Driverless vehicles a game changer for S'pore

A 2010 study by the University of California, Berkeley estimated that there were just over three parking spaces for every motor vehicle in the United States - that is, 800 million spaces to 250 million automobiles.

In Singapore, the HDB alone provides over 550,000 spaces across the various estates.

Assuming a similar ratio of vehicles and available parking space, there would be approximately 1.65 million spaces for our nation's car population of around 552,000.

Supposing that the average space, inclusive of driveways, measures 23 sq m, we can conclude that close to 40 sq km of land is used for car parking alone.

Even if we accept some margin of error in this calculation, it is clear that the need to accommodate private vehicles has serious ramifications for our land-scarce nation (Self-driving cars can free up space; May 15).

The advent of driverless electric vehicles is cause for great optimism.

First, autonomous vehicles are more easily shared by means of a broad-based ride-pooling system. In San Francisco, for example, over 50 per cent of all Uber rides are pooled between separate users, a figure that is expected to rise once the firm rolls out its self-driving fleet.

This reduces the overall number of vehicles needed to transport the same number of passengers, directly mitigating congestion.

A smaller vehicle population would also require fewer parking spaces, freeing up a not-inconsiderable amount of land.

Second, when not in use or between trips, autonomous green vehicles could theoretically continue circulating on nearby roads at minimal cost to the environment.

By doing away with short-term parking, and by extension, the need for parking spaces, more land would become available for other purposes, such as wider roads, bicycle lanes, recreational parkland and commercial utilisation.

Just as previous technological leaps have changed our way of life, the automation revolution could potentially upend the way we think about personal transportation.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline 'Driverless vehicles a game changer for S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe