Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will increase traffic in already overcrowded downtowns, according to a joint study by the World Economic Forum, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and the city of Boston.

AVs should reduce the numbers of cars and overall travel times across cities as a whole, but the effect is not evenly distributed. Concentrated downtown areas could experience a deterioration in traffic flow.

“Cities can’t follow a ‘wait and see’ approach toward autonomous vehicles,” says John Moavenzadeh, a member of the executive committee of the World Economic Forum and a coauthor of the report. “Cities need to actively explore policies and incentives, such as dynamic pricing, dedicated lanes, and redesign of the curb, to ensure that autonomous vehicles will achieve the full value for society that they promise.”

A sophisticated traffic simulation model for Boston showed the number of vehicles on the road and travel times would change as AVs become more common. Neighborhoods outside of downtown would have less traffic and shorter travel times, downtown travelers will face increased traffic and travel time.

Surveys of thousands of Boston-area residents asked what types of autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles they were likely to drive. Results show a shift toward mobility on demand (autonomous vehicles such as robo-shuttles and non-autonomous vehicles including taxi and rideshare services) will eventually account for 30% of all trips in the greater Boston area (up from 7% today) and 40% of trips within the city limits. That shift would increase the number of cars on the road and average travel time by 5.5% in downtown Boston.

“For trips shorter than four miles, it is likely that travelers would opt for low-capacity autonomous taxis or shuttles rather than taking high-capacity mass-transit options like buses or trains,” says Nikolaus Lang, a senior partner at BCG and a coauthor of the report. www.bcg.com; www.weforum.org

Ford creates autonomous vehicle company

Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC will accelerate Ford Motor Co.’s autonomous vehicle (AV) business by moving its self-driving systems integration, AV research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy, and business development teams to the new company. Based at Ford’s newly announced Corktown campus in Detroit, it will also hold Ford’s ownership stake in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based startup Argo AI. Ford expects to invest $4 billion in its AV efforts through 2023, including its $1 billion investment in Argo AI.

Ford Autonomous CEO Sherif Marakby had run the company’s AV and electric vehicle development efforts.

Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Jim Hackett says, “Now is the right time to consolidate our autonomous driving platform into one team to best position the business for the opportunities ahead.” www.ford.com