A self-driving electric vehicle on a test drive in Tokyo. Photo: David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A shift to connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) could reduce the energy consumed by the U.S. light-duty fleet by 60% — or it could triple it, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates. The range stems partly from differing expectations of the engineering performance of CAVs and their associated infrastructure, but much more so from their anticipated levels of use.

Why it matters: CAVs are seen by some to herald a lower-energy future, but they could actually have the opposite effect if their convenience spurs more driving.

Over 80% of the variable costs of driving are the in the value of the driver’s time. CAV travelers will reclaim part of that value by web surfing, working or sleeping. This reduced price will likely increase travel. Ultra-long commutes will become reasonable when drivers can simply hit the road at 4 a.m. and return to sleep for the ride to work. And when CAVs operate while empty, the traveler’s time is eliminated, enabling such uses as sending the car home to avoid parking costs downtown.

Counteracting these travel-inducing effects demands policies to support shared deployment in the form of on-demand transit, which could mix public and private elements, rather than a CAV in every garage. Vehicle sharing favors close-in areas, with their lower demand for driving, because their trip density allows vehicles immediate return to service with other travelers. But even a self-driving Lyft or Uber system can swamp congested streets while leaving transportation gaps elsewhere.

The big picture: A transit system that integrates trains, buses and on-demand CAVs is the best scenario for energy consumption. But such a system requires proactive planning, rather than a default to the car-oriented policies inherited from an earlier era.

Jonathan Levine is a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan.

Go deeper

Big Pharma launches $1B venture to incentivize new antibiotics

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A group of large drug companies launched a $1 billion AMR Action Fund Thursday in collaboration with policymakers, philanthropists and development banks to push the development of two to four new antibiotics by 2030.

Why it matters: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing problem — possibly killing up to 20 million people annually by 2050 — but a severe lack of R&D market incentives has hampered efforts to develop a robust antibiotic pipeline to address the issue.

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inside Geoffrey Berman's closed-door testimony

Berman arrives on Capitol Hill Thursday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Geoffrey Berman, the former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, was expected to say in closed-door testimony today that Attorney General Bill Barr repeatedly urged him to take another job, warned him that getting fired would not be good for his resume or job prospects and steered him toward a high-level Justice Department post in DC.

Driving the news: Axios has obtained a copy of Berman's opening statement for his closed-door hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

37 mins ago - Health

Schools confront broadband access crisis

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

School districts are taking it upon themselves to help families get connected to the internet as they face down a long future of virtual learning.

Why it matters: In the COVID-19 era of education, broadband is an essential service that families need to stay connected — and that school systems require to equitably educate children in their districts.