Initial Applications for Automated Road Vehicles

The characteristics of Automated Road Vehicles that determine suitable applications are:
  • Low top speed - about 20-25 mph (32-40 km/hr). This means that the trips served must be short, although they could be part of longer trips taken mostly on another mode.

  • Low Operations and Maintenance cost per vehicle mile. There are no drivers, and most ARVs are built from electric vehicles which are efficient and low maintenance. This means high frequency service can be run in the off peak as well as the peak. Also, the same number of seats can be provided by vehicles that are smaller but more numerous without increasing costs very much. This allows more frequent service at all times (as an analogy, it's useful to consider the purchase price and fuel costs per seat of 1) a subcompact car, 2) a 15-passenger van, and 3) a full-sized bus -- they aren't that different).

  • Moderate fixed costs for the exclusive roadway and a central control facility. Although much less expensive than a people mover, an ARV system generally has a higher capital cost than a bus alternative. This means that an ARV system needs a certain minimum fleet size to keep fixed costs from becoming excessive on a per vehicle basis.

  • Land requirements. Because of the need for an exclusive roadway, ARV systems will generally be built in the suburbs not the CBD. Some systems will be built at locations such as airports where there is a special need and land is available. In many cases ARV systems won't be practical because land for a continuous exclusive roadway is not available. However, even if a small fraction of potential applications are feasible, the number of ARV systems could be considerable.
The Toyota IMTS is intended for a different market than other ARVs. Toyota proposes having platoons of 50-passenger driverless buses provide the same service and capacity as a light rail system, but at lower cost. Since this would require speeds far higher than the 19 mph (30 km/hr) they've demonstrated with paying passengers, this type of application will not be considered here.

The type of ARV application that could be built with existing technology would be small, perhaps 0.5 to 4 miles (0.8 - 6.4 km) of two-way roadway. While various circulation applications are possible, it would appear that the words that best describe the most promising applications are connection and extension. That is, the ARVs extend an existing mode by connecting it to a trip generator of some sort. An example of this is the ParkShuttle II application outside of Rotterdam that serves a business park. It would be convenient if the Kralingse Zoom rail station were located at the Rivium business park, but it's not. It's almost a mile (1.6 km) away. Six driverless ParkShuttle II vehicles can provide frequent service to and from the station that effectively extends the rail system to the business park.

The table below looks at three modes that might be extended by an ARV, and to what they might connect. The modes are rail (including a functionally similar mode, Bus Rapid Transit), air, and automobile. The ARV system would have a rail/BRT station, an airport terminal, or a parking lot at one end. Other modes, such as a conventional bus line, are possible as the terminus of an ARV system, but these would usually not generate the volumes necessary to cover the ARV's fixed costs. The values in the cells of the table are judgments about the relative number of ARV applications, and are not based on research.

The ARV system is assumed to consist of a single two-way line with the end points defined by the columns and rows of the table. There may or may not be other stations along the ARV route, but they wouldn't be the main reason for its existence. Some cells are blacked out because they are addressed elsewhere in the table. For example, the first row has two blacked out cells, because an ARV system running between a Rail/BRT Station and either an Airport Terminal or a Parking Lot would be covered in the column headed "Rail/BRT Station".

  Rail/BRT Station Airport Terminal Parking Lot
Rail/BRT Station X X
Airport Terminal X
Parking Lot -
Employment Center
Commercial (Mall, Hotel, etc.)
Residential - -
University -
Other (Theme park, Exhibition Center, Hospital, etc.)
Legend - Relative number of applications
- Low
It can be seen that applications with a Rail/BRT Station at one end are judged to be more numerous than those with only an Airport Terminal or Parking Lot. In the case of Parking Lots, this is not surprising. In most cases, a parking lot can simply be put near the final destination, such as a shopping mall, so no connection is needed. An Airport Terminal is more of a special case. While rail/BRT and auto both serve many of the same types of trip (such as home-based work), travelers to and from an Airport Terminal need to be considered separately.

In looking at cases where there is the same mode at both ends, only one is logically impossible: parking lot to parking lot. A traveler will have an auto at only one end. In the case of the other two modes, there would be some applications to connect two rail/BRT stations or two terminals within an airport.

Of all the possibilities in the first three rows, a connection between an airport terminal and a parking lot appears the most promising. Air travelers have a high value of time and would be willing to pay, perhaps indirectly, for the short wait times that an ARV system provides. And there is often land available for an ARV roadway in the part of the airport where remote parking lots are located. In deciding whether to build an inexpensive remote parking lot or a costly structure near the terminal, the option of serving the remote lot by ARV may tip the decision. There are also security benefits to having a remote lot served by ARV, instead of allowing autos to park near the terminal.

In the rows from "Employment Center" on down, only one end of the ARV system connects to another mode. It is believed that the greatest number of these applications are for connections between Rail/BRT Stations and either Employment Centers or Commercial facilities.

Regardless of what's at the endpoints, it's expected that the first ARV systems will be at sites where the exclusive roadway can be built mostly or entirely at grade, thus minimizing costs. As more experience is gained and costs and benefits become well established, bridges and tunnels will become more common, as their expense will be easier to justify.