However Consumer Acceptance Will Be Critical to Realising These Gains

SYDNEY — 17 October 2019 ― L.E.K. Consulting released a report analysing the effect of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) on road congestion and investigating how consumers will interact with this technology. While CAVs will not be the dominant mode of road transport for several decades, companies like Waymo and Lyft are testing society’s readiness for CAVs, with regard to both their capability on real-world roads and their value for everyday users.

L.E.K. conducted sophisticated choice modelling on c. 2,000 people in Sydney, Australia, which was supported by broader research. Key findings from the report include:

  • Improved road network capacity. CAVs are expected to improve road capacity, driven by technology enabled reduction in the safety gap (i.e., vehicle headway), from around 0.9 seconds (s) to about 0.2s. When taking human comfort into account, researchers estimate the minimum tolerable safety gap to be around 0.5s between vehicles. The result of this improvement is an estimated effective capacity between 3,300 and 5,300 vehicles per lane hour— an increase of 45% to 130% in vehicles per lane hour compared with today but still far less than what the technology is capable of delivering with a safety gap of 0.2s.
  • Induced or new demand for the road network. Some of these gains will be offset by increases in the demand for urban road use directly attributable to CAVs. L.E.K. has estimated that urban road-based traffic volume could increase by c.10% to 25% over baseline traffic volumes by c.2060 as a result of shifts to new automated vehicle technology from existing modes and the generation of entirely new trips (for example, from those without a driving licence or who are unable to obtain one).
  • Trip intensity. In the absence of regulation, CAVs are likely to introduce a trip multiplier, with single trips that currently serve multiple purposes being disaggregated into two or more trips in the future. L.E.K. research suggests that this trip multiplier could have the most significant impact on ‘school runs,’ which could increase by up to c.100%.

“These findings have significant implications for the use of major infrastructure assets, such as roads, toll roads, rail, large car parks and mass transit,” said Simon Barrett, Senior Partner at L.E.K. and report author. “The ownership model for CAVs, and how consumers ultimately use them, will significantly affect demand for roads and whether congestion is actually improved. We are working with asset owners and investors to develop early perspectives on CAV technology to help narrow the uncertainty about the impact of this technology on major capital investment decisions.”

L.E.K.’s consumer research also identified two key behavioural changes that will affect future shifts in the demand for urban road use:

  • Change in sensitivity to travel time and consequent reduction in the use of tolled motorways: CAVs will allow passengers to be productive ‘on the go’ that will make people less sensitive to travel time and therefore may show an increased willingness to shift away from tolled motorways offering faster journey times.
  • Increased acceptance of shared transport: While L.E.K. survey responses indicate that there is a strong preference for personal CAVs over pooled driverless transport, the willingness to embrace pooled rides is expected to increase as individuals become more comfortable with the sharing economy. For example, if ride pool penetration reaches 20%, passenger throughput on urban roads could increase by c.15% (when considered in isolation).

“Our research shows that Governments will need to carefully consider the impact of CAVs on road congestion. While the road capacity increases could be substantial, so too could be the increase in demand. As a result, a continued move to shared transport will be paramount,” said Mark Streeting, Partner at L.E.K. and report author.

“There is considerable conjecture amongst our clients across the world as to whether autonomous vehicles herald a utopian or a dystopian future. Our work in this area suggests that, in some infrastructure related use cases, a balance can be struck between increased trip intensity and benefits from higher throughput capacity that is enabled by technology,” said Ashish Khanna, Global Head of New Mobility at L.E.K. and report author. “This is a very important consideration for infrastructure investments as they look beyond the typical planning horizon.”

Notes to editors:

  • ‘Vehicle headway’ refers to the distance between vehicles.
  • ‘Vehicles per lane hour’ is a measure of the theoretical road capacity impact based on forecast change in vehicle spacing or headway.
  • All references to ‘L.E.K. Consulting’ should include the periods.

About L.E.K. Consulting
L.E.K. Consulting is a global management consulting firm that uses deep industry expertise and rigorous analysis to help business leaders achieve practical results with real impact. We are uncompromising in our approach to helping clients consistently make better decisions, deliver improved business performance and create greater shareholder returns. The firm advises and supports global companies that are leaders in their industries — including the largest private- and public-sector organisations, private equity firms, and emerging entrepreneurial businesses. Founded in 1983, L.E.K. employs more than 1,400 professionals across the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe. For more information, go to