AV testing on Boston’s streets revealed five key success factors relevant to other cities looking to pilot AVs as they prepare for the mobility system of the future.
Study offers insight and guidance to help both policy-makers and mobility providers reshape urban mobility systems into new versions that are safer, cleaner and more inclusive.
Made Public Date


United States

Reshaping Urban Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles Lessons from the City of Boston


The World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partnered with the City of Boston to assess the impact of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the city, to catalyze testing of AVs there and to strategize how the city could foster this technology to achieve its mobility goals. Three waves of consumer research supplemented their collaboration with the City of Boston:

  • In 2015, 5,500 consumers in 27 cities around the world (one of which was Boston) were surveyed to measure interest in AVs. Approximately 60 percent of respondents indicated that they would ride in an AV.
  • In 2016, a series of detailed focus groups was conducted with residents of the Greater Boston area to understand Bostonians’ starting point concerning mobility and AVs in their city.
  • In 2017, a large-scale conjoint analysis was conducted to forecast the penetration of several types of AVs in Boston’s future modal mix. The results of the conjoint analysis – including the projected modal mix of personal vehicles, taxis, private AVs and shared AVs – was then used as input for a sophisticated traffic simulation model of the entire city of Boston.

Lessons Learned

The following best practices are recommended for cities launching an autonomous vehicle pilot:

Start with a clear mobility vision and KPIs.

  • The Boston AV pilot benefited from Go Boston 2030, the city’s previously established mobility plan. Rooted in policy goals and based on interactions with thousands of Bostonians, the robust framework provided a foundation for defining the scope of the city’s AV pilot and linked everything back to articulated targets and KPIs. Go Boston 2030 identified three overarching objectives for transportation and mobility: to expand access, to improve safety and to ensure reliability. The Go Boston 2030 vision successful because it engaged collaborative teams at both the city and state levels to speak to AV companies with a common voice and to come together and align on joint decision-making criteria.

Create a tiered testing plan with achievement milestones.

  • The policy-makers’ strict and granular testing plan served the Boston project well because it prevented any ambiguity regarding next steps and what was needed from AV companies before testing could be expanded. However, the testing plan, as a living document, permitted some flexibility to address changes in technology or in needs, such as testing at night to avoid congested rush hours in shorter winter days. Boston’s comprehensive plans attracted additional test partners and allowed expansion of the tested use cases. The standard, tiered testing plan served as a concrete starting point to align stakeholders.

Build public acceptance early.

  • One of the key principles of Boston’s AV strategy was to involve citizens and ensure that they bought into the journey. Having public confidence in the technology is a key adoption enabler and, at the same time, one of the most volatile criteria – one incident could drastically shift the conversation to a negative tone, even if the AV technology is not at fault. Boston pushed to maximize exposure to AV technology. One tactic was a "robot block party", held in front of Boston City Hall in October 2017 with more than 6,000 Bostonians participating and experiencing the world’s first "AV petting zoo". The city’s objective was to use the festivities to increase people’s comfort with AVs. NuTonomy, Optimus Ride and Aptiv showcased their vehicles during the block party and provided residents with an opportunity to ask questions and share concerns.

Keep residents in the loop.

  • In addition to building awareness about AV technology with constituents, Boston determined that publicly sharing the progress of the pilot would improve awareness, understanding and ultimately acceptance of the new technology. To facilitate this transparency, the city publishes relevant documents – from testing plans to quarterly progress reports to consumer research – on its AV initiative website.
Goal Areas