Studying volunteer driver programs to inform transportation planning for autonomous vehicles in rural areas

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University of New Brunswick
Rural areas and non-driving older adults are a target location and clientele for Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), yet there is a lack of information regarding the operational environments, demand for service, and the physical needs of the older adults with respect to AV operation in rural areas. Car-based Volunteer Driver Programs (VDPs) in New Brunswick already serve a rural, primarily older adult membership; therefore a study of aspects of these programs could provide insight into the necessary considerations for AV adoption. Surveys from 37 VDP volunteer drivers in New Brunswick identified tasks beyond driving provided to clients (of any age) on their most recent drive, as well the purpose for each stop during the drives. Origin and destinations from one year’s worth of one VDP’s travel data were used to assess the roadway-operating environment. Finally, a stated choice experiment was developed that could be used to better understand the mode choices of rural older adults. Clients depended on additional services for the majority (68%) of reported stops. The road classification estimated to have the highest percentage of travel (41% of kilometres) was “divided multi-lane” highways, though “collector” and “local” highways accounted for 40% of kilometres. These results suggest that if AVs were deployed, they would only be useful in situations where tasks could be automated and would need to be effective in several different road classification environments, which may require changes to roadway maintenance practices (e.g. line painting). Future work includes: better understanding of the individual needs of the users by age, as well as to finalize and deploy the stated choice experiment.