Autonomous taxis & public health: High cost or high opportunity cost?

Passenger vehicles are a major source of air pollution, exposure to which increases respiratory disease risk, amplifies life-threatening conditions and burdens the public purse. The negative externalities associated with these vehicles rise further when road accidents are considered. Almost all such accidents involving fatalities transpire when private users are in single vehicle incidents or collide with each other. Though autonomous vehicle technology can mitigate these effects, widespread adoption and proliferation demands cost competitiveness with the status quo; namely, personally owned and operated, conventional vehicles. Here the authors show that this prospect may - in a commercially owned and operated enterprise – be unlikely. Causal factors of relevance include low capacity utilization rates and impracticable profit expectations. In a single ridership ‘autonomous taxi’ model, the authors find capacity utilization rates would need to improve from 52 percent to 100 percent and profits lowered by 37 percent (from 27 cents to 17 cents on a per-mile basis) for autonomous taxis to offer fares that are comparable with personally owned, conventional vehicles. In a multiple ridership model, the affordance of these fares requires a 30 percent increase in vehicle occupancy (from 1.67 to 2.2) and a 75 percent increase (1.67 to 2.92) were even lower fares offered to incentivize shared, autonomous taxi use over personally owned, conventional vehicles. The authors conclude that consideration of the opportunity costs of driving are integral to the widespread adoption of a technology that may dramatically improve public health outcomes.


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  • Accession Number: 01744522
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jun 9 2020 3:11PM