What do Singaporeans want from Driverless Mobility?

By Samuel Chng


The deployment of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) in cities is an exciting development and we currently see them being tested in a growing number of trials in many cities around the world such as in the Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Japan and Singapore. 

The rapid development and testing of AV technologies will bring us closer to the vision of introducing Driverless Mobility in many cities. This is also a vision that Singapore shares in its journey to becoming a Smart Nation [1].

For Singapore, Driverless Mobility has the potential to radically transform our transport system and improve our living environment, as we can expect it to enhance and complement the existing public transport system while bringing in new forms of mobility such as on-demand and round-the-clock services to areas that are currently underserved. AVs can also enhance and optimise freight transportation and utility services sectors by enabling better trip management and operations. More importantly, it can help address the manpower challenges that we face in Singapore and ease traffic congestion.

Apart from developing the technology, the successful deployment of AVs is also contingent on understanding the social dimensions of AVs. For instance, the level of public acceptance or resistance will exert significant influence on the decisions of authorities when deciding what type and where AVs will be deployed. However, understanding public acceptance is complex since it is related to other social phenomena such as social influences, social normative behaviours, perception of safety and attitudes. Hence, an approach to better understand public acceptance is to examine it at a lower scale such as at the city, community, or neighborhood level.

To grow our understanding of the social dimensions of AVs and to ready ourselves for its eventual deployment and the introduction of Driverless Mobility, researchers in the Centre partnered with the Sustainable Urban Mobility Research Laboratory at SUTD to design innovative research methods and experiments to answer these questions. Here we share the preliminary results from one of these methods, the Driverless Mobility Dialogue.

On 27 April 2019, we collaborated with TUMCREATE to organise a Driverless Mobility Dialogue at SUTD as part of a global series of dialogues originating from Missions Publiques (France). These dialogues were held in 24 cities throughout 2019, involving more than 2,500 citizens. Singapore was the only Asian city involved.

Each city held similar dialogues that lasted for a full day discussing similar issues around driverless mobility, ranging from their aspirations to their concerns, and even to their thoughts on data ownership and cybersecurity.

In Singapore, sixty local residents from all walks of life participated in the day-long event to share their expectations and perceptions of autonomous mobility. Participants were led through small-group discussions covering themes including attitudes, hopes and concerns about AVs. 

Below we share the four key learnings from our dialogue in Singapore with comparisons to partner cities when appropriate:

1) Singapore was the most optimistic about the potential impact of Driverless Mobility, ranking 1st among the 24 cities involved in the dialogue.

The bar chart above shows selected comparisons of the level of optimism towards the potential impact of Driverless Mobility between Singapore and 4 partner cities representing the United States (Phoenix), France (Lille), the United Kingdom (Manchester) and Germany (Aachen). To provide an indication as to why the optimism in Singapore is relatively high, we developed the accompanying word cloud that summarises the responses to the question “How do you feel about the idea of driverless mo­bility?” 

2) Of the three potential models of AV implementation, Singapore strongly prefers a public transport model over a ride-sharing or individual ownership model.

Currently, there are three main proposed models for implementing AVs. The first is an individual ownership model which is similar to current private car ownership, with the key difference being that the car is an AV. This would mean car owners have exclusive use of their AV.

The second is the ride-sharing model which is similar to the taxis and private-hire vehicle services that we have today. This model would see fleets of AVs made available for hire and in the form of either exclusive hiring or a shared ride with other passengers. This service will also be on-demand. 

The third is the public transport model where fleets of AVs in various sizes and capacities, ranging from smaller shuttles to larger buses, will operate as public transport. This service is provided to the public but can be scheduled or on-demand. Of the three models, this was the most preferred option for the Dialogue participants overall, with Singapore finding it the most desirable also when compared to the 4 partner cities.

3) We summarised the hopes and concerns surrounding Driverless Mobility implementation and found that safety, cost and travel time reduction are the three most important considerations. 

4) Singapore has high trust in the government to handle the implementation of AVs.

Singapore participants trust the government across the five key issues facing Driverless Mobility today: privacy, infrastructure, justice/equity, cybersecurity, safety and environment. For the other 4 cities, we observe that the trust in the local government varies. Nonetheless, participants from all five cities compared here entrust infrastructure issues the most to the government. When asked about the various stakeholders (government, non-profit organisations, transport companies and insurance companies), participants trust government most and insurance companies least.

Reflections and next steps

The Driverless Mobility dialogue provided our research team with a very fruitful opportunity to interact and engage with members of the public at length on the topic of Driverless Mobility. This helped us as researchers to hear and probe first hand the perceptions, aspirations and concerns that the public has surrounding AVs and Driverless Mobility, and importantly, to take a citizen-centric approach to our research and ‘put a face’ behind our data.

Following the series of dialogues globally, we have identified 10 key questions with our research partners for further exploration.

  1. What is the climate of opinion surrounding driverless mobility?
  2. What are the perceived benefits?
  3. What are the perceived risks and threats?
  4. Can citizens contemplate the end of the private car?
  5. How important are safety issues in the debate?
  6. How important are the environment and sustainability issues?
  7. What deployment scenarios would be desirable for the future?
  8. What has been the impact of the first citizens’ dialogues held?
  9. What are people’s expectations from the States and the local authorities?
  10. How should industries manage this technological innovation?

The research into understanding the public perception and acceptance of AVs and Driverless Mobility continues. One of our current projects with Daimler and the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre explores the adoption and design considerations surrounding Autonomous Mobility Services in Singapore.

[1] For more information about driverless mobility in Smart Nation Singapore: https://www.smartnation.sg/what-is-smart-nation/initiatives/Transport/autonomous-vehicles

This post is written as part of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities research on understanding the perception and acceptance of Driverless Mobility for designing transportation policy, led by Dr. Samuel Chng at the Centre and Associate Professor Lynette Cheah from the Sustainable Urban Mobility Research Lab at SUTD.