Autonomous vehicles: when and what does it mean for where we live?

‘Diverse mobility’ is the new buzzword in the transport industry, and it’s all about multiple ways of getting to the same place and being able to choose between comfort, time / health and cost. Let’s unpack that.

Some people are happy to sit in their cars in traffic, listen to the radio and sip a coffee on the way to work.  Others trade that off against public transport which can often get them to work twice as fast, but much less comfortably.  And these days, some people are choosing to ride bikes and to walk.

Inside that mix, we’re starting to see new options emerging.  For a start, there’s the share car, share bicycle, driverless cars and automated buses.  These alternative ways to move around create different sets of linkages between parts of the existing transport system.

Here’s an example, The West Australian Royal Automobile Club is currently trialing the Intellibus in Perth, a fully automated shuttle bus which picks people up throughout the day on a half hour cycle and takes them to shopping center’s and other community destinations.

The Intellibus links a series of trips that were really never connected before.  As more diverse sets of mobility become available, we will have access to a greater range of destinations and we can choose different ways to get to them.  Perhaps a share bicycle to the Intellibus, visit the doctor, then a train to the next location to shop, and so on.  The whole trip-making experience is beginning to change.RAC Intellibus;Australia’s very first Automated Vehicle Trial is happening right here in Western Australia. With the support of the State Government, RAC is trialing a fully driverless, fully electric shuttle bus in South Perth.

The major motor vehicle producers see the expanding possibilities and have responded pretty dramatically by saying ‘we want to be part of that!’  For example, General Motors has rolled out a major project in Detroit where, at a number of depots you can rent a car, on demand, for $6 an hour.  Just swipe your credit card.

In Pittsburgh, Uber has 100 automated taxis on the road. At the moment, each has an engineer along for the ride, but these vehicles are driving on a fully-automated basis because Uber’s long-term strategy is to have a driverless fleet which can pick up passengers any time, any place.

In Dallas, they’ve got the dollar bus system.  Some very smart operators decided that the municipal buses weren’t providing a good service, so they established a private bus line which picks up and drops off at bus stops for a dollar.

We are beginning to see the formalised public transports of the past broken up into much more user-friendly, consumer-directed formats. This will draw a much wider range of areas into the transport network, including those which are poorly serviced at the present because they are on the city fringes or in public transport back holes.

In Australia, we are moving very quickly down this pathway with new insurance regulations and new transport regulations being put into place.

In the latest Infrastructure Australia Report, there are very strong recommendations in relation to the early introduction of automated vehicles. It’s not just to improve transport, which is an obvious outcome. It’s also to improve equity.  If I’m living in an outlying area and I don’t have access to jobs, new mobility options could significantly improve my situation.  Our suburban areas would become more equitable.  The bounty of our cities with their concentration of jobs, services and recreational pursuits, could be shared with a broader population.

From a property investment point of view, this will create some very strong price growth for areas which are poorly serviced by public transport at the moment.

Brian Haratsis has completed some work for the Australian Driverless Vehicles Initiative suggesting that around 40% of Australian vehicles will be automated by 2035.  And that’s fairly conservative.  If that view’s right, you would begin to see property price impacts by 2025.  Now might be a good time to begin to identify those areas where connections aren’t as good as they ought to be, such as in the middle ring suburbs and isolated areas on the urban fringe, because that’s where you might see some very significant value increments in a very short space of time.


About the author: 

Brian Haratsis is MacroPlan’s Founder and Executive Chairman. Brian is an economist and future strategist with over 30 years experience as an advisor to governments and major corporate clients throughout Australia and New Zealand. For more information or to discuss your property research requirements, please contact Amy Williams on 02 9221 5211 or