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Why it makes sense that Addison Lee has joined the automation race

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Addison Lee boss Andy Boland on his driverless plans for London and what it will mean for drivers’ jobs.

The government has put driverless cars in the spotlight, with last month’s Autumn Budget outlining plans for regulatory reforms to accelerate Britain’s credentials in the field.

Tech and auto giants alike are racing to be at the forefront of the new technology. But last month Addison Lee – a relative minnow compared with the likes of Google, Uber and Jaguar Land Rover, who are also exploring the technology – announced it was exploring driverless ride-sharing and how that could work on the crowded roads of London.

Early progress, Addison Lee says, are promising. The consortium’s research has found a third of private driver journeys could be replaced, and 30 per cent of taxi and private hire journeys could be served by autonomous ride-sharing by 2025.

Part of the initiative will assess which aspects of public services could be modified by automation, such as buses which are crammed in the morning and then empty during the course of the day.

“The other main part of the initiative is to work out what those services could be, and I think you could think about it in terms of shared rides, or private rides in autonomous vehicles,” says Addison Lee’s chief executive, Andy Boland.

“It could be autonomous delivery services, it could be shuttles running fixed routes, and all of that interacting with today’s public transport network.”

People own cars and only ever use them five per cent of the time. Roads are empty during the day, you can’t move around in the evening in the rush hour. It doesn’t make any sense.

Read more: Addison Lee's licence renewed for only six months as TfL considers fees

A question mark crops up over what driverless progress could mean for jobs: numerous studies have suggested slew of roles considered under threat due to automation. What will the emergence of autonomous vehicles mean for cab drivers?

Addison Lee’s group director of mobility, Paul McCabe, says:

I think there’s no doubt the technology is coming, and we’re not ignoring what that could do in terms of jobs and opportunities

Read more: Addison Lee wants hundreds more drivers after Uber licence loss

“To make autonomous work you’ve got to have a really strong customer service wrapping around that and all that involves people. People are really important to delivering a good customer experience to people who may be using autonomous vehicles, and so we see it as an opportunity for job creation and growth.”

Boland says changes are on the horizon “right across the economy”, and shifts in skills and jobs will be required over time.

“But actually, for the foreseeable future for us, the coalescence and living together of autonomous services, driven services, and extra jobs and service provision, and that rapidness needed, I think is quite positive overall,” he says.

“Where we are 20, 30 years from now, who knows. But actually, for the foreseeable future, the prospect for jobs both for drivers and for other service provision within our organisation is good.”

With Addison Lee looking to take advantage of new opportunities and ensure it is abreast of the significant changes driverless developments could bring, an obvious question is which firms of its ilk look best placed to go the distance.

Ride-hailing giant Uber is currently embroiled in a row over the loss of its licence in London, though discussions are ongoing to try and resolve the issue, with a court case looming.

While Boland says the dispute is not for him to comment on, he does add: “As this whole area matures, actually the relevance and importance of passenger safety, consistency of service, end to end support for customers, having that wrapper around these services is really important, because at the end of the day, moving people around, often on their own, often late at night, sometimes vulnerable people, it’s a very intimate service. You need that full range of operational capabilities to do that, and that dislocation we’ve seen there, it’s kind of a symptom of that.”

Boland adds:

These services need to grow up and I think what we see is a situation where most people in the market today apart from Addison Lee – every one of our competitors in London is consistently losing money, so there is nobody else profitable in the market.

“Some of them will succeed, some of them won’t, these business models need to mature to the point where they’re making cash flow, and profit, because then you’ve got sustainable, quality, well-regulated services,” he says.

Read more: One in three London car journeys to be driverless by 2025

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