Monday, September 5, 2016

How self-driving cars change the future

All of the major automakers are developing self-driving cars.  In addition, rides-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber are spending massive capital to be a part of this revolution.  And why not?  When the self-driving car comes, it will be as big a game changer as the printing press and the internet.

Many have speculated what the self-driving boom will bring and here is my two cents worth...

First - self-driving cars will be expensive and so few will own them.  That is why Uber and Lyft are so interested in them.  In order for the economics to work out, these cars will need to be almost continually driven.  Most people only drive their cars a few hours a day at most.  That simply won't be cost effective.  Automation has the ability to keep the vehicle driving for 24/7 and so all the rides-sharing companies will keep their utilization up.

Second - other cars will become cheaper.  This seems counter to the first point, but as the cost of batteries continues to decline and as the world moves towards electric motors, the cost will continue to decline.  Safety features and innovation might drive the price up a little, but I believe cars will become smaller and less expensive. Families will likely continue to desire cars to keep everyone together and safe, but single-occupants will likely choose other transportation.

Third - Millennials will stop driving.  Unless they have a fetish to be a Lyft or Uber driver, most Millennials will simply hail a Uber when they want to go somewhere. Millennials love the technology and they love the environment.  Why burden themselves with a car?  It's simply too much hassle.

Fourth - Fixed rail will increase.  Because Uber can get you to the fixed-rail station, the demand for high quality transit will increase.  Fixed rail transit will likely increase considerably. People will demand a 3-5 minute headway between rail cars.  And because fixed rail transit will become automated, this will allow for higher frequency of cars holding fewer people in each car.   The major reason I believe transit will increase is because it can move people much cheaper than ride-sharing.  People will use the moderately-more expensive Uber trip to get to and from light rail - and then take the much-cheaper light rail for the longer distances.  This will minimize overall cost.  But light rail will need to be clean, safe, and inexpensive.  There will be a high demand for this to happen.

Fifth - Buses will go away.  There won't really be a reason for a bus anymore.  With ride-sharing, buses will not be able to compete.  One potential use of a bus is as a test-system for light rail.  A transit agency could add a bus line to see the demand and then use the bus line while the light rail is being constructed.

Sixth - Parking lots will go away.  This will he a hallelujah moment.  Today's codes require parking lots that are way oversized.  In fact, Strong Towns holds a Black Friday parking event across the nation.  The idea is that Black Friday is supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year.  But even on this day, most parking lots are half full.  This creates all kinds of problems including increasing walk distances and eliminating perfectly good land from productive uses.  When you can drive right up to the store, you will not have a need for a parking lot.  However, there will be parking lots strategically placed around towns to park unused vehicles overnight. But automation will allow them to be parked closer together.

Seventh - Older people will not longer be dependent upon others.  This will be the greatest joy of all.

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