Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As congestion cripples the world's cities, transportation officials and city planners are trying to figure out how automated vehicles can help alleviate traffic and address climate change.

Why it matters: Robotaxis and delivery AVs running non-stop won't stop anything if they're merely replacing existing cars on the road. Instead, AVs need to be thoughtfully woven into reinvigorated public transportation systems so they become a desirable alternative to personal cars.

What's happening: Some of the world's largest cities are battling congestion by redirecting traffic away from urban centers, charging fees to enter the busiest areas or banning cars altogether.

  • New York City banned cars along 14th Street, one of its busiest corridors, to make travel easier for buses, copying what worked in Toronto, which cleared cars on King Street to make room for street cars.
  • In Paris, a major urban highway has been closed to cars and turned over to pedestrians. One Sunday a month, the city bans cars from the city center.
  • London charges a congestion fee for entering the busiest neighborhoods (something New York will do in 2021 and Los Angeles is considering).

Self-driving cars could add to the gridlock, which is why the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) published a blueprint to help cities get ready for the autonomous era.

  • "What we would really like to see happen is AV tech to be used as tool to meet their transportation goals, rather than using AVs as an end goal themselves." says NACTO policy associate Sudha Bharadwaj.
  • To be effective, AVs need to be shared, say researchers at the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California-Davis.
  • Without pooling, vehicle use would increase 15–20% by 2050, according to the report.

The catch: Most Americans prefer to commute in private vehicles, one study found.

  • Carpooling peaked during the 1970s energy crisis, dropping from 20% in 1980 to less than 10% today, says UC-Davis professor Dan Sperling.
  • Mass transit accounts for just 1% of all U.S. passenger miles traveled, and just 2% of total trips, he says.
  • Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft have siphoned riders away from public transit systems, which are declining as a result.
  • "TNCs have shown that people are crying out for higher quality mobility services," Sperling tells Axios.

What's needed: Cities need to revamp their transportation policies to discourage single-passenger vehicles and encourage autonomous ride-sharing and public transit, experts say. A few cities have already seen early successes:

  • In Seattle more people are riding the bus and a new light rail system after the city invested to improve public transit.
  • Vancouver boosted transit ridership via SkyTrain, the world’s longest automated rail network, which hauls more than 495,000 passengers per day.
  • L.A. is partnering with Via, an on-demand shuttle service, to give people rides to busy public transit stations.

The bottom line: "If you give people other options for getting around, they’ll take them, as long as they're reasonable and convenient," NACTO's Alex Engel tells Axios.

Go deeper

Updated 26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted COVID relief bill McConnell urges White House not to strike stimulus deal before election.
  2. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  3. Health: New York reports most COVID cases since MayStudies show drop in coronavirus death rate — The next wave is gaining steam.
  4. Education: Schools haven't become hotspots — San Francisco public schools likely won't reopen before the end of the year.
  5. World: Spain becomes first nation in Western Europe to exceed 1 million cases.
2 hours ago - Podcasts

House antitrust chair talks USA vs. Google

The Justice Department filed a 63-page antitrust lawsuit against Google related to the tech giant's search and advertising business. This comes just weeks after the House subcommittee on antitrust issued its own scathing report on Google and other Big Tech companies, arguing they've become digital monopolies.

Axios Re:Cap talks with Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the subcommittee on antitrust, about Google, the DOJ's lawsuit and Congress' next move.

2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Boeing research shows disinfectants kill virus on airplanes

Electrostatic spraying of disinfectant. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Boeing and researchers at the University of Arizona say their experiment with a live virus on an unoccupied airplane proves that the cleaning methods currently used by airlines are effective in destroying the virus that causes COVID-19.

Why it matters: Deep cleaning aircraft between flights is one of many tactics the airline industry is using to try to restore public confidence in flying during the pandemic. The researchers say their study proves there is virtually no risk of transmission from touching objects including armrests, tray tables, overhead bins or lavatory handles on a plane.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!