The cities in this Atlas represent the vanguard of urban governments that are hosting tests, developing their own autonomous vehicle (AV) pilots, making plans and policy, and monitoring developments in AV technologies, uses, and markets.
We are continually adding cities to the Atlas as we learn about new AV initiatives. However, because our focus here is on helping cities learn from each other, this map only covers AV pilots and policymaking efforts where city, municipal, or metropolitan governments are playing a substantial role.
We included cities where we found evidence that the city government is setting goals, mobilizing resources, and providing oversight and evaluation for AV efforts. That’s why some important efforts organized by industry and national and state/provincial governments are not shown. In rare instances where a city does not meet this standard yet, but possesses a globally significant portfolio of AV innovation assets, we include it.
Our search started earlier this year, with an online survey of 38 cities identified to be actively working on AV strategy. We solicited these leading cities’ insights on the suitability of current AV technologies for urban areas, clear opportunities and risks, and open questions and concerns about the future. Here’s what we learned.
Like AV technology, city efforts are at an early stage. Intentional city planning for autonomous vehicles is new. Fully a quarter of the 38 cities surveyed only prioritized the issue in the last year. Fewer than 1 in 10 cities have been working on AVs for more than three years. Most fall in the middle, having pushed the pedal on AV work between 2014 and 2016, when the technology first made headlines. (Fig. 1)
The “last mile” is low-hanging fruit. Cities see a variety of AV-based solutions on the horizon, from transit to taxis to freight. (Fig. 2) But the most common anticipated role for AVs is bridging existing gaps at the edges of transit systems, a crucial link that planners call the “last mile.” Almost every city indicated interest in using AVs for last-mile solutions, and for a majority of cities it was the highest priority. This focus has carried over into pilots, too. At the time of writing, more than half of the 36 cities with ongoing or committed pilots are testing AVs in last-mile applications ranging from connectors between rail stations and employment centers to shuttles circulating within large campuses.
Cities still have big barriers to overcome. We asked a subset of 30 cities about the barriers to moving forward on AV pilots, policy, and plans. (Fig. 3) These cities told us they are struggling to find the human and financial capacity to deliver more projects—and the right actions are not yet clear or urgent enough. Some cities also face roadblocks in the form of other levels of government that override or preempt local actions.
Following the survey, we expanded our search for cities ramping up AV pilots, partnerships, and policymaking efforts by consulting experts, NGOs and research organizations working on transportation and mobility issues, and news reports. As of October 2017, this investigation covered 53 cities, which are documented in the Global Atlas of Autonomous Vehicles in Cities.
Additional insights emerged from this group of cities.
Preparations are underway worldwide, in cities large and small. More than two-thirds of the cities on the map are already piloting AVs or have substantially committed to doing so in the coming year. North America and Europe have an equal number of pilots underway, with concentrations of activity in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the eastern hemisphere, Singapore, Australia, and China are spearheading explorations of AVs’ urban potential. Several cities in South America have begun preparing, but have not yet formally launched AV pilot projects. Only a handful of cities anywhere in the world are far along in these efforts. Most AV pilots were launched in the last 12 to 18 months.
AV pilot zones take many forms but are limited in scope. Cities are partnering on tests of a variety of AV products, including retrofitted autos and brand new types of vehicles like conveyors (small, cart-sized AVs that travel on sidewalks). But there’s far more variety in the places cities are choosing for tests. These include technology parks, college campuses, urban renewal districts, and former Olympic sites—places that make it easier to isolate AVs from the rest of the city. So while trials are increasingly happening in cities, they aren’t yet tackling the full challenge of navigating complex urban environments.