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Experts explore autonomous EV ride-sharing service worth £3.5bn

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A consortium of companies including one of the UK’s biggest fleets is developing a business model for the mass-market introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs) by 2025.

The Merge Greenwich project, led by global taxi giant Addison Lee, predicts that one-in-three car journeys in London could be replaced by autonomous electric vehicle ride-sharing services within a decade.

This would account for 2.5 million passenger trips a day, equivalent to one-in-seven trips taken in the capital, creating a £3.5 billion a year transport sector.

The consortium, backed by funding from the Government’s Innovate UK, will spend the next year looking at how AV ride-sharing can support and interact with public transport to create a working business model in the capital.

Research will be based around the London Borough of Greenwich, which has already been a hub for a number of trials of AVs.

It will also look at other potential uses for services, such as small goods delivery in autonomous vehicles. 

In addition to Addison Lee, the Merge Greenwich consortium involves mobility experts from Ford, TRL, Transport Systems Catapult, DG Cities and Immense Simulations, which will provide complex computer modelling of the impact of ride-sharing programmes.

The study will analyse how an AV ride-sharing service could compete on price, convenience and availability with other options, while complementing public transport, and as an alternative to private vehicles. 

Andy Boland, CEO of Addison Lee, which carries out 30,000 journeys a day in London, said: “The idea that one-in-three London car journeys could be replaced by AVs by 2025 shows the huge potential in the sector.

“We are delighted to work together with our consortium partners to bring a range of skills together to try to address the problem of how we build a future that has connected autonomous vehicles and offer a range of services to passengers and customers, both public and private.

“We are really serious about this as a jumping off point into a range of commercial services. We are bringing a lot of data to the project, but we are also bringing commercial thinking and an ability to put in place services in the real world.

“We provide services to business customers and consumers and we see a future for a range and tier of services, including those differentiated services, but also broad public transportation.”

Merge Greenwich has produced an initial report on the uptake, opportunities and challenges of an AV ride-sharing service as a first step towards simulating a full-scale service in the capital.

The project will demonstrate how this integrated solution can benefit consumers, society and the environment and offer ideas on how to improve the efficiency of the way people travel around cities and how to reduce total vehicle journeys and emissions.

The year-long research programme will also identify key requirements for a vehicle that is used in delivering an AV ride-sharing service and it will also review customer barriers to adoption.

Finally, it will deliver a detailed commercial and business model to show how an AV ride-sharing service can be brought to market.

Paul McCabe, Addison Lee director of mobility, said: “The consortium members understood there was a lot of research and development happening around the vehicles and the technology associated with those vehicles, but we recognised that nobody was really trying to understand how you brought that together and provided a scaled service for the city and the people moving around that city.”

He said the research would look at asset utilisation and different tiers of service.

McCabe added that city infrastructure masterplans needed to think about how they would manage large-scale autonomous services interacting with public transport when it came to investment over the next three decades. For example, there needs to be adequate public electric vehicle charging points, while road design could change, as traffic lights and roundabouts may not be needed.

Once complete, project lessons learned could be expanded to projects worldwide.

Catherine Hutt, project manager for Merge Greenwich, said: “We see this as a fundamental first step towards the mass roll-out of AVs. It is not okay to leave the service and the consumer as an afterthought, otherwise we could end up with clever technology that gets mothballed because there is no commercial viability.”

The project is expected to publish the results of its study next summer.

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