Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are expected to reshape travel behaviour and demand in part by enabling productive uses of travel time—a primary component of the “positive utility of travel” concept—thus reducing subjective values of travel time savings (VOT). Many studies from industry and academia have assumed significant increases in travel time use and reductions in VOT for AVs. In this position paper, I argue that AVs’ VOT impacts may be more modest than anticipated and derive from a different source. Vehicle designs and operations may limit activity engagement during travel, with AV users feeling more like car passengers than train riders. Furthermore, shared AVs may attenuate travel time use benefits, and productivity gains could be limited to long-distance trips. Although AV riders will likely have greater activity participation during travel, many in-vehicle activities today may be more about coping with commuting burdens than productively using travel time. Instead, VOT reductions may be more likely to arise from a different “positive utility”—subjective well-being improvements through reduced stresses of driving or the ability to relax and mentally transition. Given high uncertainty, further empirical research on the experiential, time use, and VOT impacts of AVs is needed.
Patrick A. Singleton (2019) Discussing the “positive utilities” of autonomous vehicles: will travellers really use their time productively?, Transport Reviews, 39:1, 50-65, DOI: 10.1080/01441647.2018.1470584