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A Welcome Disruption
Ready for Driverless Carpools?

Moving urbanites from place to place is a perennial priority for city planners, but driverless cars—think robotic Ubers and Lyfts—are promising to disrupt the traditional schema of public transit options, and solve a number of nagging problems in the process. Bloomberg reports:

The self-driving vehicles being pioneered by Tesla Motors Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and others are poised to dramatically lower the cost of taxis, potentially making them cheaper than buses or subways, according to a joint report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Co. Having no driver to pay could reduce taxi prices to 67 cents a mile by 2025, less than a quarter of the cost in Manhattan today, the report found.

From a local government’s perspective, driverless cabs are nice because they don’t require the kinds of time and capital investments that, say, a new subway line or light rail system would require. True, they’ll necessitate a new regulatory structure and some complicated software systems and monitoring capabilities, most of which are still under development. But as autonomous vehicle technology progresses, cities should start to see cost savings as they let these driverless carpools shoulder more of the burden of moving commuters about. Still, as Bloomberg explains, this disruptive technology brings with it even more benefits:

Once companies work out the kinks, they say driverless technology may make traffic accidents nearly nonexistent. Computers don’t fall asleep at the wheel, get drunk or text while driving. Electric automated vehicles could reduce smog and greenhouse gases. Lower-priced taxis, meanwhile could make bus and train stations more accessible for suburban commuters, boosting mass transit ridership.

The green promise of the driverless car revolution ought to induce a frisson of excitement through environmentalists the world over. The Hill has more on how this shift will help reduce humanity’s ecological footprint:

Autonomous vehicles also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving congestion. Driverless cars will have the ability to deploy “platooning” technology, which allows automated vehicles to travel close together at high speeds in order to mitigate traffic…Driverless vehicles can also help reduce fuel use by spurring the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

And let’s not forget that this fleet of cheap, autonomous taxis will be welcomed by harried commuters and city dwellers the world over, for whom these new a la carte transportation option will represent a massive upgrade in convenience. So while city and state governments mull massive public transportation projects like high-speed rail or subway expansions, let’s remember that a cheaper, greener, more adaptive option waits in the wings.

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  • JR

    I was promised a flying car.

    • lurkingwithintent

      Don’t add fuel to the fire, they are obsessed enough with driverless cars.

  • LarryD

    Insufficient opportunities for graft and corruption. I predict the support the author is expecting will not materialize.

    • JR

      If graft and corruption could prevent progress, we’d still be living in caves. I have faith in my fellow man.

  • Y.K.

    The driverless carpools nonsense simply ignores the incentives and desires of everyone involved:

    * Car companies want to sell sell sell. This happens best when there aren’t many carpools but many private (driverless) cars.
    * Drivers are used to private cars. It’s pretty easy for companies to make private car ownership still viable. Add some customisation (iCar?), point out the advantages of having your own car (a private car is more available, can provide smaller shipping charges, not having to deal with strangers), and car companies should have no problems selling.
    * Governments want to raise economic activity, and short term this is best served by selling many private vehicles. Long term, the carpool model is probably superior, but the long term doesn’t help politicians get reelected. Besides, Keynes had said that in the long term we’re all dead, so the politicians have an economic excuse if they need it.

    All in all, driverless cars mean we can expect many more private cars on the road, including not just the normal driving population, but also elderly people who won’t have had licences otherwise, children, and zero-occupancy cars making deliveries. Eventually, congestion will rise to the point the government will push transit to compensate, and we’ll be back at the current situation more or less (but with fewer traffic accidents).

  • Y.K.

    Another thing is remember is that gas-guzzling driverless cars will have a large advantage on electric driverless cars on intercity highways. After all, with driverless cars, there’s no point to a speed limit. A gas-guzzling car has much more energy – and it can use its advantage to its fullest with speed limits removed. This means it would be faster and require less refuels. While this won’t have any effects on most driving, note that range worried still limit the market share of electric cars even though drivers don’t actually drive too far most of the time. This will add another advantage to gasoline car – so driverless cars could mean a bigger ecological footprint for a good while (‘platooning technology’ can’t happen until all humans are removed from the road – which should take 20+ years after the introduction of the first driverless cars).

  • jcwconsult

    Please note that the “test” cars have a monitoring driver who can take over. We are YEARS away from vehicles that can safely operate in all weather conditions with no monitoring driver. It will also require settling the legal issues first, WHO is responsible when the totally driverless vehicle has some sort of failure and is the cause of a crash.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    • LinuxGuy

      Driverless cars will eliminate how governments ticket people for profit with poor engineering, predatory enforcement, and then throw in all the errors. What will they do?

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