Note, this is not a general claim for all cities: Tokyo, London, New York, Shanghai, Paris etc do not have the road capacity.

But to reiterate: AVs are technically a mass transit “solution” for Canberra, even if there are temporary political imperatives that do not want that to be the case. I say “temporary”, because the health and safety, equity, mobility, cost and environmental benefits are becoming obvious very quickly, even without the relentless pressure of commercial interests (Ford, Uber etc) to push the case on terms advantageous to themselves. See for example the material being produced by erstwhile tram consultants, Parsons  Brinckerhoff, for UK authorities: http://www.wsp-pb.com/Globaln/UK/WSPPB-Farrells-AV-whitepaper.pdf – these benefits are entering mainstream consciousness, and to down-play them is to leave Canberra in the slow lane.

The equity issue alone should be paramount: so many people in Canberra suffer economic and social disadvantage due to the expense or impracticability of current transport. To offer a 24×7, door-to-door, on demand service that costs a small fraction of current private car and public transport is a social good.

Singapore aren’t just talk – they actually want to solve the transport problem of getting people to their mass transit (the “last mile problem”) and getting people across their city 24×7, on-demand, door-to-door when mass transit is not available. Hence, their trial which started a few weeks ago. So, why isnt Canberra doing that? Is it laziness, scepticism, or a deep misunderstanding of where transport is headed?

One way to get 20,000 people out of Bruce:

– people get on 50 bendy-buses (100 people each) which takes them to locations dotted 2km around the stadium (UC, CIT, Belco Mall, Jammo, Kaleen shops, schools, …) where each bus is are met by 50 AV’s to take them home to their doors (requires a total of 10,000 AVs deployed, from a fleet of about 23,000: a fleet of about 23,000 is required to meet Canberra’s current weekday peak needs, see http://canberraautonomouscars.info/#outcomes ).
– bendy bus returns to Bruce stadium to get next load, repeat 4 times.

Another way, which may be as good, is just to have streams of AV’s leaving on each of Bruce Stadium’s exit roads (a bit like a ski lift with multiple pick up points), carrying 2-4 people per AV. AV’s will communicate and coordinate with each and with transport “infrastructure” controlling intersections, so they can travel in formation on common parts of their route [see for example http://senseable.mit.edu/light-traffic/ and http://traffic21.heinz.cmu.edu/ ]

I know this is hard to credit, just as it was hard for people to understand the transformation that would be brought by mobile phones, tablets, the internet, facebook…

The thing is, it is happening, with or without our input. “Doubling down” on a tram is a losing strategy which will become increasingly obvious. It doesn’t even approach the goals of the ACT Government’s 2012 “Transport for Canberra” for heavens sake. I know some people in the ALP and Greens think they are stuck with it, but there are many that don’t. It was a decision of the time, but as always, time’s they are a changing…

OpenYourMind 6:45 pm 15 Sep 16

devils_advocate said :

There are other risks associated with autonomous cars. Firstly, they rely on purely electrical inputs to control steering/brakes/throttle etc (as opposed to hydraulic or mechanical inputs in cars from, say, a decade ago). Faults in the programming logic lead to vehicles accelerating out of the driver’s control, brake failures etc, as seen in various Toyotas. Secondly, they can be hacked and remote controlled. This was demonstrated with a Jeep recently. Having a bunch of full-size R/C cars presents an opportunity for mischief.

HOWEVER – the value of these vehicles to society would depend on whether the accident/incident/mortality rate associated with these vehicles was higher or lower than the existing rate of accidents in the gen pop of vehicles; and even if it were higher, whether the social utility exceeded the cost. And then you’d have to assume that technology could improve over time. But that’s essentially a quantitative question, the answer to which we can only speculate at this stage.

Any decent new car runs a bunch of code controlling brakes, accelerator and even steering. The quantitive data has been gathered over many years and will continue to. In fact, we’ll have better stats on autonomous cars than almost any other form of transport bar jet travel. Interestingly, the Google car has had a number of minor bingles where the Google car takes a very conservative and safe approach and human drivers don’t anticipate that!

KentFitch 6:43 pm 15 Sep 16

dungfungus said :

Will all the EMR emitted by the sensors, servos and actuators affect my pacemaker?

I think the people selling this concept also believe renewables will replace coal.

The ACT Government couldn’t even get the Betterplace electric cars started up.

And last but not least, do these new-fangled anonymous cars deliver your groceries to your front door?

Betterplace went broke. It was a start-up whose “visionary” founder had no experience in the auto industry. In contrast, AVs are being developed by large automakers with annual RandD budgets which are individually many times those of CSIRO, and with mega-tech giants such as Google and Baidu, and with Uber and Lyft whose assets are unimaginable by Australian RandD standards. Many governments are also chipping in small change..

DHL are one of the companies investigating use of AV’s for deliveries [ http://www.dhl.com/en/about_us/logistics_insights/dhl_trend_research/self_driving_vehicles.html#.V9pdnGF97MQ ]

Reducing greenhouse gases is one motivation for developing shared fleets of battery-electric AVs, but it is only one. Here are some others: http://canberraautonomouscars.info/#motivation

OpenYourMind 6:40 pm 15 Sep 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

Autonomous cars have one fatal flaw, they rely on unreliable infrastructure. GPS does not have the accuracy to keep a car in its lane, just look at articles in the news relating to GPS and shifting of the Australian continent. Being out by a metre or so could potetially put a self driving vehicle into the wrong lane. This is further compounded by the confusing road markings that are sometimes left behind when lanes are relocated but the old lane markers are still visible. These often catch me out in rainy weather especially. Speaking of weather, how often has Foxtel gone down during thunderstorms? Are self driving cars going to stop dead every time a spring storm hits at 3:30PM?
Then you have the issues of wi-fi and internet, of which even in Canberra there is sketchy reception. William Hovell Dr has a mobile black spot that has been there for years as just one example. Underground parking also interferes with these control signals.
Hackers will have a field day, with trying to compromise the systems controlling our daily non-drivers.
Imagine the carnage a small EMP bomb could cause for instance, if used on the Tuggeranong Pkwy. I think we are a long way from adopting this technology, due to the susceptibility to interference. Why do you think they ban mobile phone use on planes?
Lastly, as has been said before, where do these AI cars park? We will still need car parks, something that won’t go away with this mode of travel. Sending them home to recharge won’t be economically sound, plus you must have somebody behind the wheel even though you aren’t in control.

This is simply not the case. Autonomous cars use a multitude of sensors and inputs including radar, (lidar in some cases) and cameras. Furthermore, unlike human drivers autonomous cars work together collaboratively and learn the roads. A small change noted by one car is passed to the network.

Almost every car today would be susceptible to an ‘EMP bomb’. Our entire society operates with the vulnerabilities associated with electronics.

As for parking, the wonderful thing about autonomous cars is they will most likely be electric and capable of taking themselves off to free charging bays located in otherwise unusable land.

KentFitch 6:29 pm 15 Sep 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

Autonomous cars have one fatal flaw, they rely on unreliable infrastructure. GPS does not have the accuracy to keep a car in its lane, just look at articles in the news relating to GPS and shifting of the Australian continent. Being out by a metre or so could potentially put a self driving vehicle into the wrong lane. This is further compounded by the confusing road markings that are sometimes left behind when lanes are relocated but the old lane markers are still visible. These often catch me out in rainy weather especially. Speaking of weather, how often has Foxtel gone down during thunderstorms? Are self driving cars going to stop dead every time a spring storm hits at 3:30PM?
Then you have the issues of wi-fi and internet, of which even in Canberra there is sketchy reception. William Hovell Dr has a mobile black spot that has been there for years as just one example. Underground parking also interferes with these control signals.
Hackers will have a field day, with trying to compromise the systems controlling our daily non-drivers.
Imagine the carnage a small EMP bomb could cause for instance, if used on the Tuggeranong Pkwy. I think we are a long way from adopting this technology, due to the susceptibility to interference. Why do you think they ban mobile phone use on planes?
Lastly, as has been said before, where do these AI cars park? We will still need car parks, something that won’t go away with this mode of travel. Sending them home to recharge won’t be economically sound, plus you must have somebody behind the wheel even though you aren’t in control.

All infrastructure is unreliable to some extent; the goal of engineers is to anticipate failures and build systems that are not fragile using techniques such as system redundancy and diversity. There are currently many approaches used by teams developing autonomous cars, but none rely on GPS to keep a car in its lane: effective GPS signals can be lost under trees, building “canyons”, car parks, tunnels. Even reflections and “multi-path” problems caused by heavy rain and wet surroundings can reduce GPS accuracy. So, regular GPS location fixes updated by “dead reckoning” (distance and direction travelled since last fix – the Kalman filter is a common approach) are typically used to help the positioning algorithms determine the rough whereabouts of the car, and sensor information from cameras, radar and in most approaches (but currently not Tesla’s), lidar provides the final positioning.

In some approaches (such as currently Tesla’s) visibility of lane markings is quite important, but less so in other approaches (which is very important in snowy places where roads are frequently covered).

Cameras and lidar are effected by heavy rain just as is human vision, but radar is not: fog and rain are almost transparent to the frequencies used in AV radar.

3g/4g reception is not required to navigate in most systems, but it is anticipated to be required for many control functions (such as car routing in a shared fleet).

Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications used in “Intelligent Transport Systems” are being standardised on the 5.9GHz band, partly chosen because over the intended range of 1000m, “rain fade” is not a problem.

Hacking of AVs will be a cat and mouse game: for example radar reflections can be manipulated with a convex surface, making a small object appear big, but cars will use multiple independent sensors to assess the environment. All threats can never be stopped: imagine setting up a bank of very bright lights along a tricky curve on a road now to shine in driver’s eyes..

If AVs are privately owned, they do nothing to solve parking and congestion problems – they may even make them worse by encouraging more travel. This is why many advocates of AVs (myself included) see them as public transport, deployed as a shared fleet: during peak periods, trips are quite likely to be shared with other people with similar start and end journey points, or at least, points along the way.

Ford are explicit that by 2021 they will be producing AVs without steering wheels or pedals for use in a shared fleet [https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2016/08/16/ford-targets-fully-autonomous-vehicle-for-ride-sharing-in-2021.html http://www.techrepublic.com/article/fords-fully-autonomous-vehicles-will-start-out-in-ride-share-says-ceo-mark-fields/ ] BMW are also targeting 2021 for shared fleet AVs [ https://www.press.bmwgroup.com/global/article/detail/T0261586EN/bmw-group-intel-and-mobileye-team-up-to-bring-fully-autonomous-driving-to-streets-by-2021 ] as are GM [ http://www.wsj.com/articles/gm-lyft-to-test-self-driving-electric-taxis-1462460094 ] Nissan, Benz and Tesla are also hinting at similar plans, and outside of automakers, so are Google and Baidu.

Are they all making this stuff up, along with MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, Stanford, …? Parsons-Brinckerhoff (Capital Metro’s consultants: http://www.wsp-pb.com/Globaln/UK/WSPPB-Farrells-AV-whitepaper.pdf ] ? Maybe, but not many informed people are willing to take that bet.

Otherwise, we should be planning for them now, and there are plenty of encouragement for us as a community to drive this process for our maximum benefit, rather than it being imposed on us [
http://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/10/02/chose-your-own-utopia-what-will-we-make-of-driverless-cars/
https://backchannel.com/self-driving-cars-will-improve-our-cities-if-they-dont-ruin-them-2dc920345618#.3e6oqvagu
https://medium.com/@mitchturck/i-find-your-lack-of-faith-in-autonomous-cars-disturbing-c5f249e9e623#.i4y68xu0u ]

Its a bit like climate change – you can ignore the evidence, belittle the messengers and not take insurance that you just may be wrong.

devils_advocate 1:26 pm 15 Sep 16

bringontheevidence said :

Kim and Tom, I’d like to address a few technical issues around the economics of light rail, benefit/cost analysis and the economics of ‘alternatives’ of light rail that you may have neglected. Sorry for the excessive detail.

That is the most – in fact, only – logical and well-articulated defence of the tram that I have read so far. The arguments regarding the discount rates and network effects were particularly well explained, despite being relatively complex concepts.

Kim Huynh 1:00 pm 15 Sep 16

David Pollard said :

Another disclaimer – I’m an Independent candidate for Yerrabi.

Hi Kim, I think autonomous vehicles are a fantastic idea, and definitely in our future. They will reduce congestion, pollution, accidents, and more.

I also think we need a mass transit solution, which obviously Light Rail is on option. I don’t believe you are claiming that a fleet of autonomous vehicles addresses the need for mass transit, so I was wondering if you would elaborate on that point. Do you think Canberra doesn’t need mass transit (and won’t in the next 20 years), or do you think there is a better option for mass transit specifically?

Thanks and respect to DP and devil’s advocate. We’re big on buses in the short and intermediate term. We think free buses are a surprisingly inexpensive way (around $24 million per year) to get people moving towards public transport, hopefully addressing that misguided mindset that driving is free.

I’m not sure how massive people want mass transportation to be. What happened to small is beautiful? What about bicycles for those who are up for it? What about the idea that successful 21st century techology is highly customisable? It’s not a perfect nor wholly original analogy, but going with light rail is a bit like investing in Blockbuster/DVD hire in an age of Netflix/Stan/streaming services. Kbo

bringontheevidence 12:13 pm 15 Sep 16

Kim and Tom, I’d like to address a few technical issues around the economics of light rail, benefit/cost analysis and the economics of ‘alternatives’ of light rail that you may have neglected. Sorry for the excessive detail.

1. Driverless vehicles are not an alternative to peak period mass transit. In fact, the benefits of driverless vehicles (lower effort car transport) are likely to make mass transit more necessary because of increased peak demand for roads.
Also, you talk about the ‘costs’ of driverless vehicles being low because a fleet of 20,000 could offer 600,000 journeys per day. While this might be technically correct, that would mean nearly full utilisation of the whole fleet 24 hours a day and assumes the vehicles are located close to where they need to be at all times. In reality, demand would significantly peak in the mornings and afternoons, requiring a significantly larger fleet of vehicles to meet demand. These vehicles would then sit idle 20+ hours per day.
Further, driverless cars still take up road capacity so to cater for all of those extra trips you would need a massive road investment program which would cost almost as much as the cars themselves. Especially given once you reach a certain saturation of roads in a city, additional road capacity will only come at great cost.

As a result, good quality and high capacity public transport will still be required to service peak demand. To this end Canberra DOES need either light rail or BRT. So the question is, which is better?

2. The Government’s benefit cost analysis found that the benefit of BRT was similar to light rail, but cost significantly lower, so it had a better benefit/cost ratio. This outcome ignores a couple of methodological issues with the benefit/cost analysis and how it’s been used in this case.
Firstly, the comparison assumed the same passenger numbers for both light rail and BRT. This was based on the assumption that because travel times and cost would be the same, the passenger numbers would also be the same. However, evidence from overseas shows that even when travel times and cost are the same, passengers show a distinct ‘rail preference’, indicating passenger numbers for light rail would be larger than for BRT (improving the relative benefits of light rail, particularly in primary transport benefits).
Secondly, the Australian standard for benefit/cost analysis requires analysts to use a discount rate much higher than elsewhere, whereas in the UK, for example, the discount rate is much lower . Using such a high rate means that future benefits are valued much lower in Australia, while current costs are much higher (relatively). This means two things in practice. Firstly, infrastructure investment in Australia is undervalued in the benefit/cost model because the discount rate doesn’t reflect the cost of capital to the Government (which is at historic lows). Secondly, the high rate also means benefit/cost ratios are biased towards lower capital cost/high operating cost options (like BRT) vs high capital cost/lower operating cost options (like light rail).
If these methodological issues were addressed, light rail would stack up much, much better compared to BRT in the current model, and the overall benefit/cost of the project would be significantly higher (the Gov ran the project using the UK standard BCR model and the benefits outweighed the costs 2-1.

3. Network effects from future stages have not been included in the BCR analysis for stage 1. The Gungahlin-City light rail line is just the first stage of a multiple line network. The first stage of any network will always be undervalued because the number of destinations is limited and hence passengers will choose alternatives. As further lines are added to the network, you don’t just get additional raw passengers from stage 2, it will drive more demand on stage 1 as the number of viable destinations increases.

For the Canberra network, all of the BCRs for stage 1 have been done assuming the demand for trips between Gunners and the City only. As further links are added (to the Triangle, Woden etc), not only does the network pick up traffic from Civic to Woden, there will also be a lot of additional traffic on the Gungahlin – Civic route, as more destinations are available to passengers. The original work indicated that the proposed stage 2 (to Russel) would have increased traffic on the Gungahlin-Civic leg by something like 35 per cent. I would expect the Civic-Woden link would have an even bigger impact on the Gungahlin-Civic leg.

David Pollard 12:00 pm 15 Sep 16

Another disclaimer – I’m an Independent candidate for Yerrabi.

Hi Kim, I think autonomous vehicles are a fantastic idea, and definitely in our future. They will reduce congestion, pollution, accidents, and more.

I also think we need a mass transit solution, which obviously Light Rail is on option. I don’t believe you are claiming that a fleet of autonomous vehicles addresses the need for mass transit, so I was wondering if you would elaborate on that point. Do you think Canberra doesn’t need mass transit (and won’t in the next 20 years), or do you think there is a better option for mass transit specifically?

rommeldog56 11:31 am 15 Sep 16

in_the_taratory said :

Disclaimer: I’m a Labor candidate for Ginninderra.

This article misses two critical points:

1. The major fallacy in the article is that it’s not just about light rail OR buses OR autonomous vehicles. We can do it all as part of an integrated transport solution – and we already are.

My take out from the OP is that they support an integrated transport system – just one that doesn’t include the Tram.

So, we can “do it all” ?

In 2012, ACT Labor said that Stage 1 from Gunners to Civic would cost m$614. The ACT Auditor General recently reported that the total cost to ACT Ratepayers would be b$1.78 over life of the contract, including running costs. Stage 2 to Woden has to cross the Lake.

ACT Labor has said that if re elected, it will sign contracts for Tram stage 2 before the 2020 ACT LA election. But unlike in 2012, ACT Labor has not said how much that will cost Ratepayers.

Please explain how ACT Labor can expect a “blank cheque” from ratepayers & voters or advise the cost of Tram stage 2.

devils_advocate 11:17 am 15 Sep 16

There are other risks associated with autonomous cars. Firstly, they rely on purely electrical inputs to control steering/brakes/throttle etc (as opposed to hydraulic or mechanical inputs in cars from, say, a decade ago). Faults in the programming logic lead to vehicles accelerating out of the driver’s control, brake failures etc, as seen in various Toyotas. Secondly, they can be hacked and remote controlled. This was demonstrated with a Jeep recently. Having a bunch of full-size R/C cars presents an opportunity for mischief.

HOWEVER – the value of these vehicles to society would depend on whether the accident/incident/mortality rate associated with these vehicles was higher or lower than the existing rate of accidents in the gen pop of vehicles; and even if it were higher, whether the social utility exceeded the cost. And then you’d have to assume that technology could improve over time. But that’s essentially a quantitative question, the answer to which we can only speculate at this stage.

Kim Huynh 11:12 am 15 Sep 16

in_the_taratory said :

Disclaimer: I’m a Labor candidate for Ginninderra.

This article misses two critical points:

1. The major fallacy in the article is that it’s not just about light rail OR buses OR autonomous vehicles. We can do it all as part of an integrated transport solution – and we already are. The Chief Minister said in his State of the Territory speech and in earlier media releases this year that we are pursuing opportunities in semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles.

I quote from the speech:
“Autonomous vehicles are not a mass transit solution and they are not
the solution to congestion. But they are a very promising complement to
strong public transport networks and will give mobility to those who need
it most, which will make our city even more inclusive.
That’s why we have been engaging with the main players in this space –
companies like Google and Tesla – to see what structures they need, so
that we have the best idea of future advances before we move to
develop a particular regulatory regime. That approach worked for
ridesharing in the ACT, and it will work for this technology too.
ACT companies, such as Seeing Machines, are also at the forefront of
technology supporting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles with
the work they are doing here and with overseas research partners.”

2. To draw further from the Chief Minister’s point, autonomous vehicles are an exciting technology that should be pursued, but they are not a mass transit solution like buses and light rail are. Here’s an example. On the weekend I went to the Raiders game and afterwards we had over 20,000 people streaming out of the stadium and a large number of them got onto the buses which were able to move these very big numbers of people out quickly. This is because buses have a much greater capacity than autonomous cars (and a light rail carriage has 3x the capacity of a bus). Can you imagine tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles arriving at the stadium at once? Who do they service first, and how long do they have to wait?

The point is: there is no one transport solution. There are different solutions for different circumstances. Autonomous vehicles may well have their place, but they are not a mass transit solution. This is why we’re pursuing an integrated transport solution.

Thanks for the comments TC and all. We’re for an integrated approach to transportation too as outlined in our previous post. It includes free buses, bike highways and autonomous cars (no light rail). Cheaper, faster, better. Kbo

in_the_taratory 9:52 am 15 Sep 16

Disclaimer: I’m a Labor candidate for Ginninderra.

This article misses two critical points:

1. The major fallacy in the article is that it’s not just about light rail OR buses OR autonomous vehicles. We can do it all as part of an integrated transport solution – and we already are. The Chief Minister said in his State of the Territory speech and in earlier media releases this year that we are pursuing opportunities in semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles.

I quote from the speech:
“Autonomous vehicles are not a mass transit solution and they are not
the solution to congestion. But they are a very promising complement to
strong public transport networks and will give mobility to those who need
it most, which will make our city even more inclusive.
That’s why we have been engaging with the main players in this space –
companies like Google and Tesla – to see what structures they need, so
that we have the best idea of future advances before we move to
develop a particular regulatory regime. That approach worked for
ridesharing in the ACT, and it will work for this technology too.
ACT companies, such as Seeing Machines, are also at the forefront of
technology supporting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles with
the work they are doing here and with overseas research partners.”

2. To draw further from the Chief Minister’s point, autonomous vehicles are an exciting technology that should be pursued, but they are not a mass transit solution like buses and light rail are. Here’s an example. On the weekend I went to the Raiders game and afterwards we had over 20,000 people streaming out of the stadium and a large number of them got onto the buses which were able to move these very big numbers of people out quickly. This is because buses have a much greater capacity than autonomous cars (and a light rail carriage has 3x the capacity of a bus). Can you imagine tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles arriving at the stadium at once? Who do they service first, and how long do they have to wait?

The point is: there is no one transport solution. There are different solutions for different circumstances. Autonomous vehicles may well have their place, but they are not a mass transit solution. This is why we’re pursuing an integrated transport solution.

dungfungus 8:49 am 15 Sep 16

Will all the EMR emitted by the sensors, servos and actuators affect my pacemaker?

I think the people selling this concept also believe renewables will replace coal.

The ACT Government couldn’t even get the Betterplace electric cars started up.

And last but not least, do these new-fangled anonymous cars deliver your groceries to your front door?

Innovation 8:37 am 15 Sep 16

Canberra would be an ideal place to trial autonomous buses!

Small, approx ten seater electric vehicles, could be trialled by replacing a handful of current slow and circuitous suburban bus routes to ferry passengers to main transport corridors. I think suburban buses average around 25km/h so the replacement buses, which would be more frequent, could be speed limited to around 20km/h and still provide a better service. (I’m sure that someone could create an app even that alerted people to the proximity of these vehicles – as already should be the case for emergency service vehicles.)

The Greens have or had a policy that prioritises the weaker road user (eg, cars that hit cyclists/pedestrians have to prove fault). Automated buses could be slotted in to this legal framework as a weaker road user than cars (and possibly cyclists even) encouraging other road users to fit cameras and/or stay out of the way of these buses.

The Liberals’ expansion of rapid bus networks would fit perfectly too. Drivers would still be employed for these faster routes using all existing appropriately repainted buses.

As technology and community acceptance improves, autonomous buses could be rolled out to all suburban routes, enhanced to provide door to door service and, eventually, rapid transit buses could be automated.

Under this legal framework, one or more international companies might even donate buses for the purpose of suburban trials. At the very least Canberra would make international headlines for good reason – instead of for wasting money on antiquated light rail systems.

wildturkeycanoe 7:38 am 15 Sep 16

Autonomous cars have one fatal flaw, they rely on unreliable infrastructure. GPS does not have the accuracy to keep a car in its lane, just look at articles in the news relating to GPS and shifting of the Australian continent. Being out by a metre or so could potetially put a self driving vehicle into the wrong lane. This is further compounded by the confusing road markings that are sometimes left behind when lanes are relocated but the old lane markers are still visible. These often catch me out in rainy weather especially. Speaking of weather, how often has Foxtel gone down during thunderstorms? Are self driving cars going to stop dead every time a spring storm hits at 3:30PM?
Then you have the issues of wi-fi and internet, of which even in Canberra there is sketchy reception. William Hovell Dr has a mobile black spot that has been there for years as just one example. Underground parking also interferes with these control signals.
Hackers will have a field day, with trying to compromise the systems controlling our daily non-drivers.
Imagine the carnage a small EMP bomb could cause for instance, if used on the Tuggeranong Pkwy. I think we are a long way from adopting this technology, due to the susceptibility to interference. Why do you think they ban mobile phone use on planes?
Lastly, as has been said before, where do these AI cars park? We will still need car parks, something that won’t go away with this mode of travel. Sending them home to recharge won’t be economically sound, plus you must have somebody behind the wheel even though you aren’t in control.

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