“Uber was supposed to help traffic.” It didn’t happen. Robots will be worse.

Saturday San Francisco Chronicle Post a joint opinion piece from MIT professor Carlo Ratti (who runs a digital lab at MIT that explores digital datasets about urban life) and John Rossant (founder of the collaborative data-sharing platform CoMotion).

Together they have written a warning about a future full of robot taxis. “Their convenience could tempt us to overuse our cars. The result? An AI-powered traffic nightmare, technically perfect but terrible for our cities.”

Why do we believe this? Because it has already been achieved with ride sharing. In the 2000s, the Senseable City Lab at MIT, where one of us serves as director, was at the forefront of using big data to study how ride-hailing and ride-hailing services could make our streets cleaner and more efficient. The results looked amazing: with minimal passenger delay, we could match passengers and reduce the size of New York City’s taxi fleets by 40%. More people can get around in fewer cars for less money. We can reduce car ownership, free up parking and free up parking for new uses. This utopian vision was not only convincing, it was within reach.

After publishing our results, we initiated the first collaboration between MIT and Uber to research a then-new product: Uber Pool (now renamed UberX Share), a service that allows riders to carpool to similar destinations at a lower cost. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Our research was technically correct, but we did not take into account changes in human behavior. Cars are more convenient and comfortable than walking, buses and subways – that’s why they are so popular. Make it cheaper by sharing rides and people are persuaded to move away from other forms of transportation. This dynamic became clear in the data a few years later: on average, passenger flights generated significantly more traffic and 69% more carbon dioxide than the flights they replaced. We were proud of our contribution to ridesharing but were dismayed to see the results of a 2018 study that found Uber Pool was too cheap more Total city travel: For every mile of personal driving removed, 2.6 miles were added from people who would have otherwise used another mode of transportation.

As robo-taxis are about to spread across the globe, we’re about to repeat the same mistake, but on a much larger scale… (We) can’t let a shiny new piece of technology lead us into a mythical traffic jam of our own making. The best way to make urban mobility accessible, efficient, and environmentally friendly is not new technologies – neither self-driving cars nor electric cars – but old technologies. Buses, subways, bikes, and our feet are cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient than anything Silicon Valley has ever dreamed of… Autonomous technology could, for example, allow cities to offer more buses, shuttles, and other forms of public transportation around the world. hour. This is because the on-demand availability of autonomous vehicles can ensure “last mile” connections between homes and public transport stations. It can also be a godsend for the elderly and people with disabilities. However, any increase in the use of autonomous vehicles must be matched by investments in mass transit and improvements in walkability.

Most importantly, we must develop smart regulatory and tax systems that allow all forms of sustainable mobility – including self-service – to scale safely and intelligently. It should include, for example, congestion charges to discourage excessive use of individual vehicles.

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