Automated urban transport simulation in Athens

The main objective of Work Package 5  of the LEVITATE project is to identify how the introduction of Connected and Automated Systems (CATS) in several urban transport operations will affect different impact areas, with a focus on the transition towards higher levels of automation. This is a process that includes the following main steps:

  • identification of impacts relevant to connected and automated urban transport;
  • identification of urban transport related interventions, through a stakeholder reference group workshop and an extensive literature review;
  • identification of impact assessment methods for the different impacts and interventions;
  • short, medium and long-term impact assessment;
  • synthesis of results and implications for policy.

To read about these steps and results of the traffic simulations in Athens, have a look at our paper written by Julia Roussou (NTUA), Maria Oikonomou (NTUA), Apostolos Ziakopoulos (NTUA), George Yannis (NTUA).

Watch the second LEVITATE webinar!

What impacts connected and automated driving will have on urban transport, in our local context? Find out!

The second LEVITATE webinar on 11 June was organized around the theme of urban transport and the impacts of automation on local level, brought by two city and transport authority representatives as well as the work package leader (National Technical University of Athens) on urban transport sharing their views.

The webinar was kicked off by Anna Craciun, project lead on LEVITATE at Transport for Greater Manchester, who presented Manchester’s transport vision, CAVs policy and need of innovations due to the COVID-19 crisis. Her colleague Hannah (ITS Engineer) gave an outlook about these future developments mentioning smart junctions and 5G network and video analytics in transport, which can facilitate the use of connected and automated vehicles in an urban context. They highlighted the importance of cooperation between local authorities in order to learn and get feedback from other cities’ experiences on innovations.

The second presentation was given by Professor George Yannis from the National Technical University of Athens who is the leader of the work package on urban transport in project LEVITATE. He presented the initial findings of their research on the specific impacts of automation in urban mobility, specifically on point-to-point shuttles and autonomous on demand shuttle services through impacts such as changes in CO2 emissions and delay time. The preliminary results are available in the recorded webinar. The main output of the project, the structure of the Policy Support Tool has been presented, as well.

Last, but not at least Michael Glotz-Richter from the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (and member of the Stakeholder Reference Group of the project) gave a mind-blowing presentation about the viewpoint of a municipality on automation in transport. He clearly stated that automation is already here with us more than we would think, giving examples from recent innovations. He also highlighted that operation of autonomous vehicles are more difficult in an urban context, as separation is a challenge in an existing infrastructure. Although, as 90% of road vehicles (replacing individual car ownership) can be replaced by operating autonomous vehicle services, more space is going to free up in our cities.

The webinar induced an active discussion between the audience and the presenters which can be listened to in the recorded webinar together with the above-mentioned presentations.

Automated vehicles and COVID-19 – what we can learn from it

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the world nearly to a standstill. There has been a massive economic, social and welfare impact and the common factor is mobility. In LEVITATE, we are investigating the impacts of Connected and Automated Transport Systems (CATS) on our society. COVID-19 has been catastrophic event at world level, but we must learn from this tragedy and understand the implications for CATS era.

Urban Transport
The introduction of point to point, anywhere to anywhere or last-mile automated shuttle services maybe beneficial during a pandemic such as COVID-19 crisis. Highly automated shuttles (level 4 onwards) will remove the need for a driver and hence the risk of infection. Furthemore, a more frequent service may be offered, to accommodate the reduced passenger capacity of vehicles due to social distancing, without the growth in operational costs associated with the driver. In order to minimise the possibility of contamination and the spread of the virus, the supply of antiseptic materials for all users and workers, proper air conditioning and regular disinfection of the shuttles will need to be guaranteed.

Conversely, the reallocation of road space and modal priority, in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, could present a challenge to automated shuttles due to their cautious nature in the presence of these active modes whose movements are hard to predict by automated vehicle technology. This could significantly impact on the speed and overall efficiency of the shuttles, at least until the point where level 5 shuttles offering greater ‘intelligence’ than humans are mature and widely rolled out.

Passenger Transport
A personal passenger car that is manually driven in today’s scenario is no different to a personal automated passenger car in the future scenario. However, in a shared-car model, the vehicle could contribute to the spread COVID-19 if the vehicle is not thoroughly cleaned. Therefore, it will be paramount that the shared cars are cleaned regularly and that it is clear whose responsibility it is to keep the cars clean. It is probable that the shared-car usage will be discouraged in similar circumstances to COVID-19 and perhaps public behavior might shift towards active travel mode and personal car usage. More space allowed for active travel will increase car traffic as capacity for them is reduced. This could be mitigated by introducing staggered shift working pattern (perhaps even combine with alternate days) for those involved in less essential work that cannont be done by staying at home.

As mobility is restricted, there has been natural decline in traffic incidents, but it is arguable that crash severity would increase due to increased speeding. Automated vehicles without ability to alter the speeding behaviours, and associated to reckless driving, will benefit in minimising the safety impacts due to driving behavioural changes resulting from open roads.

Freight transport
During the COVID-19 crisis, major commercial facilities such as shops, markets, restaurants have either shut or people have stayed away due to the health risk. Therefore, demand in e-commerce or food delivery service has increased significantly. For example, Carrefour reported that the delivery of vegetables has increased by 600% during the lockdown period in China [1]. In addition, contactless delivery has become a standard or even requirement in many countries to protect delivery personnel and customers.

This overlaps with the main vision of future logistics concepts, which foresees the automated distribution of goods and even the handover process without human interaction. However, contactless handover requires infrastructure, for example the current state-of-the-art foresees physical internet boxes (supplier side) or white label parcel boxes (customer side). During the COVID-19 crisis, contactless delivery has been performed without either of these. Currently, most people are at home and therefore, the now applied procedure to place the goods in front of the customer’s door, ringing the bell, and walking away works well and (small) failures are accepted by the vendor.

Although the current lockdown and curfew will finally come to an end soon, we are aware that pandemics such as COVID-19 may strike the globe again. Therefore, further developments with respect to automated contactless handover technologies must go on. For a full rollout of automated delivery, we do not know yet who will win the race: automated handover infrastructure or level 5 automated transport. In the end, both will be necessary for automated delivery of goods.

[1] Campaign. COVID-19 media and consumption impacts in China: By the numbers. Retrieved online on 2020-04-28:





2nd Stakeholder Reference Group workshop takes place in Brussels

The LEVITATE Stakeholder Reference Group met for the second time in the project’s lifetime for a workshop held on 26 November in Brussels. 37 people from across Europe, including many representatives of local and regional government, took part. The workshop provided an overview of the mechanics of the launch of the developing Policy Support Tool, which will be one of the main outputs of the project and is being  established to enable policy makers and planners to run their own assessment of the potential impact of connected and automated transport systems in their city or region and across several transport policy domains.. Valuable insights were collected on how to further develop this tool.

The aim of LEVITATE’s Policy Support Tool (PST) is to help public authorities predict the impact of connected and automated transport systems (CATS) and identify policy interventions to help achieve certain long-term mobility goals and/or to mitigate the potential negative effects of vehicle automation. A variety of stakeholders attended the meeting: local and regional authorities, national authorities, national road operators and researchers.

The workshop opened with an introduction by Suzanne Hoadley (Polis) on the vision of Polis on automation and other European projects related to automation, followed by Pete Thomas (Loughborough University), who introduced the LEVITATE project, its objectives and the aim of the workshop.

The first session focused on giving an overview of  the Policy Support Tool (PST): its components, what it can and cannot do, what input will be required and what the output might look like. George Yannis (National Technical University of Athens) demonstrated how the tool could work in the future, based on different assessment methods. He also presented one practical case to illustrate the tool’s expected functioning, doing so in a step by step process.

The different CATS impact areas were presented by Rune Elvik (Institute of Transport Economics), followed by an explanation of why they were selected (for more information on the impacts of CATS you can consult this report). Wolfgang Ponweiser (Austrian Institute of Technology) gave an overview of the CATS policy interventions (related to urban transport, economic incentives, access and space allocation). He introduced the backcasting method as a tool to predict the impacts of CATS, highlighting that backcasting starts with the city’s vision – the targets cities want to achieve.

After these presentations, the participants broke up into four smaller groups to discuss the PST and the backcasting methodology. Participants gave their views on the PST structure that had been presented, its usability and the functionalities it should have, and reflected on the reasons why they would use it. The challenges that could be faced during the development of the PST were also discussed, and some ideas on how it could be improved arose. During the discussion, participants also provided insights about the policy interventions they considered to be the most relevant.

Their feedback was collected by the project partners, who closed the session by reflecting on the main conclusions of the workshop and laying out the next steps for the LEVITATE project.

Defining the future of urban, passenger car, and freight transport

LEVITATE is currently building tools to help European cities, regions and national governments prepare for a future with increasing levels of automated vehicles in passenger cars, urban transport services and urban logistics. The project is preparing a new impact assessment framework to enable policy makers to maximise the benefits of connected and automated transport systems (CATS) and utilise the technologies to achieve societal objectives.

Defining the future of urban, passenger car, and freight transport

Recently several reports have been published within the LEVITATE project. A set of three deliverables provide the working framework under which each of the project use cases and its impacts, can be defined. Namely, Defining the future of urban transport (D5.1); Defining the future of passenger car transport (D6.1) and Defining the future of freight transport (D7.1).

Findings were obtained in two ways: through literature review, and through a dedicated stakeholder workshop to gather the views from a group of experts (Stakeholder Reference Group or SRG) on the future of CATS and their application. This workshop was held in Gothenburg on 28th of May 2019 and counted with the participation of 40 experts. An informed list of sub-use cases of possible interest from a CATS perspective was developed for use cases of urban transport, passenger cars and freight transport

Overall, according to workshop experts, CATS are mainly expected to supplement public transport functions. The deployment of cooperative, connected and autonomous vehicles may have considerable impacts on urban transport operations, through advanced city shuttles and other micro-transit vehicles. There are many opportunities that would be available through these new technologies and cities would need to prepare to take full advantage of them. The report aims at defining expected penetration rates, influenced by market forces and technology adoption. In general, the reviewed literature suggests the future of CATS to be positive in terms of their impacts on traffic, safety, environment, economy and mobility. However, their uptake is most likely to be influenced by trust and user’s acceptance.

Initial screening of literature on connected and automated passenger cars suggests that they have potential to increase the capacity of lanes and lead to a reduction in congestion and fuel consumption in the short-term. However, they could increase travel demand due to changes in destination choices (for example, longer journeys), changes in transport mode (shift from public transport) and introduction of new users. Various forecasting studies show that the claimed (by CATS industry) benefits of the widespread use of automated passenger cars for personal use, would only be achieved if we move from a privately owned to a shared-ownership model. In addition, the use of automated passenger cars for personal use is more likely to be lower than their use as mobility services due to the prohibitive initial vehicle purchase costs.

Compared to passenger cars, user acceptance of CATS technology in urban freight is less of an issue. The reason is that these vehicles are acquired and used by freight operators. Freight vehicles can be regarded as tools and driving as a job. Therefore, commercialisation of automated freight vehicles has different driving factors to automated passenger cars. Roadmaps of European associations, however, differentiate between urban freight transport and long-distance freight transport, with CATS having a major role in the latter. A literature search on Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (automation level 1 and 2) show their impacts on traffic, safety, environment, mobility and society. The systems are similar to those of passenger cars, with the exception of a few systems such as speed limiters or automatic electronic tolling system which are more relevant for freight vehicles. The consensus of the SRG was that collaboration between freight operators should be achieved by facilitating data sharing, utilising consolidation centres, and improving last mile solutions.

The findings of these deliverables will be key in the further development of the use cases and provide the foundation for subsequent work to look at short-, medium- and long-term impacts.

You can access all the publications and learn more about the project here.