Mobility technology could cut emissions but creates challenges too

Published:  24 July, 2016

The combination of connectivity, automation and shared vehicle ownership and use has the potential to make car travel greener and cheaper, cutting energy use and helping accelerate the introduction of low carbon vehicles. However, these energy and carbon benefits are by no means guaranteed and will require strategic policy interventions to make them work, according to the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) at the University of Leeds.

The ITS study was commissioned by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

It has concluded that better coordination and connectivity between vehicles and infrastructure is likely to improve energy efficiency, as well as potentially make road transport safer and quicker.

The study, called Automated vehicles; Automatically low carbon? was presented to delegates at the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Conference at the Olympic Park in London.

The research suggests that:

  • The net impact of the technical developments will ultimately depend on how their introduction spurs further innovation in vehicle and transport system design combined with mobility service provision.
  • The majority of system-wide energy efficiency benefits are likely to result from high levels of connectivity and coordination between vehicles and infrastructure.
  • At full automation (ie driverless vehicles), the impacts are highly dependent on the degree to which private car ownership shifts to shared use.
  • Automation and connectivity together can result in some vehicle-level energy efficiency benefits.
  • Full automation could help accelerate the switch to low carbon vehicles with improvements such as refueling and recharging.
  • Most of the large-scale benefits of fully automated vehicles can only materialise when they are widespread and affordable which is likely to take several decades.


The ITS concludes that in order to make car travel greener and cheaper much more work needs to be done to encourage shared car ownership. Government policy can provide a supportive environment for new mobility services to develop by delivering open data protocols, supporting technology incubation and providing local authorities with resources to enhance skills and offer incentives to local mobility service companies.

There are potential challenges, though, as car travel becomes more popular due to the fact that autonomous cars leave the occupant free to use travel time for other activities. And there could be a need for demand management to mitigate against unsustainable increases in the use of cars. Potential policies might include road-user charging, low-emission zoning and regulating empty running.

The researchers say that achieving the desired combination of outcomes related to carbon, energy, air quality, safety and accessibility will need careful policy design with coordination between the automotive and telecommunication industries, transport system operators and mobility service providers.

They say that regulations or innovative policies may be required to encourage manufacturers to provide efficiency optimising features, like automated eco-driving, eco-routing, platooning or energy saving algorithms in the vehicles.

And low carbon, alternative fuel pumps and charging stations need to be planned and designed for automated, unattended dispensing or charging in order to alleviate the inconveniences of refuelling these vehicles and encourage their uptake.

Commenting on the research, the LowCVP managing director Andy Eastlake said: ‘It’s clear that there are significant potential benefits from the coming mobility revolution through connectivity and automation. However, in order to grasp the full environmental benefits of these technologies we need a strategic, coordinated policy response that will have to involve a wide range of stakeholders working in partnership.’

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