Autonomous Rural Transportation Challenges and Opportunities in Iinan-cho, Shimane, Japan, PRP 211




Eaton, David

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LBJ School of Public Affairs


The Japanese government views autonomous vehicle (AV) technology as an inevitable market target of opportunity for its transportation sector. Japan expects to be among the first nations to realize AV benefits and export them to the rest of the world. The Japanese government subsidizes research, testing, and development of AV technology (see Table E1). The rural town of Iinan-cho (hereafter referred to as Iinan), in the mountainous Shimane Prefecture north of Hiroshima, is involved in Japanese government-supported AV testing. Local and regional governments partnered with automobile suppliers to test AVs on Iinan’s streets. Iinan residents participated in pilots with self-driving buses and hailing apps. This report considers challenges and opportunities for Japan to implement AV technology that can serve the needs of rural and elderly residents. Fully autonomous vehicles can provide benefits to agricultural and rural communities by increasing riders’ safety, providing more transportation options, and lowering the cost of transporting goods. The large elderly population in Iinan may benefit as some elderly cease to drive. Based on surveys and interviews with stakeholders, AVs may also have adverse effects in Iinan. Residents expressed concerns about AV reliability in extreme weather conditions, job loss, and high costs. Uncertainty surrounding the cost and availability of AV technology represents a continuing challenge that complicates the design of appropriate national and regional policies. The findings and policy implications of this report could be relevant to Iinan, other rural areas in Japan, and around the world. Table E1 lists this report’s key findings regarding the potential use of AVs in Iinan. This study outlines some research methods to describe the economic and social impacts of AV technology as a potentially disruptive technology. This report describes current and potential policies for managing those impacts in a sustainable and socially responsible manner by reducing economic costs and adverse effects.



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