Can Electric Cars Drive Global Decarbonisation?

nancy-vandyckeBy Nancy L. Vandycke, Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative, World Bank

Can one plus one be more than two? I believe that it can. In fact, I would wager that we must find opportunities to do so if we are serious about delivering our goals for the Paris Climate Agreement. The transport-energy nexus is precisely a place where we can find such opportunities; more specifically, I am talking about the possibility of global decarbonisation through the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). That said, we must always be aware of potential pitfalls. Allow me to share my experience.

The promise of global emission reduction

In 2017, transport accounted for 24 per cent of total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. To reduce emissions, many countries have been promoting the electrification of transport. For many, adopting the trend for EVs is a way to transition passenger fleet away from conventional gasoline and diesel-fuelled cars. In fact, last year, global sales of EV surpassed a million units. Under the current trend, EV production could almost quadruple by 2020, with China leading the way.

34851733984_ef336560fa_kAs more and more EVs replace internal combustion vehicles, the energy burden for transport will eventually shift from oil to electricity. This is good news for the power sector. By riding on the trend of increased EVs, it can become part of a solution for global decarbonisation.

There is an added bonus for the power sector. For years, its profitability has been in decline. Charging EVs will add some load to the power grid, which is a welcome development for utilities against the continued decline in electricity prices.

Such a scenario seems promising, but there are potential pitfalls along the way.

The pitfalls

For a long time now, the transport and energy sectors have been talking about decarbonisation in their own circles.

As I sat in conversations with industry leaders from each sector—both in my role as the lead for Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and as a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) global council on advanced energy technologies—I came to realise how disconnected the conversations about decarbonisation are. If we were to connect the two sectors, we must bring them to sit at the same table.

Accordingly, SuM4All invited experts in the energy sector to the table at our last consortium meeting in January 2019. However, it soon became clear that each side is speaking about decarbonisation in their own language and neither side could understand the other. Until both sides find a common language and tie their conversations together, it is unlikely that developments in these respective industries will succeed at decarbonising the global economy.

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Even if both sides manage to come to an agreement on a common language and approach, one must be thoughtful about the way both sectors collaborate.

As of today, renewable energy accounts for merely a quarter of total global power generation. Without greening the power grid, a wholesale adoption of EVs will not result in true decarbonisation in either sector. Half of the G20 countries have made progress in expanding renewable electricity generation in the years leading up to 2015, but, alarmingly, nine saw declines in 2015 and the preceding years. Reducing the carbon intensity of power generation is what matters in the end.

But this transformation will not happen overnight. As the share of renewables increases in the energy mix, the carbon intensity of energy production will also increase. In fact, in the short term, one expects an overall increase in carbon emissions with the EV deployment, simply because of the EV battery manufacturing.

The way forward

The good news is that if we manage to co-ordinate policy interventions within the transport and energy sectors, we can make great strides towards decarbonisation. For example, policy support measures that target electrification in the transport sector should be linked to renewable requirements on the energy side.  For this reason, I plan to bring a clear and simple message to the Electric and Digital Mobility event ahead of the upcoming ITF Summit: to fully leverage the power of mobility, we need to concurrently clean up the grid.

If we manage to do so, one plus one can indeed be more than two, and the Paris Climate Agreement goals will be very much within our reach.

Nancy L. Vandycke is a speaker at the TUMIVolt Conference on 21 May 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. The ITF Summit follows from 22-24 May.

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„Digital governance will make road freight transport fairer and safer“

by Volker SchnebleImage_Blog_Kapsch_3_MEDIUMSMALL

Only around 5% of the 6.2 million trucks in the EU and 11.2m truck in the US are ever checked for compliance with existing rules – whether these concern the vehicles themselves, the humans who use them or the load they carry. This lack of enforcement causes avoidable crashes, increased road maintenance costs and economic costs due to market distortions.

Data could be a powerful tool for improved enforcement of the rules in road freight. Indeed, a recent ITF report recommended moving towards digital governance approaches. The concept of “Data-led Commercial Vehicle Enforcement” (CVE) is operationalizing this approach, facilitating on-the-spot roadside controls as well as on-the-fly checks.

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Only around 5% of trucks in Europe and the US are ever subject to compliance checks

Data can help control vehicle condition (for instance whether maximum load weights are exceeded or the roadworthiness is imperiled) as well as monitor driver behavior (e.g. via digitalized tachograph records) or verify compliance with the rules of the market, for example by  checking that a company is licensed for freight transport of a specific type and in a given region.

Many rules, one enforcement mechanism

Market-based rules regulate the access of road haulage operators to the road transport market. In parts of the world with smaller countries, road transport often means cross-border traffic. To assure the functioning of the international road freight markets, the most important rules and regulations that govern road haulage are supranational.

Driver-based rules are those that apply to professional truck drivers and their specific actions when at the wheel, resting or in the state of availability. The regulation of driving time is a good example of a driver-based rule. In the European Union and the countries of the European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport (AETR), it is enforced by fitting every goods vehicle with a total weight of more than 3.5 tonnes with a tachograph that records driving and rest times. Similar regulations and requirements for drivers apply in the United States and in Canada.

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On-board units and receivers built into the infrastructure used by trucks can ensure that enforcement agencies are always in the picture

The increasing use of information technology in heavy goods vehicles makes automated, therefore ongoing and hence more effective enforcement of all of these rules feasible. Based on information provided by on-board units in real time and with the monitoring of the data facilitated through receivers embedded in the infrastructure that trucks use, enforcement agencies are always in the picture. In many cases, they won’t need to even act because enforcement can be automatic. Pilot research already indicates promising results –  see this video of a Direct Weigh In Motion and Credential Enforcement pilot programme in Indiana (United States) and a corresponding article in the Chicago Post-Tribune.

Don’t cross that bridge when you reach it

The road infrastructure automatically surveys a vehicle’s total weight and stops it from using weight-sensitive road sections – a bridge for instance – if it is too heavy. Similarly, existing information from the onboard systems on vehicle emissions could be used monitor compliance with the limits on CO2 or particle emissions required by vehicle condition rules – and signal that the vehicle may not enter, say, a zone restricted to electric vehicles.

The technology is already available. Now it is for governments to create market access and automated enforcement instruments: certified equipment, legal and administrative cooperation between national enforcement bodies or radio spectrum free of interference.


Volker Schneble is Managing Director Germany of Kapsch TrafficCom AG, a provider of intelligent transport systems. Kapsch works in tolling, traffic management, smart urban mobility, traffic safety and security, and connected vehicles. As a member of the International Transport Forum’s Corporate Partnership Board, Kapsch contributes its expertise to transport-related research projects undertaken at the ITF.

Automated Driving and Traffic Safety

kronberg-volvo-blogby Peter Kronberg, Safety Director Volvo Group

Automated driving holds promise of a revolutionary new way of providing transport and mobility. Indeed, the added value in improved productivity and efficiency that can be extracted in commercial transport operations appears to be substantial.

But, the question of the impact of automation on road safety tends to divide the public in two distinct camps – one lauding the life-saving potential, and the other envisioning a future of self-aware vehicles running wild, causing death and destruction.

So, where are we heading? Well, I believe the reality of the challenges involved is becoming apparent as more automation pilots are deployed and experience accumulates. Improving road safety on a system-wide level will prove challenging. Yet, under favorable circumstances automation concepts are showing great safety potential. Favorable is a key word here.

The vast majority of incidents and crashes involve human behavior. It is easy, then, to suppose that taking the human out of the loop will reduce crashes correspondingly. Yet, I think intuitively we understand there is something wrong with this logic. And the reason is most driving involves no crashes. An attentive person is fantastic at anticipating events in complex situations – much better indeed than any AI outside of Hollywood.

What strikes me in the debate on automation is the tendency to confuse automation and safety – especially, I fear, among those supposedly well-informed in the area. It is easy to be tricked by the fact that active safety and automation share technologies. Naturally, there will be no successful deployment of automation unless it is safe. But, the development of one does not follow naturally from the other. Both areas require dedicated efforts.

In conventional driving, the human driver performs both operational maneuvers and the highly intricate task of anticipating and mitigating critical situations. The objective of safety is largely to introduce barriers – conceptual and real – to minimize the consequences of mistakes and errors.

The challenge for a highly-automated driving system, then, is to accomplish both the basic task of driving and anticipating and avoiding emerging critical situations. In other words, it must be able to avoid or mitigate any situation it can reasonably encounter in its operational domain – not just mitigate the rare instances missed by a human driver.

Do I sound skeptic about automation? Well, in fact, I am quite the opposite. I believe vehicle automation will make great contributions to road safety. But, it needs to be done right – with safety as a primary design factor. This means vehicles need to behave safely – be sensibly cautious and use good margins. It also means the set of conditions under which the vehicle can safely operate is actually an integral part of the solution itself. In other words, the when, where and how, are just as important as the what. With joint effort we have a chance to develop conditions on a system level that are favorable for safe automation. It may mean starting in confined – or by other means controlled – areas, and then working systematically to increase the number of applications viable for automated driving.

Done right we will be able to reap all the benefits automation offers in terms of productivity and efficiency while enhancing safety.

That’s the Volvo way.

Peter Kronberg will join other transport leaders from across the globe for the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” in Leipzig, Germany held from 23 to 25 May. Find out more…

 

Let’s get serious about saving lives!

Opinion Piece by Jean Todt, FIA President and UN Special Envoy for Road Safety

For a number of years now we have been complaining about the consequences of road crashes, the millions of premature deaths, the tens of millions of serious injuries that impair so many people for life.  We have been documenting the progression of the scourge, gathering statistics, disseminating facts and figures.  We have organized countless conferences, symposiums, workshops, to debate what to do to curb this seemingly unstoppable pandemics.  Only early on we agreed on one thing: it actually was not unstoppable, and more to the point, we knew what needed to be done to stop it.

Of course over time we refined our approach, deepened our knowledge, improved our understanding of what worked best in which circumstances.  Numerous institutions, including the World Bank and United Nations organizations, kept organizing training events to disseminate those findings and equip national and local governments with the tools they needed to fight this recurring disease.  Then the international community took notice and the Decade of Action for Road Safety was launched with the objective of reversing the trend, of eventually bringing down for good the mounting statistics of road crashes.

But let’s face it: despite all the good will, despite these multiple efforts, despite all the talk and conferences, people keep dying on the road in unacceptable numbers.

So this is the time to change gears.  This is the time to realize once and for all that a world in which 3,500 people die on the road every day for no reason can hardly be called civilized.  This is the time to move away from figures, statistics and reports, and look at what this is all about.  And this is about flesh and blood.  This is about saving lives.

We may be reaching a turning point.  Part of the reasons why so many efforts to date have met with too little success has to do with insufficient resources.  The countries suffering most from road crashes are also those so much in need of support on so many fronts that it becomes hard for their governments to set aside funding for something too many development experts have long considered to be some kind of collateral damage of growth.  Hopefully today nobody would claim this any longer, so all what remains is the need to find the proper means to deal with what should be a simple question, a question of life and death.

This week the United Nations General Assembly will establish the United Nations Road Safety Trust Fund.  We must all hope this will prove to be the tool we were missing in our quest to muster the resources needed to effectively turn the tide on road crashes.

Simultaneously the Safer City Streets network will meet in Rome for the third time, at the invitation of the International Transport Forum and with the support of the International Automobile Federation (FIA).  Let’s not forget about half of fatal crashes occur in cities.

And in a month from now, the eleventh edition of the International Transport Forum will take place in Leipzig, under the theme Transport Safety and Security.  This sequence must not be just another round of well-intentioned debates.  It must epitomize a renewed global commitment, a renewed global will, so that when we meet again a year from now, in New York City, in Rome, in Leipzig, in any far corner of this world, we can see an actual downturn in road deaths and injuries.

It’s time to reclaim the right to call this planet a civilized place.

It’s time to get serious about saving lives.

Join Jean Todt, transport ministers and business leaders at the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” on 23-25 May.

“In traffic safety, the human factor plays a key role”

FehlauerThree questions to Jann Fehlauer, Head of Vehicle Testing, DEKRA Automotive

Mr Fehlauer, the DEKRA Road Safety Report 2018, which will be published in June, deals with freight transport. How do you rate the current level of traffic safety in this area?

If we look to Europe, the trend of recent years points in the right direction. Commercial vehicles are becoming safer, and the number of serious accidents is declining, with increasing traffic density. However, there is no reason to rest on our laurels. The fact is: Especially heavy trucks accidents can result in serious, even fatal, injuries.

 

What role do modern driver assistance systems play in this context?

Much has already been achieved in recent years. Modern emergency brake assistants can prevent many of the worst accidents, for example driving up on a traffic jam end. However, the potential must be exploited even more efficiently. These are issues such as the market penetration of security systems, their disconnectability, as well as how drivers are informed about the effects and limitations of these systems.

 

What other starting points do you see to improve traffic safety in the commercial vehicle sector?

We have to take actions at all levels: the vehicles have to be safe, which means, among other things, that their technical condition has to be checked independently on a regular basis. The infrastructure must be as secure as possible. But the human factor also plays a key role. The best safety systems are useless if the driver does not use them. And that applies not only to modern electronic systems, but also to supposedly well-known things like the safety belt.

Jann Fehlauer will join other transport leaders from across the globe for the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” in Leipzig, Germany held from 23 to 25 May. Find out more…

 

How to be a lifesaver: Three simple things to do that will make city roads less deadly

by Hans Michael Kloth, Internatinal Transport Forum

Today  is European Day Without A Road Death, or EDWARD for short. Well, it isn’t really. By the end of today, 21 September 2017, the lives of 70 people will have been lost  in traffic crashes, as every day in the European Union.

And Europe is doing well in comparison. Of the almost 1.25 million annual road deaths worldwide, 90% occur in the poorer countries of Africa, Asia and South America. Even in countries that have been highly successful in improving road safety in the past, such as Sweden, the number of traffic fatalities has been rising again recently. In 2015, the 31 member countries of the International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD) for which data are consistently available registered a 3.3% increase in road fatalities  compared to 2014, and 2016 figures again show an upward trend for 14 of these.

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Memorial for a cyclists killed in a road crash, Manchester 2013 (Photo: Grey World/Flickr cc by)

What can we do as individuals to help turn the tide on road deaths? EDWARD provides an important reminder that being a lifesaver is actually not that difficult. So here are three simple things that you can do to protect yourself and others in traffic – one each for cyclists, one for motorists, and one for mayors.

Giv’em a sign!

The group that experts call “vulnerable road users” is at particular risk on the road. The share of elderly (65+ years) among road fatalities, for instance, outstrips their share of the population by as much as 2:1. Also vulnerable are cyclists, which are a fast growing group of road users as cities try to encourage sustainable forms of transport.

Unlike pedestrians, who are somewhat protected by urban space dedicated to their use (a.k.a. sidewalks), cyclists are usually forced to cohabit with cars. Invariably, crashes between these two unequal parties happen, and, equally invariably, they end with injuries or worse for cyclists while the car barely shows a scratch.

“Wear a helmet”, is one often-heard counsel. Head injuries from cycling crashes are common, usually severe and often deadly, and to reduce your individual risk of severe injury in case you bang into something, there is nothing better than wearing a helmet. On the other hand there’s the problem of compensation (riders taking extra risks and cars being more aggressive as both factor in the protection). There is a huge, emotional debate around helmets that sometimes obscures a simple truth: They are great for preventing the worst when something bad happens, but do nothing for preventing something bad to occur in the first place.

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Signalling a left turn, alternate signals for a right turn, and indicating the intention to stop (Illustration: Shutterstock)

For active safety, therefore, try something truly simple, no matter what your position on helmets is: When you take a turn, make a sign. I started indicating with my stretched-out arm a year ago, after I caught myself cursing at a car that had put me in a tight spot by not indicating, and then realised I was being a little hypocritical. Since, I have made signaling my moves a cycling habit, and the enhanced sense of safety I have felt when biking through the sometimes mad traffic of Paris has been reassuring and a refreshing exprience.

Predictability really is the best friend of safety. Simply doing things in a way that enables others to anticipate your behaviour empowers them to adjust their own ways and avoid dangerous situations based on misreading each other. I’ve heard others say that indicating turns can create dangerous situations because the cyclist has less control when riding with just one hand on the bar. I found the opposite to be as true – one hand off the handle forces you to slow down, and  it becomes impossible to weave through traffic, one of the more dangerous cycling practices.

Reach out the Dutch way

Anyone who has watched this video will appreciate why cyclists live in mortal fear of car doors. It’s an almost daily experience for anyone who rides a bicycle through a city: a driver or passenger opens the car door without checking whether anyone is approaching from behind. At the very least, the cyclist will be forced to veer into traffic and risk being hit; in the worst case, with no time to react they will  slam into the door like into a knife. In June, the case of a Saudi diplomat made headlines when he killed a 55-year old cyclist in Berlin with the door of his Porsche. Statistics are rare, but the UK for instance experienced 1.3 “dooring” incidents on average every single day of  2015.

So what can you do as a motorist to avoid knocking down someone else with your door? Open it using the “Dutch Reach”. This way of opening car doors has been practiced in the Netherlands for half a century. In fact it is part of  training when you get your driver’s licence there. How does it work? Simply grab the door handle with the far hand, not with the one on the side of the door. This  forces your body to swivel towards the door and your field of vision will  automatically include the rear view mirror as well a the area besides and immediately behind your car. It’s a simple routine that requires minimal change of behaviour but can prevent human tragedies on our streets. (The video above explains how it works).

Degrees of separation

Many cities are investing heavily into more cycling paths and infrastructure that will encourage urbanites to walk and cycle. The “active modes” of transport help citizens stay healthy, reduce pollution, unclog the streets and generally make cities more attractive, inclusive, livable. Yet the urban road system was never designed for mixing well-protected, heavy and high-velocity vehicles with unprotected, lightweight and slower bicycles. It follows logically that they are best separated to avoid conflict, as is the case with cars and pedestrians.

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Cycle lane in London (Photo: Ron Enslin/Flickr cc by)

Yet there are very different ways to do this. Some options can be rolled out quickly and are inexpensive, but ultimately provide only a semblance of separation and thus safety. It’s a step in the right direction to paint a blue or red or green strip with a white bicycle icon along the kerbside of a street. But that won’t keep a car or van or truck  from veering onto the bicycle lane whenever the driver chooses (or is forced to). Some cities learned the hard way what the cost of expanding the cycling network in a rush can be. In London, no less than six cyclists killed in crashes in a space of two weeks in November 2013.

Instead of spending money on paint, mayors might invest in stone and cement, and install physical separators between car and bike lanes. People who have never cycled before will not take to the bicycle unless they feel safe from cars. Bright colours alone will not give them that feeling, a physical barrier between them cars will. When I cycle to work, I use a route that is slightly longer, simply because it has a segregated bicycle lane with a 20 centimetre high concrete barrier – that’s all it needs. At ITF we will be holding a Roundtable to discuss just what works best in January, in the context of Safer City Streets, a global network of cities that work together on improving urban road safety – stay tuned for details.

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Paris bicycle lane with separator (Photo: Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Flickr cc by)

A day without a road death in Europe is still some way off. But an encouraging number of European cities have actually achieved the remarkable feat of having not a single road death in a whole year or even longer. There must be something these communities are doing right. It may not necessarily have been a high-profile, high-cost road safety initiative, but perhaps a mixture of little common sense things consistently applied. So let’s not stop taking the small steps that will get us there eventually. Whether you cycle, drive a car, run a city, all three, or nothing of those: think about what you can do to help overcome the scourge of road deaths – every day, not just on EDWARD.

 

Hans Michael Kloth cycles to work and occasionally drives a car on week-ends. He is Head of Communications of the the International Transport Forum

Can driverless trucks deliver social gains as well as beer?

By Daniel Veryard, International Transport Forum

Convoy of yellow trucks on the roadTrials of automated taxis and buses are becoming a common sight in our cities. At the same time, driverless trucks are already moving containers and minerals around many mines and ports, sometimes without any human intervention at all. And although less visible, trucks might well be the first to cross the threshold of fully driverless operations on our public roads.

There are reasons for enthusiasm and for skepticism about predictions of driverless vehicles being allowed on our roads in the near term. Legal issues are numerous and contentious, the most obvious one being who will be to blame for a crash. Technical issues are also mind-blowing. How can computers armed with sensors match – and eventually exceed – the incredible processing power and intuition of the human brain?

Yet progress is being made on both fronts. Behind the scenes, governments and international bodies are working with industry to adapt regulation and road rules to a wholly new idea of what it means to drive a vehicle. There is a genuine motivation from governments not to stand in the way of the opportunities presented by automation.

Fierce competition

Amazing progress has been made on technical challenges in recent years. Advances in computing power, software and sensor technology have meant that in the space of just four years, computers have gone from dunce to top of the class in their ability to recognise objects and human faces. The same systems that can recognise over 96% of all images of physical objects are now being trained to recognise and respond rapidly to a huge array of real-world situations on our roads.

Fierce competition between incumbent vehicle manufacturers and new entrants seeking to disrupt the market for mobility is spurring large investments in research and development of driverless technologies. A large part of the EUR 44.7 billion that the automotive industry invests into R&D every year is dedicated to connected and automated driving.

On-road tests with prototype driverless trucks are already being carried out. Last year a start-up in the US working on autonomous trucks claimed the first commercial delivery (of beer cans) undertaken with a highly automated truck; the on-board systems handled all of the motorway sections of the journey without the driver monitoring operations. And European vehicle manufacturers worked together with governments to demonstrate the technical and legal feasibility of coordinating trucks from different origins to form automatically connected convoys of pairs and trios of trucks to travel together on a joint final leg of their journey to Rotterdam. Such technology would allow “platoons” of trucks to travel with only one person in the lead truck to be actively driving.

Huge cost advantages

Appetite among operators for the driverless technology is likely to be strong once it becomes available. The International Transport Forum (ITF) estimates that on long-distance routes driverless trucks could be operated with a cost advantage of 30% or more compared to conventional manned trucks. Drivers represent the biggest chunk of operational costs. Drivers are also a constraint on using trucks around the clock – they do need breaks to rest, after all. Making humans in the cabin superfluous means trucks could operate day and night without having to stop, except for refuelling.

The impacts that this transformation would have on driver jobs and livelihoods is not often discussed in policy and technical circles, however. Perhaps the threat of displacement for drivers is given less attention because the implicit assumption is that former drivers will quickly find alternative employment in growth sectors, such as personal services. While this possibility should not be dismissed out of hand, the stakes for drivers and for society at large are sufficiently high for us at ITF to decide that the labour impacts of driverless trucks were worth exploring in detail.

Driverless trucks cover

For this report, we teamed up with three leading transport-sector organisations – representing truck manufacturers, road freight operators and transport unions – to consider whether driverless road freight transport might be developed, allowed and adopted over the next two decades. In particular we wanted to understand what could be done to manage the labour impacts of the adoption of driverless trucks.

Redundant drivers

There are currently nearly 6 million professional heavy truck drivers employed across the US and Europe, according to ITF estimates.  At the current pay and conditions, hauliers struggle to attract enough qualified drivers. Projections tell us that without driverless trucks, around 6.4 million truck drivers will be needed across Europe and the US by 2030, yet fewer than 5.6 million will be available. Many of today’s drivers are nearing retirement age, and women and young people have not been taking up trucking. If these trends continue, driver shortages are expected to get worse – in Europe especially.

Driverless trucks could be used to gradually replace retiring drivers. However, the adoption of driverless trucks is likely to reduce demand for drivers at a faster rate than a supply shortage would emerge: Of the projected 6.4 million driver jobs in 2030, between 3.4 and 4.4 million would become redundant if driverless trucks are deployed quickly. Even accounting for prospective truck drivers being progressively dissuaded by the advent of driverless technology, over 2 million drivers across the US and Europe could be directly displaced by 2030 in some of the scenarios examined.

For businesses and displaced workers alike, large-scale and rapid adoption would be highly disruptive for future plans. The trucking industry is faced with the dilemma of trying to encourage people into driving roles right now, yet doing so would add to the ranks of people who need to be transitioned to new jobs when driverless technology is adopted. And for drivers or would-be drivers, the future roles in trucking may be more interesting, yet there may well be fewer of these jobs.

Disruptive automation

For today’s truck drivers the risks from driverless technology are profound. At a minimum, they may need to learn new skills to adapt to a new working environment in the truck cabin. Or they may lose their job altogether. While truck drivers are typically flexible, self-reliant and able to concentrate for long periods, they tend to be older and with less formal education. So finding and re-training for alternative jobs may not be straightforward, particularly as displaced drivers could face competition for jobs from workers being displaced from jobs in other sectors – after all, trucking will not be the only sector changed by automation.

Alternative job opportunities for displaced truck drivers will be created both in the trucking industry and beyond. However, whether a high-automation economy will generate enough employment and whether these jobs are suitable for displaced truck drivers, are both open questions.

These challenges partly stem from the uncertainty around the timing and extent of the labour market impacts from driverless trucks. Yet uncertainty does not mean we should stand back and let it happen. There are options for giving some control to the people affected. The ITF study proposed consideration of a permit scheme that would allow trucks to operate without driver only if in possession of an electronic certificate issued by the relevant authority (assuming a safety approval process had been developed and passed by the vehicle). The governments could sell such permits to road freight operators at auctions. The proceeds from the permit sales could be used to fund transition arrangements for displaced drivers, such as retraining programmes or, if need be, income replacement payments.

Managing the transition

The number of government permits issued each year could be set in consultation with an advisory board. This “labour transition board” should be temporary and include representatives from labour unions, road freight businesses, vehicle manufacturers and government. It would support the government in choosing the right policy mix to ensure that costs, benefits and risks from automated road haulage are fairly distributed.

The board could take account of various factors to ensure its recommendations maximise the potential benefits for society from driverless road freight. Balancing costs and benefits will require evidence on the evolving demand for driverless operation and developments in the labour market. If demand for the permits was high, permits would attract high prices (or be sold in large volumes), giving strong revenues for active labour market programs that year; more displaced drivers could be supported, suggesting the release of more permits could be a welfare-improving change the following year. Under this arrangement, policy makers would be specifically empowered and informed to make the trade-off.

The challenge of inequality

The approach proposed from the ITF and its partners should be seen as a risk management strategy in the face of an uncertain uptake of driverless technology. It is possible that the transition to automation in the trucking sector and elsewhere will proceed slowly and in an orderly fashion, with market forces smoothly directing unemployed drivers into new opportunities elsewhere. In such a scenario, the government’s intervention in transition would be largely unnecessary. In practice, the measures could be quickly withdrawn by issuing large numbers of permits or removing the need for permits altogether.

However, the rapid and unprecedented accumulation of computing power suggests that we may well reach a point where human labour is increasingly superseded. In such a scenario, the labour transition arrangements may well prove crucial in keeping humans in charge of their own futures before a strong set of vested interests are formed. Embedding this control into the fabric of the transition could make the adoption less risky from a social welfare perspective and more feasible from a political economy perspective. Transition arrangements for truck drivers may also help policy makers understand how to best respond to the broader challenges of inequality and underemployment that are proving difficult to tackle with existing policy settings.

 

Daniel Veryard is an economist with the International Transport Forum. He led the project on “Managing the transition to driverless road freight transport” which the ITF conducted jointly with the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.