Report highlights lessons from Boston’s self-driving car trials


A new report has revealed a number of lessons from Boston’s Autonomous Vehicle Initiative for government leaders and policymakers in other cities seeking to use autonomous vehicles to improve urban mobility.

The report from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) – Making Autonomous Vehicles a Reality: Lessons from Boston and Beyond – describes the opportunities and challenges arising from the first six months of the autonomous driving initiative. BCG and the World Economic Forum partnered with the city of Boston on the project, and their report offers initial recommendations for other cities planning for autonomous vehicles.

“Boston is a great example of the type of multistakeholder cooperation required to successfully develop new mobility business models—models that can help cities solve their most pressing transportation challenges and improve livability for their residents,” said Nikolaus Lang, a senior partner at BCG and coauthor of the report.

The report shares five key lessons from Boston’s experience:

  • Autonomous vehicles come in many forms, and each city should consider all of these forms – from private autonomous vehicles to shared or single passenger taxis and shuttle buses – to identify the modes best suited to that city.
  • Each city has different needs and should determine which of these needs are best served by autonomous vehicles, depending on existing infrastructure.
  • Cities do not have to own or even operate autonomous transportation assets. Instead, they should focus on establishing policies and a regulatory environment that allow third-party providers to operate these assets, while also meeting the city’s own planning goals.
  • A ‘digital mobility platform’ that combines all transportation modes is crucial, helping to manage traffic flows and provide important planning data. Such a platform also offers consumers a single access point for information and reservations.
  • Cities should also take ownership of managing their mobility ‘ecosystem’ – working to establish a governance structure and testing policies and parameters as they address their transportation challenges.

The report also warned that autonomous vehicles run the risk of becoming victims of their own success. By potentially increasing demand for transportation through cheaper and more convenient mobility, said BCG, the result could be greater traffic congestion.

Additionally, the authors warned that if commuters decided they could live further out of town and enjoy faster and less stressful commutes, autonomous vehicles could also contribute to urban sprawl.

“All of these possibilities underscore the need for public-sector managers and leaders at the city, county, and state levels to participate in formulating a transportation strategy that includes autonomous transportation modes, yields the greatest benefits to the largest number of stakeholders, and minimizes unintended consequences,” said Michael Rüssman, another BCG senior partner and report coauthor.

Boston’s AV testing programme began in January when software maker nuTonomy began conducting trials of autonomous cars on public roads within the city’s Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park.

The programme has since expanded to include testing with MIT spinoff Optimus Ride and Delphi Automotive.