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AUTONOMOUS MOBILITY: How could it affect the UK taxi market and should the sector be worried?



ServCity, the UK’s newest autonomous mobility service research project, has begun its testing phase on the streets of London. The aim of the project is to test the latest autonomous vehicle technologies and incorporate them into a complex urban environment.


The project is jointly funded by the Government and industry. The Government’s £100m Intelligent Mobility fund is administered by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and delivered by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. Over the next three years, six partners will work together to develop a blueprint that aims to directly breakdown the barriers to deploying autonomous vehicles in the UK’s cities.

After months of development, simulation and testing on private test tracks, the ServCity project has now reached the stage where the ServCity Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) is being tested on the streets of London at the Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMLL) based in Greenwich.


Built upon a 100% electric Nissan LEAF, the ServCity CAV from October 21, will be put through its paces and tested in the heart of the capital. This project will likely set the tone and pace when it comes to autonomous vehicles and crucially, autonomous taxis in the UK.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE TAXI INDUSTRY?


This is an interesting question and answers to this will probably come sooner from cities abroad that have accelerated the move towards autonomous.


There’s no denying that autonomous vehicle technology is making progress. Whether it will reach ‘Level 5’ in the most densely populated cities without the need of a driver, the jury remains out.


In more controlled motoring environments, like on motorways or on low-speed shuttle runs, autonomy can definitely play a role in mobility. Haulage drivers and bus drivers are most likely to be more worried by the advancement in technology.


For private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers it’s a worry too as they are viewed as the greatest expense to the business. Minicab bookings all have a predetermined pick-up and drop-off, and the route is usually generated sat-nav technology. The operator could find themselves in the position of not needing drivers in the future.


With the right financial backing, operators could flood the roads with available vehicles on every street corner and reduce the cost of travel. As we have learned with the arrival of Uber and other ride-hailing firms, price and availability are the two main reasons for a customer to consider using a PHV.


For the taxi market it gets a little more complicated. The USP of a taxi includes the advanced knowledge of a driver and the ability to pick-up off the street. An autonomous vehicle cannot offer these, unless of course, passengers accept that the journey might not be as efficient, or legislation changes around plying- for-hire.


At some point the elephant in the room will need to be discussed. If, and it remains a big if, autonomous PHV’s and taxis are allowed to operate in the UK, how will they be licensed and what happens to over 300,000 people working in the industry right now?

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