Merge Greenwich self driving car

1 in 4 journeys could be by autonomous vehicle by 2025

That’s according to government-backed research group Merge Greenwich, which has completed a 12-month study exploring how autonomous vehicle ride-sharing could reshape urban transport.

Merge Greenwich used London’s Greenwich as a modelling ground, and determined that by 2025 ride-sharing in autonomous vehicles (AV) could account for more than one in four trips. The research concludes that AV ride-sharing can cut average journey times to public transport hubs by up to 43%, saving an average commuter as much as 3.5 days in travel time per year. For areas with particularly poor public transport links, the simulated time saving was as high as 74%.

AV ride-sharing would allow people to summon and share on-demand vehicles to take them short distances for a set fare. The concept is one of many ways in which new mobility technology could be exploited to address congestion, air quality and convenience in Britain’s cities. Merge Greenwich’s report also argues that thousands of unneeded car parking spaces could be repurposed, as journeys requiring parking dropped by up to 38%.

Challenges to universal AV adoption

The research also highlights the complexities in introducing a new AV ride-share service at scale. Whilst overall the service can deliver benefits, during the period in which the introduction of the service takes place alongside all of today’s existing traffic, the service could have some short term unintended consequences.

For example, significant preparatory work needs to be done to lay the ground for successful introduction of AV ride-sharing services. Challenges facing the adoption of AV ride-sharing include nervousness among the public about sharing a vehicle, with 45% saying they are willing to do so. Some services – particularly those helping passengers with accessibility challenges – would need to be staffed by a steward, meaning a person is always onboard the vehicle.

Merge Greenwich Autonomous Car Model

The cost of first-generation vehicles could also be a barrier to commercial viability initially. Current cost estimates for autonomous electric vehicles are significantly higher than today’s conventional fleet vehicle. The consortium also recommends that pricing and incentives are pitched in such a way as to encourage travellers to switch to AV ride-sharing from private vehicles, rather than from buses, to ensure that the introduction of new services reduces traffic congestion.

The role of legislation 

Now the research group is calling on local and national government to launch a City Mobility Task Force, and advises industry representatives should be convened to develop strategic policy, set goals and provide roadmaps for a new generation of transport services.

The remit of the proposed task force would include recommending changes to street infrastructure and taking steps to build public confidence in both autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing, and seek to gain the maximum social benefits for cities and their citizens.

Andy Boland, CEO of Addison Lee Group, said: “The Merge Greenwich consortium report shows all manner of positive changes that autonomous vehicle ride-sharing could bring – reduced journey times, better access to transport and less need for parking spaces. To make this a reality, it needs a task force, harnessing the expertise of the public and private sectors, to facilitate the planning and co-ordination essential to its implementation.”

He added: ” The government has shown leadership through the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge and we urge them to convene decision makers to ensure that Autonomous Vehicle ride-sharing plays a part in the urban transport mix to give customers choice and to help build the greener, cleaner and more efficient cities of the future.”

The Merge Greenwich consortium was setup and led by Addison Lee Group and involves mobility experts Ford, TRL, Transport Systems Catapult, DG Cities and Immense Simulations. It is backed by funding from Innovate UK – an agency sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Read the full report here

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