london traffic

London ‘not ready’ for driverless cars before 2030s, says Assembly

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London has been “caught unaware” by the influx of new transport technology which could see the advent of driverless cars being delayed until the 2030s at the earliest according to a new report from the London Assembly.

The London Assembly, an elected body that scrutinises the activities of the Mayor of London, looked at how the capital is adapting to a number of new transport initiatives, namely connected and autonomous vehicles, app-based services such as Uber and airborne drones which are expected to be used for deliveries in the near future.

“We have identified a number of steps the Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) can make to take advantage of new technology for Londoners’ benefit,” the report states.

“Firstly, we want to ensure effective planning and monitoring at TfL. There have been recent failures in London’s preparations for innovative transport services, notably the rapid growth of private-hire operator Uber and the disruptive launch of dockless cycle-hire service oBike.”

It says that despite excitement around driverless technologies launching as early as next year, “widespread rollout” would not be “realistic” in London until 2030-2040 at the earliest.

Professor Natasha Merat of the University of Leeds, who contributed to the report, said the longer timeframe was due to the range of factors including “acceptability, trust, uptake, affordability, infrastructure availability, connectivity and so on.”

Public acceptability in particular was singled out as a major factor, with recent reports suggesting that the majority of drivers (55 per cent) were not comfortable with sharing the roads with autonomously driven vehicles.

Keith Prince AM, Chairman of the London Assembly Transport Committee said: “The opportunity to improve mobility for millions of Londoners is here but it will require proper planning, transparency and accountability, as well as cooperation with government, boroughs and development companies.

“London has been caught unaware by the application of new transport technology recently. To some extent this may be inevitable, but it reinforces the need for effective monitoring and planning by the Mayor and Transport for London.

“To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, anticipating unknown unknowns is impossible. Failing to prepare for known unknowns is inexcusable.”

Michael Hurwitz, director of transport innovation at TfL, said: “This report outlines the challenges that all cities across the UK, including London, face when considering how transport will operate in the future. We work with a wide range of tech companies around the world to support and learn from innovation that could improve transport across London. This work builds on what we have already delivered in areas such as contactless ticketing, free open data and state of the art signalling to deliver some of the highest frequency metro services in the world.

“As part of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, many of these elements are already being considered and TfL is involved in a number of pilots and initiatives to help ensure that any introduction of new technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones is safe, environmentally-friendly and consistent with our focus on walking, cycling and green public transport.”

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