Jointly Released by WeRide and Institute of Transportation Engineering, Tsinghua University
The mass application of self-driving technology will have an enormous impact on urban transportation systems. However, due to the lack of real case studies on self-driving operation, many questions remain only partly answered. WeRide’s Robotaxi operation in Guangzhou, China, over the past year provides a good opportunity for in-depth exploration of the impact made by self-driving technology. It is in this context that WeRide and Institute of Transportation Engineering, Tsinghua University, joined hands to conduct their current research, targeting Robotaxi riders in their exploration of self-driving technology’s potential impact on future mobility behaviors. A total of 657 valid questionnaire responses were collected through WeRide’s ride-hailing app WeRide Go, Robotaxi in-vehicle surveys and SMS questionnaires during the period between October 30 and November 8, 2020.
In the end of November 2019, WeRide became the first company in China to launch a publicly accessible Robotaxi service, operating from 8am-10pm, Monday to Sunday, covering an area of 144 square kilometers in the Huangpu and Guangzhou Development District, Guangzhou. Currently there are a total of 209 pick-up and drop-off spots and 40 self-driving vehicles have been deployed for daily use in the operation area. The service is easily accessible through WeRide Go, the company’s self-developed Robotaxi ride-hailing app and Alibaba’s Amap (also known as AutoNavi), a national mobility aggregator service platform. A total of 147,128 trips were completed in the first year of WeRide’s Robotaxi operation, serving more than 60,000 passengers.
WeRide is a smart mobility company that creates leading L4 autonomous driving technologies. It is China’s first L4 autonomous driving technology start-up company to obtain strategic investment from a top-tier global automaker, Alliance Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. With a fleet of over 100 vehicles, it’s also China’s first and the world’s second self-driving company to have obtained permits for fully driverless road tests. WeRide has been focusing on the strategic alliance among AI technology companies, car makers and mobility service platforms. In August 2019, WeRide joined hands with Guangzhou Baiyun Taxi Group and established WeRide RoboTaxi, a joint venture providing self-driving mobility services. WeRide officially launched the nation’s first Robotaxi service to the general public in Guangzhou in November 2019, operating on central urban open roads in the Huangpu and Guangzhou Development District, which covers a territory of 144 square kilometers. In June 2020, the WeRide Robotaxi service was made available on Alibaba’s Amap (also known as AutoNavi), a national mobility aggregator service platform, gaining access to a more mature mobility service market.
About Institute of Transportation Engineering, Tsinghua University
Institute of Transportation Engineering is an academic research institute at Tsinghua University. Officially established in 2007, the Institute is dedicated to research areas that include: traffic planning and management, intelligent transportation systems, traffic information and control, intelligent vehicles and traffic safety. As a leading research institute in the field of transportation planning in China, it has undertaken multiple endeavors of innovative research in areas such as the theory and methodology of economic circle transportation planning, sustainable transportation theory and traffic congestion mechanism analysis & countermeasures. Intelligent transportation systems are another important focus for the Institute, which has completed a number of major national, provincial and ministerial-level projects, producing significant findings.
Part 1 WeRide Robotaxi’s Passenger Profile
Mainly young and middle-aged, nearly 30% are weekly Robotaxi riders
Among the WeRide Robotaxi riders surveyed, 97% are between 18–50 years old, indicating the young and middle-age groups dominate in the early adoption of driverless services in China’s first tier cities. They travel frequently and are more ready to embrace new technologies. They are also largely responsible for making mobility decisions for children and the elderly in their families, potentially promoting Robotaxi’s quick and wide adoption in the future.
Nearly 60% of riders use WeRide Robotaxi for their regular commutes. In the past year of operation, WeRide Robotaxi has won over a group of loyal users from the traditional mobility market. 28% of passengers ride at least once a week and 15% ride at least three times a week.
47% of riders learned of WeRide Robotaxi from colleagues and friends. WeRide’s ongoing efforts in promoting and expanding the service to the public have laid a solid base for steady growth in new Robotaxi users.
WeRide Robotaxi’s main rider demographic are the young and middle-aged. Nearly 90% of its riders are full-time employees; nearly 80% have an undergraduate education background or above, and most have driver’s licenses. It is therefore evident that the main early-stage Robotaxi riders are well educated young and middle-aged driver’s license holders.
After over a year in operation, WeRide Robotaxi has gained a group of loyal riders. 28% of Robotaxi users ride at least once a week, while 15% ride at least three times a week. Most riders choose WeRide Robotaxi for their regular commute. It is also an indispensable mobility option for leisure and entertainment activities, business trips and visits to family and friends. (Multiple-choice questions)
WeRide Robotaxi operates on urban open roads in an area of 144 square kilometers in the Huangpu and Guangzhou Development District. The District has a total population of over 1.11 million. There are ten subway stations, five large shopping malls, thousands of large communities and factories within the operation area, basically encompassing local users’ main daily travel destinations.
Part 2 WeRide Robotaxi’s Riding Experience
High passenger satisfaction with the expectation for a better self-driving ride experience
WeRide Robotaxi riders have high hopes for self-driving technology and are willing to embrace and promote new mobility methods.
WeRide Robotaxi riders hope for an expansion of the Robotaxi services, providing more flexibility and convenience on their daily travels. Nearly 90% of riders call for a wider operation area for WeRide Robotaxi’s service, and over 70% of passengers wish for more flexible setting of pick-up and drop-off spots.
WeRide Robotaxi service has received recognition from riders. “In-vehicle cleanliness”, “safety driver performance” and “app user experience” score relatively high in the passenger survey. As for the ride experience brought by Robotaxi, “courtesy to pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles” and “driving safety” are also rated as “rather satisfied”.
The passengers surveyed were less satisfied with “service reach”, “waiting time” and “pick-up and drop-off spot convenience”, which is related to the constraints with Robotaxi’s fixed pick-up and drop-off spots as well as the limited number of vehicles in service. These limitations, however, can be largely alleviated as WeRide expands its operation scale.
About 80% of the respondents say they will keep on using WeRide Robotaxi in the future or recommend it to their friends, colleagues and family, which is evidence of current Robotaxi riders’ great confidence in self-driving and willingness to embrace and promote new mobility methods.
It is expected that with the popularization of self-driving in the future, transportation systems more compatible with self-driving will be gradually embraced by the public, instilling better driving etiquette and increased compliance with traffic codes.
Since riders choose Robotaxi mainly for regular commutes with efficiency as their top priority, the demand for the smarter “third space” brought by self-driving is yet to be stimulated.
WeRide Robotaxi riders hope for greater flexibility and convenience while using Robotaxi for their travels. 89% of riders call for a wider range for WeRide Robotaxi’s service, and over 77% of passengers wish for pick-up and drop-off spots to be non-fixed. In contrast, demand for optimization of areas such as ride-hailing app user experience, in-vehicle interaction and vehicle exterior and interior design is less of a priority for Robotaxi’s riders. Their demand for self-driving smart services hasn’t been fully stimulated. The huge market potential for self-driving vehicles as an imaginative “third space” in life is yet to be explored.
Part 3 Robotaxi Travel Efficiency Closer to Traditional Transport
Robotaxi has become an effective alternative to traditional transport means. As we enter the self-driving era, development of demand-responsive bus services becomes a new opportunity.
Robotaxi is becoming an effective alternative to traditional transport means. 63% of Robotaxi trips are made in place of passenger car mobility options (55% are made in place of taxis/ride-hailing cars and 8% instead of private cars). 35% of Robotaxi riders complete their trips on foot with no additional transport required.
27% of Robotaxi riders use it as an alternative to taking public transport, while walking and public transport are the two major methods used to complete their Robotaxi trips. It may herald a prospect for reduced use of public transport as a result of the popularization of Robotaxi, which may not help to alleviate traffic congestion to the degree that is expected. Demand-responsive bus services, for example, catering to the need of short-distance trips within one to three kilometers, will become a new opportunity for self-driving.
When both traditional taxis/ride-hailing cars and Robotaxi are available, and leaving price and other factors aside, 28% riders choose Robotaxi for their trips and only 9% choose taxis/ride-hailing cars, showing the advantage Robotaxi enjoys. Meanwhile, nearly 60% of passengers consider price and efficiency essential to their choice of transport means. 43% of passengers will choose the most price-competitive mobility service. As Robotaxi competes for its share in the mobility market, the principle of good value for money also applies.
Robotaxi is becoming an effective alternative to traditional transport options, primarily replacing taxis/ride-hailing cars and secondly, public transport. 55% of passengers say that they would have chosen a taxi/ride-hailing car for their latest Robotaxi trip were the latter not available. Despite limitations with Robotaxi’s service range and fixed pick-up and drop-off spots, 35% of riders only need a short walk to go with their Robotaxi trips. Other passengers use Robotaxi as part of the transport link to their destinations which requires a mix of other transport means, including public transport, taxi/ride-hailing cars and private cars.
When traditional taxis/ride-hailing cars and Robotaxi are both available, only 9% of Robotaxi passengers surveyed would choose the former option, whereas 28% of the respondents would choose Robotaxi. This may be related to the obvious advantages Robotaxi has in terms of being a safe, fun and comfortable experience.
For nearly 60% of the surveyed passengers, price and efficiency are the key factors in making their choice. 43% of passengers would choose the more price-competitive mobility service. As Robotaxi competes for its share in the mobility market, the principle of good value for money also applies. In the future, when fully driverless service is provided, Robotaxi will become the most affordable travel option as driver costs are completely removed.
Part 4 Landscape of Future Mobility Service to Be Transformed by Robotaxi
Publicly accessible Robotaxi operation is fueling the public’s preference for the service in the future. The number of private cars will go into steady decline and the era of fully driverless service is on the horizon.
Those who have better ride experience with Robotaxi, are more environment-conscious and more positive about owning self-driving vehicles will more inclined to continue to take Robotaxi in the future. Robotaxi’s ongoing expansion of services to the public is gradually transforming the mobility landscape for the future.
The mobility experience brought by WeRide Robotaxi and the popularization of self-driving technology have impacted people’s appetite for private car purchases. According to the survey, more than 20% of respondents say it is “very likely” that they will cut down the number of private cars they own or refrain from buying a private car at all. Among Robotaxi riders who own one or more private cars, 46% say they may remove one from their personal car fleet; for those with no private cars, 43% say they may not buy any in the future.
A fully driverless future is taking shape. 39% of the passengers surveyed are willing to ride fully driverless taxis after one year’s safe road test, while 37% say they are ready for it now.
The regression analysis finds that among the passengers surveyed, the inclination to use Robotaxi in the future is strongest among those most appreciative of Robotaxi’s convenience, more positive towards Robotaxi and owning self-driving vehicles, more environment-conscious and more satisfied with Robotaxi’s services.
Among the Robotaxi riders surveyed who own one or more private cars, 46% say they may reduce one from their personal cars as self-driving becomes more ubiquitous in the future; for those owning no private cars, 43% say they may not buy a car at all.
Although about 30% respondents are still sitting on the fence regarding future private car purchases, the proportion of those planning to downsize or avoid private car ownership is significantly higher.
WeRide obtained China’s first permit for conducting fully driverless road tests in July 2020. Relevant tests have since been carried out for more than four months. Are people looking forward to the fully driverless Robotaxi service? 37% of passengers have no problem accepting fully driverless mobility services, saying that they are “ready now” to ride the fully driverless Robotaxi. Other passengers think it will take a while before the service can be launched to the public. 39% of respondents believe that one year of safe road tests will be needed, while 19% consider it safe to ride the fully driverless taxi after a test run of three years.
(Note: Pursuant to the current legal and regulatory requirements in China, every WeRide Robotaxi has a safety driver sitting behind the steering wheel, responsible for monitoring road conditions and vehicle operating status. When an emergency occurs, the safety driver decides, based on his/her professional expertise, whether to take control of the vehicle to ensure passenger and road safety. Fully driverless car means there is no safety driver behind the wheel.)
Many people believe self-driving to be a silver bullet for our traffic problems, but how is the advent of self-driving changing human mobility behaviors? This requires scientific analysis and judgment based on surveys, data sifting and rigorous research. Fully open to the general public on urban roads, WeRide Robotaxi is one of the few self-driving mobility services in practice available for study worldwide. Due to constraints on sample size and the service’s range, this research report has its due limitations. However, it is an important guide for the development of self-driving, as it not only substantiates with evidence the general viewpoints and expectations towards the self-driving industry, but also predicts how self-driving might transform the way people travel in the future.
Since its launch a year ago, WeRide Robotaxi has won over a group of loyal users from the traditional mobility market, with 28% of passengers riding Robotaxi at least once a week. Most Robotaxi riders come from the traditional taxi/ride-hailing market. WeRide Robotaxi’s ongoing open operation has helped it secure an advantageous position in the mobility market, offering us a glimpse of the potential impact of self-driving on urban transportation.
Among the Robotaxi riders surveyed, 27% use it as an alternative to taking public transport. Other types of transport used in combination with Robotaxi to complete their trips are mainly walking and the public transport. The popularization of Robotaxi may reduce usage of public transport, which may not help to alleviate traffic congestion to the degree that is expected. Demand-responsive buses, for example, catering to the need of short-distance trips within one to three kilometers, will become a new opportunity for self-driving.
The survey highlights the fact that the solutions to our various transportation issues do not solely lie in vehicle automation. Instead, they hinge upon the automation of transport vehicles of various sizes and types, the formation of a new mobility system and the integration of infrastructure and other components in the transport system. All these shall be the direction of our future endeavors.
As a leading smart mobility company that creates L4 autonomous driving technologies, WeRide has been engaging its initial aspiration and vision of transforming human mobility with autonomous driving. While running the Robotaxi service, WeRide is also actively exploring opportunities in applying self-driving technology to other forms of mobility services. In the next three to four years, WeRide will focus on the commercialization of fully driverless mobility services. In this survey, riders’ optimistic expectations for the future of fully driverless mobility services are a great boost to our confidence. We firmly believe that a fully driverless future will ultimately become a reality.