As the world moves towards a more sustainable and inclusive future, the recent emergence of robo-taxis and autonomous shared mobility services promises to revolutionise the transport industry.

These autonomous services offer many environmental, social, and governance (ESG) benefits that go beyond the enhanced convenience, reduced traffic congestion, and improved accessibility advertised. By integrating advancements in AI and connected-car technologies, shared mobility companies can now offer improved safety for riders—particularly women—while increasing the accessibility of their services.

Enhanced safety

For many women, travelling alone carries high risks—particularly at night. In 2022, 58% of women aged 16 to 34 reported feeling very or fairly unsafe using public transport alone after dark. A further 29% of women reported in 2021 that they would never ride a taxi alone, compared to 23% of men (data from YouGov). This reveals a significant gender inequality gap between men and women when travelling and planning daily activities, and a considerable ESG problem that companies within the transportation sector need to address.

The integration of autonomous shared mobility services into the transport network of cities could help to combat this issue. Robo-taxis avoid the potential harassment and intimidation experienced when interacting with inappropriate drivers, ensuring a safer and more relaxed journey. By removing human drivers, a more comfortable and secure environment can be created, particularly for solo or vulnerable passengers, as it eliminates the opportunity for unwanted interactions or malicious actions.

Real-time monitoring and emergency assistance

Many shared mobility service providers are already implementing emergency assistance and route monitoring through apps. However autonomous vehicles will be equipped with advanced sensing technologies and real-time monitoring systems that can detect unusual activities or emergencies. In the event of an incident, these vehicles could immediately notify authorities and provide accurate location information, ensuring a prompt response and assistance for riders.

The incorporation of onboard cameras and emergency buttons will offer additional layers of security. These features can provide reassurance to vulnerable riders by acting as a deterrent to potential perpetrators and providing video evidence of the event that can be provided to the police if incidents of harassment were to occur during the journey.

Improved accessibility and affordability

By eliminating the requirement for paid drivers and using electric vehicles that are programmed to take the most efficient route, these services have the potential to make door-to-door transportation much more affordable. A significant limiting factor preventing riders from choosing taxis to travel is the cost, despite often offering the fastest route for their journey.

By reducing costs, robo-taxis can increase the overall accessibility for individuals who lack access to private vehicles or have limited mobility options. This can improve equity by bridging transportation gaps, facilitating the mobility of underserved populations, and allowing a wider population to gain access to this choice of safer transportation.

AI-powered connected car route planning

Robo-taxis optimize ride-sharing and pooling by using AI to power their decision-making, allowing them to take the optimum journey route and navigate traffic, without requiring a human driver. This results in decreased traffic congestion and lowers the overall carbon footprint associated with transportation. By maximising the utilization of vehicles, these services contribute to a more sustainable and efficient mobility ecosystem.

Limited service availability

Unfortunately, while driverless taxi services are now operating in some US cities, their coverage is limited. The overall access to this service will continue to be low until the decision-making and road safety of this Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology improves. These vehicles are not yet capable of responding to the varied road conditions and driving scenarios that the variety of different cities around the world present. However, as the technology advances and is increasingly adopted, these autonomous shared mobility services will pave the way for a safer and more equitable transportation landscape.

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