Electric car revolution could make traffic worse - report

"There is a real risk that the smart transportation revolution will lead to a worsening of driving conditions, congestion and parking problems, especially in city centers," said the report.

July 28, 2019 20:46
3 minute read.
Electric car revolution could make traffic worse - report

Cars drive on a highway as a train enters a station in Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)

Whether it’s autonomous or connected vehicles, electric cars or the growth of ride-sharing services, the modes of transportation that we rely upon today are set to fundamentally change over the coming years.

While significant uncertainty remains, both regarding the nature of the technologies and their integration, a report published on Sunday by the National Economic Council (NEC) at the Prime Minister’s Office has warned that the entry of new automotive technologies might lead to even worse congestion on the country’s already crowded roads.

“There is a real risk that the smart transportation revolution will lead to a worsening of driving conditions, congestion and parking problems, especially in city centers,” said the report, initiated by NEC chairman Prof. Avi Simhon and authored by Dr. Roni Bar. “This will be due to the addition of new journeys and trips by empty vehicles, and a preference for travel services rather than public transportation and walking or cycling.”

According to government estimates, congestion on Israel’s roads currently costs the state approximately NIS 35 billion per year. This could double by 2040 if significant reforms are not put in place.

Despite the stark warning and highlighting the level of uncertainty faced by planning authorities, the NEC also presented a more optimistic scenario in which increased connectivity between vehicles and greater reliance on autonomous ride-sharing actually decreases congestion without major changes to existing infrastructure.

Drawing a broad picture of the possible implications of smart vehicle integration in various sectors, the report will be distributed to all government ministries in the next few days.

Another major impact will likely affect state revenues from vehicle-related taxation, which amounted to NIS 41.4 billion in 2016, approximately 12% of its total budget. The key sources of income are fuel tax and vehicle purchase tax.

Both sources of taxation are expected to significantly decline, with fuel-related income expected to end entirely and vehicle purchases due to drop given greater reliance on ride-sharing. The report recommends significantly changing the transportation taxation model, using smart travel pricing based on distance, location and time of journey instead.

The report also projects significant changes to urban areas, where much space is dedicated today to providing parking. Instead, we may see wider sidewalks, more bike lanes, electric battery charging infrastructure and expanding buildings closer to the street.

Yet such benefits depend on significantly altered mobility patterns and the transition from private vehicles to shared transportation, rather than privately owned autonomous vehicles. Changes to the urban layout will only be realized if existing parking lanes are not used to simply widen existing roads.

There is also a risk, the report states, that autonomous vehicles will increase commuting distances, leading to further urban sprawl and the expansion of residential and commercial areas to the edges of the city.

The penetration of new automotive technologies, the NEC said, does present welcome news for Israel’s energy sector, air quality and road safety. Electric vehicles are more energy efficient and enable the exploitation of the country’s developing natural gas resources, contributing to reduced energy dependence on external sources. Reduced demand for gasoline and diesel will enable the country to rethink the future of its oil refining industry.

The decline in pollution by private vehicles and inner-city buses, especially in urban areas, will lead to improved air quality in population centers. Today, more than 1,000 deaths per year are associated with transportation-related air pollution.

The automation of vehicles is also likely to lead to a significant decrease in car accidents, which killed 315 people in 2018. Human error, the report adds, is the cause of more than 90% of road accidents.

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