In Japan, roughly one-third of the population is aged 65 or older. The country has started to run trials using self-driving shuttles in the small community of Nishikata. The Robot Shuttle, as it is known, has six seats and runs at the relatively slow speed of 10 kph. The goal, if this and future trials are successful, is to introduce self-driving shuttle services for rural communities by 2020. The trial in Nishikata ferried seniors between a service area and a municipal complex that provides healthcare services .
Populations in rural Japan are shrinking as well as aging, so the use of these shuttles will also help to provide mobility services where conventional busses and other forms of public transportation are no longer financially feasible .
AVs have the potential to increase vehicle miles travelled (VMT), because suddenly a large portion of the population that was not driving will be able to do so. However, if that part of the population starts to ride in vehicles that are shared, rather than using personal cars, it could be beneficial for marginalized groups like senior citizens while curbing the increase in VMT as a result of autonomous driving. This will probably require further investigation as more autonomous shuttle programs become available to the public.
Written by Ella Rebalski, RISE Viktoria.