Dubai believes the future of urban public transit is both electric and autonomous. On Feb. 13, the country’s transportation authority announced a deal to buy 200 Tesla Model S sedans and Model X SUVs for the city’s 10,000-vehicle taxi and limousine fleet.
The move is part of a broader effort by city officials to make 25% of all local car trips autonomous by 2030, reports The National, a United Arab Emirates-owned newspaper. The Dubai Future Foundation, a city government initiative, started promoting the autonomous-taxi program earlier this year.
All around the world, buses, taxis, and other vehicles are headed toward electric-powered autonomy; the Tesla deal represents an early test of what may become a much broader standard. An autonomous shuttle called Olli makes the rounds in Washington, DC. Amsterdam has its own Mercedes version. Beverly Hills applied to the US Department of Transportation on Jan 10. for permission to test autonomous vehicles on its way to building a mass-transit fleet of driverless cars (still a distant goal). Uber is already doing the same in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And towns in Michigan are contemplating a phased rollout of small autonomous shuttles in the coming years, which could give way to a fully autonomous mass-transit systems by 2035 or so.
The timing, and nature, of changes to public transport will depend on how quickly autonomous technologies become operational, as well as their reception by governments, regulators, and the public. We’re likely to see Tesla, Uber, Google and others begin releasing commercial autonomous vehicles by next year, but can expect to only see incremental improvements in congestion, efficiency, and pollution until autonomous vehicles are widespread. A study by the International Transport Forum found most benefits of autonomous vehicle sharing don’t really kick in until the private vehicle fleet has shrunk by 60%.