The 10 U.S. Cities Where Self-Driving Cars Make the Most Sense

March 21, 2017, 2:42 PM UTC

The race to deploy autonomous vehicles won’t mean much if cities are unprepared for the technology. Fleets of autonomous taxis could actually make traffic congestion and pollution worse if cities don’t have a plan in place for this emerging technology.

There are some U.S. cities that are already well-positioned for self-driving cars. And places like San Francisco—a center of self-driving car activity—doesn’t even make the top 20 list.

The top U.S. cities primed for self-driving cars is led by New Orleans, Albuquerque, Tucson, Ariz., Portland, and Omaha, according to a new index created by Inrix, a company that aggregates and analyzes traffic data collected from vehicles and highway infrastructure

El Paso, Fresno, Calif., Wichita, Kan., Las Vegas, and Tulsa, Okla., round out the top 10.

The index isn’t a grade on a city’s existing infrastructure, policy, or the support of the technology by its local citizenry. Instead, the index is focused on how people in cities are traveling right now.

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“It’s all well and good to have autonomous vehicles on the road but if they’re not meeting people’s travel patterns their impact can be limited,” Avery Ash, an autonomous vehicle market strategist at Inrix told Fortune. Inrix used data to understand travel patterns and identify the cities best poised to benefit from this technology, Ash said, adding there are some cities in the top 10 that might be surprising.

What Was Measured

In Inrix’s view, electric shared-use autonomous vehicles—such as self-driving taxis—will be most effective when used for shorter intra-city trips. These shorter trips can be more efficient, and in turn safer, faster, and more convenient travel for users, according to Ash.

Inrix analyzed million of data points on 1.3 billion trips made within a year in the top 50 U.S. cities by population. The company studied trips that began and ended within a 25-mile radius of each downtown and compared this to aggregate regional trips, including outbound, inbound, and passing-through trips, to establish a percentage of intra-city travel.

Inrix then looked at the percentage of a city’s intra-city trips, 10 miles or less, and combined these two metrics to score each city out of a possible 100 points.

Cities with lots of intra-city travel and short trips received the highest ranking.

The List


While the index is an interesting snapshot, Ash says the goal is to get cities to think about how and where autonomous vehicles should be deployed, if at all.

The company’s scoring system uses anonymous data from connected cars, parking availability and restrictions, and U.S. Census demographic data—specifically age, household income, and a measure of people that use different modes of transportation to commute.

Cities should be looking to use data to target where these vehicles are going to have the greatest impact on their constituents, Ash said.

For example, a city that wants to leverage autonomous vehicles to expand mobility options for seniors could give greater weight to areas with higher concentrations of residents aged 65 years and older, the report suggests. A city wanting to decrease congestion downtown could give greater weight to parking use.