Gridlock is a familiar sight in most Indian cities these days. The two decades since liberalisation have witnessed an explosion in the number of automobiles on the country’s roads. The rate at which urban Indians are acquiring cars is clearly unsustainable and it is becoming increasingly apparent that a drastic correction is required sooner or later. That correction, according to a report prepared by the Boston Consulting Group, will be provided by the arrival of self-driving cars. It predicts that “widespread urban adoption of self-driving taxis” could result in a 60 per cent drop in the number of cars, an 80 per cent drop in emissions and 90 per cent fewer road accidents.

Consumers are ready

And while the technology and policy required for these cars to ply on our roads might take time to fructify, it appears consumers in India are overwhelmingly in favour of giving up the wheel to a computer.

About 85 per cent of Indians indicated that they would be willing to try self-driving vehicles, citing parking assistance and increased productivity while travelling as important reasons. The report, prepared in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, draws on new and existing BCG research including ‘the largest global survey on SDVs to date’.

Robo-taxi revolution

It indicates that while consumer adoption of self-driving cars will cause significant disruption, the revolutionary changes in the urban transport space will be brought about by the so-called ‘robo-taxis.’

“There is a compelling case to be made for SDVs in cities,” said Nikolaus Lang, a BCG senior partner and report co-author. “Ride-shared, electric robo-taxis can substantially transform and improve urban transportation and, by direct extension, livability, by providing more people with easier access to mobility, making streets safer, and freeing up space no longer needed for parking.”

The study indicates that consumers opinion is largely in favour of self-driving cars with close to 60 per cent of respondents in cities around the world stating that they would be open to the technology. Predictably, younger consumers are keener on the new impending shift, with 63 per cent of respondents aged under 29 in favour of automated cars.

Higher cost not adeterrent

Many consumers are also willing to pay a premium for a fully self-driving car as they believe the extra cost can be offset by “potential cost savings in other areas, such as lower parking fees, fuel savings, and even lower housing costs if it becomes more convenient to live farther from the more expensive city core.”

The research also gathered the opinions of influential urban policy specialists from across the world. Some 60 per cent of these policymakers were of the opinion that by 2025, at least one city will have banned traditional car ownership, partly as a result of robo-taxi fleets. Another 24% believe that this will happen by 2030.

They see the private sector take the lead in what will be a competitive space with multiple players rather than a monopolistic structure. Numerous trials involving self-driving cars are already underway across the world in cities as diverse as Singapore, London, and Gothenburg.