A new article in Transport Policy magazine serves up a gentle reminder that self-driving cars don’t need to park, and so they may slowly fill the streets to capacity.
“The Autonomous Vehicle Parking Problem,” an article by Adam Millard-Ball of the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, points out that “autonomous vehicles (AVs) have no need to park close to their destination, or even to park at all. Instead, AVs can seek out free on-street parking, return home, or cruise” for hours.
Millard-Ball used a “game theoretic framework” to show that self-driving cars have an incentive to “coordinate with each other in order to generate congestion” that could “more than double vehicle travel to, from, and within dense, urban cores.” That’s because AVs can drop off passengers, drive 12 miles to a parking spot, and hang out until it’s time to hit the road again to go fetch their human.
And because they don’t need to park, AVs may also just circulate for an hour, like when someone picks you up at the airport. While that could reduce parking issues in the city center, it would add a ton of traffic to the streets, as all those AVs drive back and forth and round and round.
While Millard-Ball argues that the rise of AVs is a great tipping point to bring congestion pricing to urban centers in the United States, I see something else: a future in which machines corral us into self-driving cars where we are held prisoner in endless traffic jams, just like Doctor Who predicted.