Autonomous Vehicles and Equity

Fehr & Peers DC is working with the Union of Concerned Scientists to assess how AVs could impact underserved communities. This project uses the MWCOG regional travel demand model to quantify how transportation outcomes may differ for disadvantaged populations in the Washington, D.C. area under a variety of future AV scenarios:

  • Single Occupancy AVs with Limited Transit (Dystopia)
  • Single Occupancy AVs with Enhanced Transit
  • Shared AVs with Limited Transit
  • Shared AVs with Enhanced Transit (Utopia)

Each scenario was evaluated through several performance measures, including job accessibility, trip duration, trip distance, mode share, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Performance measures were applied for the region as a whole, MWCOG-designated Equity Emphasis Areas (EEAs) and non-EEAs, as well as urban, suburban, and exurban case study jurisdictions representing affluent and underserved communities. Across the different performance measures, the high-occupancy AV and enhanced transit scenarios were found to provide an equity benefit, either mitigating an existing gap in outcomes between demographic groups or reducing the extent to which that gap is expanded.

What are the key highlights?

Assesses the outcomes of multiple AV futures

Evaluates equity impacts across several performance measures

Congested VMT can act as a proxy for air quality. All AV futures are expected to increase VMT and congested VMT, emphasizing the need for electrification. High-occupancy vehicle policies could have a larger impact on mitigating congestion (and air quality impacts) than investments in transit infrastructure. Equity Emphasis Areas are currently disadvantaged in this metric, and their disadvantage could increase with the implementation of AVs.

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