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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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