An Automated Car System for Edinburgh


From 2018 onwards electric driverless cars (Autonomous Vehicles or AV) will have been thoroughly tested and will be available on the market. With the right policies in place, Edinburgh could be the first modern city in the world to solve its mobility needs with a fleet of continuously moving automated vehicles seamlessly linked into mass public transport in real time, coordinated by a city wide transport communication system. Autonomous vehicles would offer Scotland’s capital economic, environmental and safety benefits.

Electric Cars

This year, electric cars will be able to compete on performance and price with traditional petrol cars on the market. GM and Tesla are bringing out electric cars at £20,000. There are over a dozen car companies[1] competing to produce electric cars, including Volkswagen, Geely Group, BMW, BYD, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, General Motors, Mitsubishi and Renault-Nissan. This disruptive technology will transform the automobile industry, eventually making fossil fuel cars obsolete.

Driverless Technology

In 2018 a number of other companies—including Google, QNX, Delphi, Cisco, Continental, Covisint, Codha, Autotalks, Mobileye and Nvidia—will introduce driverless car technology[2]. Driverless cars are already allowed on the road in three US states (California, Nevada and Florida), while Sweden is planning a large-scale trial in 2017. Competition looks set to create a buyers market.

Consumer Attitudes

Car ownership is becoming less popular in major cities, particularly among the young who do not want to pay for or manage their own car. Research by Deloitte shows that car ownership is increasingly making less sense to many people, especially in urban areas. They say that individuals are finding it difficult to justify tying up capital in an under-utilised asset that stays idle for 22 hours every day. As more people move to the city[3] the amount they drive each year falls and at some point it no longer makes financial sense to own a car. 62% of young professionals in the UK would consider using a driverless car in research conducted by Catapult. Generation Y in the survey by Deloittes found that 25% would not purchase a car, and they were 3 times more likely to get rid of a car if costs rose. And a staggering 50% preferred to use greener fuel, that is, non oil-based fuel. It should be noted that these surveys were undertaken before most people have had a chance to experience driverless cars. Recently a global survey from Leaseplan has shown that almost 8 out of 10 respondents in the UK would be comfortable being a passenger in a driverless car.

How Could Edinburgh Benefit?

Creating a city owned fleet of Autonomous Vehicles in Edinburgh would mean being able to summon a driverless car from our phone whenever we need one, and have it arrive within a short space of time (possibly 5 minutes). It would relieve car owners of all of the responsibilities, costs, and demands that come with traditional car ownership. Are people ready for this change?

The electric cars transformational technology will ensure that they replace the fossil fuel cars. And if we allow only the consumer market to determine the response to driverless technology, then fleet owners like Uber will expand while private car ownership will shrink[4] as city dwellers become less inclined to purchase their own cars. Thus change would happen slowly and the most promising and important benefits to the environment and Public Safety will either be missed out on or delayed substantially.

There is a strong case for the city to be proactive in a quest to gain the full benefits of this technology. The city can only reap the full benefits if it responds to this opportunity as a community and provides Autonomous Vehicles as a city service.

How an Autonomous Vehicle Scheme for Edinburgh Might Work

The cars would be networked together, communicating information about their position, speed, traffic and hazards around them. A customer would summon the car, which would take the customer where she or he wanted to go. The recharging, cleaning and maintenance of the cars would be managed centrally by the council.

The cars would not always stop at junctions, because the communication technology between cars known as Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication would signal if no traffic were approaching. The traffic management system would keep cars moving, finding the best routes and it would be linked to a Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications system that informs the cars and passengers of factors that relate to its efficient operation, including integrating with mass transport systems, such as our busses, trams and rail services.

This integrated system of transportation will be fully automated and operate at fiber optic speed, thus reduce traffic congestion, accidents and emissions all for a lower cost than the current transport system. We are also trying to answer specific questions on how it will work in our Q & A section.


The move to Autonomous Vehicles in Edinburgh would significantly reduce air pollution and our contribution to global warming. It would provide a less expensive mobility service for all our community. Congestion would be significantly diminished; journey times would shrink. Edinburgh as a tourist destination would be enhanced as visitors to our city would find it easier to navigate. Other lesser benefits are listed in the pros and cons section.

More important will be the improvement in road safety. More than 10 children are seriously injured or killed on Edinburgh’s roads every year. We could consign these tragic statistics to history.

No cars will be parked in the city for extended periods of time. Enough cars will be kept in circulation to serve demand at any point in time, while surplus cars to demand will simply return to storage areas on the outskirts of the city.

There would be no need for the concrete wastelands and lifeless ugly parking garages that now occupy otherwise productive space. The roadsides of residential streets that serve as the parking places in Edinburgh will be freed up. (Remember most of our cars are idle for 22 hours a day.)

As the cars disappear they will make way for more green space, environmental buffers, workspace, housing, retail, and other services, and denser planning that will make Edinburgh a more walkable and infrastructurally efficient city.

The estimate that we will only need 20%[5] of existing cars will be tested over time as the system will collect information, as service levels and needs are assessed, and so the city can either increase or reduce the number of Autonomous Vehicles available. The Edinburgh bus system is rated one of the best services in the UK [6] and the information system that relays arrival times to the bus stops in real time demonstrates that we have the technical knowledge within the city to expand in this new direction. We have the potential to integrate automated cars with the bus and tram system, inducing people to switch to mass transport and enabling a further reduction in the number of cars required while also improving the flow of our traffic.

What will it cost?

There are 140,000 cars in Edinburgh. We would only need 28,000 Autonomous Vehicles to run a mobility service for everyone. That is 20% of existing stock[7]. At £20,000 each, Autonomous Vehicles would cost the Edinburgh Council £560 million. However selling our current private stock would bring in £700 million. Its important to recognize that only early adopting cities will be able to sell their existing cars as they will need to be sold to people in cities, suburbs and rural areas where they can still be driven. It should be a very strong motivation not to be late to the party. The running costs of the service can be met by charging users in very much the same way as we pay for travelling on a bus now, however it would all be automated like the Oyster card system in London. We will be paying to run and maintain 80% fewer cars, so it is reasonable to think that the running costs would be about 20% of current levels

Action Required

By 2020 we could have the service in operation but we need to act in 2018 and publish a tender document inviting companies to bid to supply the city with 28,000 autonomous electric cars, including the computer technology to manage our complete transport infrastructure as a real time integrated service. This tender will attract a lot of interest, as it would be worth around £560 million. In the period prior to publishing the tender document we should undertake a public consultation and detailed research into the specific requirements of Edinburgh, as our calculations to date have been drawn from wider research papers. There is a case for a transitional period where some Autonomous Vehicles are introduced, however the real benefits will only come when autonomous electric cars are system wide. The first generation of Autonomous Vehicles can be switched back to a human driver mode as required and then switched again to the Autonomous setting. So flexibility in the initial system is maintained.

Probably the most challenging dimension of grasping this opportunity will be changing the regulations to enable driverless cars to travel on our roads. With the experience of the trams still fresh in Edinburgh’s minds we had better start soon. In 2017 the government will review the regulations for autonomous vehicles and we should encourage them to put the UK at the forefront of this technological opportunity

As the home of the Enlightenment, Edinburgh led the world in rational thought. We are still a global centre for research and innovation and well placed to turn a vision for a better transport system into a reality. The details of how the system will work in practice will raise a number of questions in people’s minds. And it will need citizen’s engagement to find the best answers to all of them.

Call to Action

There have been too few opportunities for citizens to decide how to ensure that technology truly changes society for the better. We may see more change as the speed of technological innovation accelerates. The arrival of the Autonomous Vehicles presents one such opportunity. We started looking at this idea for its environmental benefits. The idea of moving to renewable energy to propel our cars in the urban environment was attractive in itself. We accepted it would improve safety but part way through the work we decided to unwrap what safety really meant. We were shocked to discover that 10 children are seriously injured or die on Edinburgh’s roads each year. The figure for the UK as a whole is 1700. This in itself should be enough to unite us in a call to action.



An excellent paper has been written with more detailed supporting evidence by Ed Klinger.

It can be found here :

We would also recommend a look at Tony Seba’s presentation: