With the disruption of transport as we know it — both public and private — imminent, Infrastructure Victoria has given Australians a glimpse of what our city streets could look like with zero emissions and self-driving vehicles.
The independent authority has issued 17 key recommendations in the report which was requested by the Victorian government and looks into the benefits, impacts and challenges that we could face in a future that embraces electric and autonomous vehicles (AVs).
The report was informed by several scenarios based around varying mixes of electric vehicles (EVs) or hydrogen fueled vehicles (ZEVs), private and public ownership, and shared transport.
Two of those scenarios are envisioned via a series of interactive slides, the first being the ‘Slow Lane’ which represents a gradual integration of AVs and EVs into the current mix of ICE non-autonomous transport.
The second scenario is dubbed ‘Fleet Street’ which portrays a “rapid evolution where all vehicles are driverless, shared, zero emissions and connected, requiring less visual infrastructure to guide them”.
The second presents a vastly different streetscape than that of today’s, with kerbs widened, AV traffic streamlined into narrower lanes, and multi-level carparks and petrol stations a thing of the past.
Life-changing benefits could be realised in this AV/EV future, such as a potential 91% reduction of congestion on roads thanks to improved traffic flow with shared, and self-driving transport options.
(The scale of this depends on much Victorians embrace driverless transport over private ownership, but the report states even smaller proportions of autonomous cars should improve traffic to some extent).
It suggests a big reduction in greenhouse gases (27 million less tonnes by 2046) from the uptake of zero emissions vehicles, which would deliver $735 million worth of health savings.
Traffic accidents would be reduced by a staggering 94% thanks to autonomous vehicles — although the report concedes this is at “the upper limit of potential safety benefits of automated vehicles”.
Personal transport costs could also be halved, if on-demand AVs are chosen over human-driven, privately-owned ICE cars, and overall, the report says that the Victorian economy could benefit by up to $14.9 billion by 2046.
However, there are also challenges, as is pointed out in a video released by the authority, such as increases in demand of electricity as well as more waste, in particular e-waste.
To prepare for and address the challenges presented by these future modes of transport, Infrastructure Victoria has issued the 17 recommendations, that if taken on board could see roads and public spaces radically transformed, mobile networks and data systems boosted, the energy grid prepared to support zero emissions technology and laws put in place to ensure the effective management of end-of-life waste.
While the report is merely intended as a guiding document for future decision-making, it does discuss some examples of changes it recommends for the integration of AVs and EVs.
Roads, for example, would require specific changes to sign and line marking, as well as consistent road maintenance to accommodate AV technology—but they could also be narrower due to improved vehicle flow made possible by autonomous technology, leaving more space for trees.
There could also be more space for drop-offs and pick-ups at public transport hubs, as well as less parking areas, while on-demand, autonomous transport booking systems and could be integrated into existing public transport and ticketing systems.
The report also notes the implications that the uptake of electric vehicles could have on Victoria’s power network, recognising the potential for extra demand on the Yallourn coal-fueled power station until 2032 when the station is due to be decommissioned.
“If adequate plans aren’t in place to support the transition to battery electric vehicles charging, the reliability of distribution networks could be affected,” the report states, adding that to offset potential increases in grid demand, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies could be used to balance and support the grid.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.