It’s a nightmarish vision of San Francisco’s future, like something out of science fiction: streets full of driverless cars, crawling along implacably but at a snail’s pace, snarling traffic and bringing the city to a standstill from the iconic Ferry Building to Union Square.
But according to Adam Millard-Ball, associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, this scenario could come to pass simply as a result of rational behavior on the part of autonomous vehicle owners. Congestion pricing that imposes a fee or tax for driving in the downtown core could help prevent this future, but cities need to act fast, before self-driving cars are common, he argues.
Those conclusions emerge from an analysis published in the journal Transport Policy, in which Millard-Ball used game theory and a computer model of San Francisco traffic patterns to explore the effects of autonomous vehicles on parking. He found that the gridlock happens because self-driving cars don’t need to park near a rider’s destination – in fact, they don’t need to park at all.