Spatial effects of automated driving: dispersion, concentration or both?

What impact will the advent of self-driving cars have on the places where people live and work? An often-heard argument is that car drivers will reside further away from their workplaces, as they can now spend the time in self-driving cars more productively. This is however only a part of the story. In cities mobility services by self-driving vehicles offer much more efficient door-to-door transport compared to current tram, bus and metro. That makes living in cities more attractive and creates a counterforce to migrations to the countryside.

The study ‘Spatial effects of automated driving: dispersion, concentration or both?’ by George Gelauff, Ioulia Ossokina and Coen Teulings analyses these two effects for the Netherlands making use  of the spatial general equilibrium model LUCA.

A pattern of population spread results, because car drivers are more willing to accept longer commutes if they can spend their travel time more productively. Cities lose population to rural areas.

Migration to cities occurs when door-to-door mobility services replace public transport, with the population of the Randstad (the Amsterdam-Utrecht-Rotterdam conurbation) growing at the expense of regions situated outside of the Randstad.

Combining the two effects yields a mixed picture. In the Randstad’s cities and suburbs, migration to the city prevails and the population grows. The impact of population spread is more pronounced in the cities situated outside of the Randstad: these cities lose population, partly to the surrounding rural areas.