Print Edition - 2019-01-20  |  Free the Words

Transportation 2.0

  • The world is moving towards autonomous vehicles—Nepal cannot be left behind
- BIMAL PRATAP SHAH

Jan 20, 2019-

Global trends suggest that Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) will be hitting the streets of technologically advanced cities much sooner than anticipated. Waymo’s (Google’s self-driving car project that started in 2009) officially started its commercial self-driving-car service in the outskirts of Phoenix clocked 1 million on the road in 2018. A study conducted by IHS Automotive predicts there will be 21 million AVs on the road by the year 2035. Realising this potential of AV technology, the United States, Sweden, Netherlands, South Korea, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Austria have already legalised testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads. At the same time, many countries in developing world are yet to start preparing for the coming age of disruptive transport innovations. 

Instead, the developing world is carelessly investing a massive amount of taxpayers money on physical infrastructure that is more suited for the last century. Those countries will soon find themselves in a situation where they have no idea how to deal with these innovative but disruptive technologies. While forward-looking countries race to become the leader in AV innovation. The government’s positive response over the years in those countries has helped pull a significant amount of investments towards the AV industry. According to the 2017 Brooking Institutions study, AVs and related technologies have attracted a close to USD 80 billion across 160 different startups. The AV market in Asia-pacific is expected to be worth USD five billion by 2024. The important question, for now, is: which countries have made significant preparatory steps in this regard and what can the rest of the world learn from them?

In 2018, KMPG published the Autonomous Vehicle Index (AVRI), a metric that examines the preparedness of a cross-section of 24 countries, providing a view of what steps are necessary for countries to promote AV. The Netherlands was ranked the first, followed by Singapore, United States, Sweden, and the United Kingdom in second, third, fourth and fifth positions respectively. Nepal’s neighbours China and India holds the 16th and 20th positions respectively. 

The Index evaluates each country according to four pillars that KPMG believes are integral to a country’s capacity to adopt autonomous vehicles—including policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance. 

The Netherlands scored highest and there is good reason for this.  Its roadways and infrastructure are already fitted with top-tier wireless networks, boasting the highest density of electric vehicle charging stations in the world. Furthermore, the government recently passed a bill allowing large-scale testing of AVs without a driver on board. In most countries, AVs are required to have a human on board during the public testing process.  

In a nutshell, the Netherlands is disrupting itself. It has to do so because policies, regulations, spatial planning, and infrastructure decisions designed today will determine the development of the country and cities for decades to come. If the government can anticipate the future, it will be able to develop forward-looking policies that will remain valid in the future when AVs becomes the norm. This farsighted move will help the government avoid wasting taxpayers’ money on investments on technologies and infrastructure that will soon be obsolete. 

The United States is also taking active steps to dominate the AV landscape by formulating policies to ensure safety without hampering innovation.  In 2017, the department released ‘Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety’ which ‘provides voluntary guidance of industry, as well as technical assistance and best practices to States, offering a path forward for the safe testing and integration of automated driving systems.’ In less than two years, the department has already devised a new guideline which introduces the department’s strategy to address existing barriers to safety ,innovation and progress, and communicates its agenda to the public and stakeholders on important policy issues.

The governments will also have to embrace partnerships between public authorities and the private sector developers and come up with measures to remove regulatory barriers. A dedicated organisation within the government to drive AV innovation and adoption should be established to foster proactive engagement with developers to ensure that its application meets public policy objectives.

It is time for the Government of Nepal to engage as widely as possible in thinking through what AV means for the future of the country and work towards devising necessary policies, legislation, infrastructure, and awareness to leapfrog to the future. There is a need to make sure the grandiose infrastructure that is being developed currently does not become obsolete when AVs hit the roads of Kathmandu valley in decades to come.The very fact that Prime Minster Oli asked the police to stop their crackdown on ride-hailing companies like Tootle and Pathao shows at least someone walking the corridors of Singha Durbar is operating with the Silicon Valley mindset that is necessary to leapfrog the country to the age of Autonomous Vehicles. The ride-hailing industry expected to grow eightfold to $ 285 billion by 2030. The government’s positive approach towards dealing with ride-hailing companies is definitely good news for the self-driving vehicle industry. 

Shah consulted for the Single Window Component of the Nepal-India Regional Trade and Transport Project.

 

Published: 20-01-2019 07:03

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