Think Piece: Autonomous vehicles and future urban environments: Exploring implications for wellbeing in an ageing society
Imagine a world where driving is no longer a useful skill. It might be a world in which people walk, cycle, and use a shared fleet of electric autonomous vehicles to get around. There might be no private cars or parking, more efficient land use, more affordable urban housing, and built environments that better promote community. In this world, adults seamlessly maintain their social connections and activities outside the home as they age. Alternatively, it might be a world in which rates of car ownership increase as everyone travels independently by car regardless of age or ability. The new vehicles are expensive but necessary for getting around and traffic volumes and urban sprawl accelerate. In this world, adults fear being unable to afford a vehicle or its updates as they age because losing access equates to social isolation. These visions are extreme and our likely trajectory lies somewhere between them but there is a gap in evidence on the social impacts of autonomous vehicles. Thinking about the possibilities now encourages us to plan for the future we want for New Zealand and highlights the strategies we can enact to help shape that future. This think piece is intended to draw attention to the possible implications of autonomous vehicles for future urban and built environments and the health and wellbeing of an ageing society. The potential benefits of autonomous vehicles in terms of increased safety, providing mobility for older adults who have given up driving, and removing private vehicles from urban centres are being widely heralded. However, these purported benefits do not pay attention to the complexity and reciprocity of relationships between travel behaviour and built environments, which influence health and wellbeing in a multitude of ways. In this think piece we draw attention to some other visions of what an autonomous future might hold. We present four scenarios of autonomous vehicle adoption and then present some of the potential impacts adoption could have on travel behaviour, urban form, and wellbeing, with a particular focus on ageing populations. Emerging transport technologies offer the exciting prospect of changing the very nature of transport systems, reducing car dependence, urban sprawl, segregation of communities, and associated public health concerns. But whether this will happen depends to a large extent on how governments legislate, the tone they set in policy documents, and the way they consider autonomous vehicles across multiple policy sectors. Now is the time for societies to negotiate what outcomes they most want from mobility futures and to identify how best to achieve those outcomes with the resources available and within the constraints that they face. This think piece is designed to encourage policy makers to think about possible scenarios for autonomous vehicle adoption, what the impacts of these could be, and how they might use public policy to drive New Zealand towards a healthy, prosperous, and inclusive future that considers the needs of our ageing population.
SubjectsField of Research::12 - Built Environment and Design::1205 - Urban and Regional Planning::120506 - Transport Planning
- Science: Reports