Novel study by Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and MIT scientists has demonstrated benefits to be reaped from co-existence between Autonomous Mobility-on-Demand (AMoD) services and Public Transport (PT) systems.
Once a distant fantasy in science-fiction movies, self-driving vehicles are soon becoming a reality with the help of rapidly evolving technologies in the Autonomous Vehicles (AV) industry. The surge in technological advancements have brought about rising expectations for Autonomous Mobility-on-Demand (AMoD) services – transformative modes of transportation relying on robotic, self-driving vehicles – but also fears. Will high-tech transport ultimately cannibalise traditional ones, that of which have more human touch?
In one way or the other, the advent of AMoDs is expected to inevitably influence Public Transit (PT) systems, which play an integral role in the urban transit industry for most Singaporeans. And while discourse between various parties have pushed for and against the integration of AMoDs into the PT system, the topic remains open to debate and the million-dollar question remains – Can AMoD co-exist with PT?
Researchers from the Future Urban Mobility (FM) Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) at Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT's research enterprise in Singapore, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), sought to answer this question by simulating competition between Autonomous Vehicles and Public Transit in their innovative case study in the first-mile mobility market from origins to subway stations in Tampines, Singapore. Under a hypothetical scenario of a profit-driven AMoD and PT, competition and performance were evaluated using Game Theory from the lens of the AMoD operator, the PT operator, passengers, and the transport authority.
The study observed that AMoD and PT can favourably work hand-in-hand to reduce inefficiencies in transport routes and bring about general benefits for the public. However, PT services were found to be centralised in areas that are connected directly to the subway stations, and highly influenced by peak hours. While such tendencies ultimately reduce travel time, they increase travel costs for passengers. For that reason, subsidising PT services through discounts or feeder modes, especially for vulnerable groups, may be a viable option to improve supply, profit and market share. However, the study also revealed that subsidies still increased travel cost and total system passenger car equivalent (PCE), which is measured by the average vehicle load and the total vehicle kilometre.
"Our research shows that under the right conditions, an AMoD-PT integrated transport system can effectively co-exist and complement each other, benefiting all four stakeholders involved," said SMART FM alumni, Hongmou Zhang, a PhD graduate from MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and now Assistant Professor at Peking University School of Government.
Concluding with an advisory to authorise PT systems to enhance supply strategies under pre-determined objectives and restrictions, and to regulate AMoD operations by capping licenses, operation time, and service areas, to minimise complications as they augment PT systems, the team has delivered a strong case on the possible benefits that can be reaped from a carefully regulated and well-balanced AMoD-PT integrated transport system. Their findings are expected to aid policy makers and government bodies in crafting and executing future policies for the integrated transport system, and in doing so, maximise efficiency, and sustainability and preserve social welfare of passengers, as pointed out by Zhang.