Planning for transport needs and personal choices

Dr Akshay Vij has no doubt the arrival of the driverless car will “change everything in a deep and fundamental way”. His job is to help authorities, businesses and communities understand just what will happen, and how they should respond.

A major project under way in UniSA’s Institute for Choice (I4C) is examining the behavioural implications of this technological revolution; if and how individual concerns about safety, liability, insurance and even terrorism could prove a stumbling block to the adoption of the driverless cars. We also need to understand the choices individuals will make. 

And it is all happening much more quickly than even the research community expected. “Two years ago people were talking about the implications for travel models and everyone was saying ‘it’s going to be another 15 years’,” Dr Vij said. “Now they are talking about the first cars coming onto the market before 2020. It is no longer science fiction so we have to do something about it.”

Dr Vij and I4C colleagues are using advanced techniques such as discrete-choice modelling to try to anticipate consumer behaviour in a future that has been shaped by social, cultural and technological changes happening now. The aim is to help authorities plan the development of our cities by giving them some structure on which to predict what is likely to happen.

And the driverless car is just part of the equation. “One of the big transportation issues is that per capita car use in most countries peaked around 2000 and has since stagnated or declined,” Dr Vij said. “There have been economic shifts, demographic shifts and generational shifts. People are cycling more and Uber has changed behaviour. This all impacts on how and where people choose to live.”

Dr Vij brings a diverse background to the task. He completed a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering before taking up joint research appointments in transportation studies and urban and regional development at the University of California, Berkeley.

Since arriving at I4C as a Research Fellow, he also has undertaken important consulting work, most recently helping South Australia’s Motor Accident Authority assess the value of advertising campaigns in changing consumer behaviour in relation to speeding and using mobile phones while driving.