Driverless vehicles come at a cost: Experts

(From left) Quantum Inventions chief executive Saurav Bhattacharyya, European GNSS Agency executive director Carlo des Dorides, The Korea Transport Institute research fellow and intelligent transport systems R&D director Moon Young-Jun and Los Angele
(From left) Quantum Inventions chief executive Saurav Bhattacharyya, European GNSS Agency executive director Carlo des Dorides, The Korea Transport Institute research fellow and intelligent transport systems R&D director Moon Young-Jun and Los Angeles Department of Transportation general manager Seleta Reynolds at the first plenary session of the 26th Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress on Oct 22, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

SINGAPORE - Automated and connected vehicles will transform the way we move and live, but they come with additional costs, and it is unclear who will bear those costs.

The Korea Transport Institute research fellow and intelligent transport systems R&D director Moon Young-Jun said: "It is estimated that one hour of high-speed driving requires 4GB of data per vehicle. Who's paying for that?"

Currently, telco providers charge individual consumers between $1 and $5 for 1GB of data in Singapore. Assuming the one million vehicles here are on the road for an average of an hour a day (private cars shorter, but public transport and goods vehicles much longer), and they are all autonomous and connected, it could translate to at least $1 million a day - just on data cost.

The cost of such vehicles - estimated to be significantly higher than conventional manned vehicles - and the cost of necessary infrastructure are other expenditures which Dr Moon alluded to.

"You need money for infrastructure," he said. "The telecommunications companies are proposing 5G connectivity. But who's going to make the investment - private or public?"

Dr Moon was speaking at the first plenary session of the 26th Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress on Tuesday (Oct 22), moderated by Quantum Inventions chief executive Saurav Bhattacharyya.

Singapore's Economic Development Board chairman Beh Swan Gin delivered the keynote address at the session. European GNSS Agency executive director Carlo des Dorides and Los Angeles Department of Transportation general manager Seleta Reynolds were the other panel members.

On the issue of cost, Ms Reynolds related how one company wanted Los Angeles to finance the cost of safety drivers for its automated vehicles "to the tune of US$21 million (S$28.6 million) a year".

"Did they think we had a machine that printed money?" she said.

 
 
 
 

Ms Reynolds acknowledged that the public sector has to invest to bring innovation to market, but said these innovations have to have "real solutions to real problems".

"For example, we could have (electric) scooters deployed in low-income neighbourhoods for low or no fees," she said, explaining that these e-scooters will connect people in these neighbourhoods to jobs and schools.

She pointed out that in LA, a person can reach 12 times as many jobs in an hour by car as he can by transit.

On jobs, Dr Moon estimated that by 2040, 7 to 24 per cent of driving jobs in South Korea would be done by automated vehicles.

Panellists agreed, though, that automated and connected vehicles will improve safety, each citing high road fatalities today.

While autonomous vehicles are also seen to reduce congestion and pollution, there is no consensus on how impactful they will be on this front.

Dr Moon said: "My concern is that they won't change people's attitudes towards transportation. We need to change people's attitudes, to use less of their private vehicles and to use more shared shuttles."