Assessing the spatial implications of Autonomous Vehicles as feeders to railway stations in suburban Melbourne
An increasing body of research has considered the future role of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) in the urban transport mix. Most of this addresses the technical challenges of safe and reliable autonomy, including the potential for lower rates of road accident trauma. Other work looks at the economic models for AV deployment. These range from a ‘business as usual’ private ownership model, to a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) corporate ownership of the vehicle fleet with individuals renting a ride much as people use Uber or Uber Pool today.
A growing field of research considers the governance issues associated with AVs in the urban transport mix, raising significant questions of equity and ethics.
In the context of these complex and rapidly evolving issues, the Networks and Space design-research studio considers some practical questions. How might the differing AV deployment models physically fit into the suburban landscape? Specifically, how might AVs perform as a feeder mode to railway stations in suburban Melbourne? What design solutions are needed for AVs to work well in such urban public space? What regulations or policies would most effectively support positive societal outcomes in Melbourne? Which forms of AV technology best support environmental, social and public health objectives?
The studio began with intensive learning about the state-of-the-art in AV technology and theory, with expert presentations from government and the private sector. An initial fieldwork exercise took us to Melbourne Airport, where students measured the spatial and temporal efficiency of pick-up and drop-off by private car, ride-share, taxi and bus. The differing space to throughput ratios offered by these modes could then be extrapolated to the more spatially constrained, multi-use public spaces around suburban rail stations.
Based on the observations at Melbourne Airport, we concluded that most stations with substantial park-and-ride areas had sufficient space to manage high mode-shares of low-occupancy AVs, although there would need to be significant reconfiguration of the space. Furthermore, re-distribution of patterns of rail station access could lead to dramatic changes around stations that are predominantly walk-up to cater to new demand for AV pick-up and drop-off. However, two issues became clear. First, while pick-up and drop-off space may be available, the studio results challenged any assumption that AVs will allow existing car parking to be re-allocated for more attractive uses. The peak demand for station access is such that existing car parking space would simply be re-purposed as pick up/drop off zones. Second, a consistent theme across the studio work was that feeder roads serving suburban stations have insufficient capacity to handle the station access task in anything other than a high occupancy shared AV future. Scenarios involving high mode-shares of private or low occupancy AVs are incompatible with the capacity of road networks adjacent to most stations we examined, regardless of the potential for re-use of park-and-ride land at the station itself.
The students’ individual research projects explored some of the complex implications for transport and land-use planning for the AV future. These included: