Driverless shuttles take to the tarmac as gridlock baffles city planners

It may seem like a scene out of a utopian movie, but an American futurist says bikes that pedal themselves and driverless buses could be the future of New Zealand’s transport system.

Speaking to the Herald on Sunday ahead of the T-Tech Transport Innovation Conference in Auckland on March 19 and 20, Greg Lindsay said advances in technology could lead to the creation of a new type of vehicle that could help unclog roads.

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And although experts here agree it’s going to happen – a trial of driverless shuttles by company Ohmio is already under way in Christchurch – the tech and transport sector is divided on exactly when autonomous vehicles will hit the road en masse.

The potential safety benefits of driverless cars have been discussed for decades – 90 per cent of crashes in New Zealand are caused by driver error, which could theoretically be eliminated if vehicles were automated.

However, critics have argued “zombie cars” driving around empty would worsen congestion.

“The nightmare scenario is that you’ll have a traffic jam of empty cars as people send their cars to run errands for them while they sit at work or sit at home,” said Greg Lindsay, a New York-based journalist, futurist and visiting scholar of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.

“The first autonomous vehicle is most likely not going to be a car that drives itself – it’s going to be [a shuttle] and it’s going to be running prescribed routes.

“It’s probably going to be really cheap to run. It’s most likely going to be moving slowly but relatively painlessly.”

He also expected ride sharing to continue to increase and sales of electric bikes – including models that could pedal themselves to people who booked them – to soar in New Zealand in the near future.

Wrap your head around what’s driving intelligent transport systems (ITS) The countdown is on. Have you booked your tickets for the T-Tech Transport Innovation Conference March 19/20 at The Pullman Hotel, Auckland?  #ttechconf