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System Level Impacts of AED for Long-term Transport Planning

The project explores future scenarios based on AED development, in order to build and share knowledge about potential impacts on the transport system.


ITRL Contact: Anna Pernestål

Research program: End-to-End Freight Transport

Time period: 2020-2021

Funded by: Trafikverket

Partners: Trafikverket


The transport system is expected to change significantly in the coming decades due to technological development in automation, electrification and digitalization (AED). While the development could have positive effects and contribute to sustainable development in accordance with the 2030 Agenda, there are also possible negative feedbacks such as increased driving distances and more CO2 emissions. A holistic understanding about system effects of AED development is therefore important for policymakers and experts when shaping the future infrastructure.


The aim of the project is to explore future scenarios based on AED development, in order to build and share knowledge about potential impacts on the transport system. The results will then be analyzed with regards to effects on transport demand from a sustainability perspective.


Several scenarios are developed to represent alternative futures as a result of advancement in AED technology. The scenarios are based on a general morphological analysis, which is a method for investigating complex sociotechnical systems holistically. Furthermore, several workshops are arranged with expert groups from the Swedish Transport Administration throughout the project.


The aim of the project was to investigate to what extent the megatrends automation, electrification and digitalization (AED) can affect passenger and freight transport demand in Sweden until 2040. In order to do so, a theoretical framework was constructed, which describes factors that drive transport demand and through which mechanisms developments within AED can affect these factors. Through a trend analysis, a set of 23 AED-related technologies and various alternatives for how each technology could develop until 2040 were compiled in the form of a morphological box (see Álvarez and Ritchey, 2015 ). By utilizing four scenarios which specify how each of these technologies have developed, the combined impacts of the technologies were assessed through a morphological analysis.

The analysis showed that a majority of the technologies could potentially lead to an increased transport demand. Automation technologies could directly and indirectly enable new transport services or make already existing ones more efficient. Electrification was found to primarily decrease marginal costs, since fuel expenses and greenhouse gas emissions could decrease. Digitalization technologies included in the study belong to two distinct categories: digital services and digital infrastructure. Digital services could affect transport decisions, thus leading to changes in the modal distribution. Digital infrastructure would primarily enable other AED-related technologies.

Generally, impacts on transport demand relate to changes in costs and efficiency. However, whether or not the increasing demand would lead to increased transport activity (measured in person-kilometers/ton-kilometers) depends on how the system is organized. Finally, another main take-away from the study was learnings about how to approach these types of complex research questions in a structured manner.

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