Have you spent much time thinking about what transport might look like in future?

The Citizens’ Conversation on Driverless Vehicles did just that. This process was commissioned by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) as part of a “Worldwide Views” engagement process run by Missions Publiques.

We organised and facilitated this project with support in particular from Dr Tom Cohen and Dr Jack Stilgoe (from University College London) to help TfGM explore public perspectives on driverless vehicles. A topic that might not come up in everyday conversation but one that’s high on the agenda for future transport policy makers.

Why did TfGM want to engage residents on driverless vehicles?

TfGM is investing in a number oWhy did TfGM want to engage residents on driverless vehicles? f major projects and programmes to make travel easier in Greater Manchester, while reducing congestion, improving air quality and making the region carbon neutral by 2038. Part of this includes research and development of new technologies such as electric vehicles, digital services, mobility hubs and driverless vehicles. Driverless vehicles have the potential to have a profound impact on how citizens travel in the region and may play a key role in supporting TfGM’s vision for a world class transport network that supports long-term, sustainable economic growth and access to opportunity for all. It is therefore important to understand what members of the public think about this emerging technology and ensure their views are fully considered when developing policy or making decisions.

What is this project part of?

The Citizens’ Conversation was part of a global series of conversations coordinated by an organisation called Missions Publiques. The series is exploring people’s views on driverless vehicles across the world. Each conversation used the same content and format in order to allow comparisons between the opinions of different cities on this topic. The findings from each debate will be gathered together and these will then be shared with local, national and international decision-makers.

Who attended?

57 Greater Manchester residents took part in the Conversation. They were selected using sortition, a process to select a representative but random sample of people. Participants were recruited to be broadly representative of the Greater Manchester public based on the demographics of the region. The full recruitment data is available in the appendix of the report which is linked below.

How did the Conversation work?

Throughout the day, participants heard about the possibilities, potential benefits and potential risks of introducing driverless vehicles. They deliberated on these issues in order to vote on their preferences and add further detail to explain their choices. The day explored five key questions:

  • Your transport routine today – might driverless vehicles affect it?
  • Trust and confidence in automated systems
  • Future automated transportation scenarios
  • Who is in charge?
  • What are the priorities for Transport for Greater Manchester to pilot?

During these sessions, participants heard key information and perspectives from people with different views about driverless vehicles and explored a range of scenarios for how these vehicles could be used. They also considered who should be responsible for solving key issues posed by driverless vehicles and which decision-makers were most trusted to do so.

A summary of the results

Some of the key themes that came from the discussions include the following:

  • Participants highlighted safety; environmentally friendly travel & fears about the potential cost of driverless vehicles as key issues of importance.
  • Participants generally were comfortable with the testing of driverless vehicles being conducted in a number of scenarios. They were clear that individuals should control how their data should be used and did not want it sold to private companies for profit.
  • A strong majority of participants (45) identified the public transport model as their preferred way of implementing driverless vehicles.
  • Participants generally expected national and local government to play key roles in addressing issues around driverless vehicles and mostly trusted them to do so effectively.
  • In terms of how TfGM should pilot driverless vehicles, participants expressed a preference for testing for use in automated regional public transit. Testing for the final stages of journeys for people or freight was also popular.

Participants seriously considered the variety of important factors when discussing the topic, suggesting they viewed policy on driverless vehicles as a technology which could have significant impacts on their lives. This level of engagement and expression of complex perspectives further supports the importance of TfGM engaging with the public on this topic and indicates the value of further engagement in the future.

More information is shared in the full report on this dialogue in Greater Manchester which you can download from our project page on the Involve website.

What did Transport for Greater Manchester think?

Nicola Kane, Head of Strategic Planning, Research, and Innovation:

"Driverless vehicles could have a significant impact on our transport network and may be ideally suited to support our aims to reduce congestion, improve air quality and make travel in the region easier, but it is important that we also listen to the hopes and worries of local residents and businesses when developing new schemes and technologies. Events like the Citizens' Conversation are an example of how we're engaging with citizens in a more interactive way to ensure we fully consider their thoughts and concerns for new mobility in Greater Manchester and deliver on our promise to develop a fully integrated sustainable transport network."

Here are some of the participants’ thoughts from the discussions and the tensions and trade-offs they identified:

“At present I wouldn't feel comfortable travelling in any level of driverless car. I would probably walk miles to avoid.”

“It has to be done in order to progress.  Innovation can't work without risk.”

“The vehicles do need to be tested in real life scenarios, I do think it’s important that all people know the trials are taking place to ensure that extra care is taken”

“It is essential that data is available to continue to innovate and understand the benefits and disbenefits of the technology. Without data, it's difficult to understand and continue to improve. However, great control is required.”

“I must have control of my data unless anonymised. I do not see any acceptable level of data being available to government agencies unless controlled by law (i.e. requiring a legal process to access).”

More about this project

If you would like to learn more about the global results of the many different processes that ran in conjunction to this one, take a look at the international project site produced by Missions Publiques on their website. There are videos, resources and final reports with more information about attitudes from across the world on driverless vehicles.

Do get in touch if you would like to learn more about this project: lizzie@involve.org.uk