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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

Updated 3 hours ago - World

U.S. releases report finding Saudi prince approved Khashoggi operation

Photo: Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released an unclassified report assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) approved the operation to "capture or kill" Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Driving the news: The White House also announced sanctions on entities implicated in the murder, though not on MBS directly. Officials also announced a new "Khashoggi ban" under which individuals accused of harassing journalists or dissidents outside their borders can be barred from entering the U.S.

About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says

Joe Biden speaks during an event commemorating the 50 million COVID-19 vaccine shots. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Nearly 1 in 5 adults and nearly half of Americans 65 and older have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said on Friday.

The big picture: The Biden administration has previously said it has secured enough doses to vaccinate most of the American population by the end of July.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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