“Estimating the Energy Impact of Electric, Autonomous Taxis: Evidence from a Select Market,” Ashley Nunes, Laurena Huh, Nicole Kagan, and Richard B. Freeman. Environmental Research Letters (in press 2021). Open Access article.


Electric, autonomous vehicles promise to address technical consumption inefficiencies associated with gasoline use and reduce emissions. Potential realization of this prospect has prompted considerable interest and investment in the technology. Using publicly available data from a select market, we examine the magnitude of the envisioned benefits and the determinants of the financial payoff of investing in a tripartite innovation in motor vehicle transportation: vehicle electrification, vehicle automation, and vehicle sharing. In contrast to previous work, we document that 1) the technology’s envisioned cost effectiveness may be impeded by previously unconsidered parameters, 2) the inability to achieve cost parity with the status quo does not necessarily preclude net increases in energy consumption and emissions, 3) these increases are driven primarily by induced demand and mode switches away from pooled personal vehicles, and 4) the aforementioned externalities may be mitigated by leveraging a specific set of technological, behavioral and logistical pathways. We quantify –  for the first time – the thresholds required for each of these pathways to be effective and demonstrate that pathway stringency is largely influenced by heterogeneity in trip timing behavior. We conclude that enacting these pathways is crucial to fostering environmental stewardship absent impediments in economic mobility.  

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Last updated on 08/16/2021