The Self Driving Electric Car Race Has Begun
Self-driving electric vehicles could make cities more livable, sustainable, equitable, and just. Fully automated self-driving cars should be available for sale in cities by 2020. They have very different economics than our current cars, so won’t fit in well with today’s rules of play.
I see two distinct possibilities for our automated car future: Hell or Heaven, but we get that option. Forward-thinking leadership is going to make all the difference.
In this future people buy AVs instead of today’s cars. For trips once you get to your destination instead of paying for parking downtown, it’ll be cheaper to have your empty car drive around until you’re ready to return.
The same is true for stores. It could be cheaper to have a drugstore car drive to customers than to pay for retail space downtown. Today 75% of all cars on the road have one occupant: the driver. In the future, as we add more cars operating with their different economics, 50% of the cars will have no people in them, running low-value errands or avoiding parking.
Meanwhile all the taxi, bus, shuttle, and truck drivers will lose their jobs. We’ll also lose about 60% of our tax revenue that finances road infrastructure because these vehicles are electric, don’t park, and don’t get parking tickets. Our roads and bridges get a whole lot worse.
We definitely don’t want the Hell scenario. We get Heaven by taking a proactive approach. Over a million people in US cities are already car sharing and in San Francisco 50% of people using ride-hailing apps now share their trips with another passenger who is a stranger.
It might be easier to combine car pooling or paying for a seat as opposed to shelling out over $9,000 per year on your own personal vehicle. The benefits are door to door transportation at the speed of an Uber or taxi for the cost of a train ticket. Sharing a ride reduces the need for parking and minimizes congestion. We’d have only need around 10% of the vehicles on the road as we see today even in peak hours.
No more parking garages! IF most of the vehicles in cities are shared cars in which people can share trips, we can widen sidewalks, plant trees, put in bike lanes and benches. We can get rid of parking lots and build affordable housing or public parks or whatever! Establishing the criteria and priorities for newly available public land will be critical to making sure communities get what they need.
We could also reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions as we move from gas to electric power for our cars. But only if we demand that this new incremental electric energy use be renewable.
Happily, electric cars will pay their fair share for road and bridge repair because we will have made and created new user fees that apply to them. We’ll discourage empty zombie cars and make it more expensive to drive than to park. But wait, what about all those people who used to drive, repair cars, pump gas, design and build cars for a living?
They worked hard and their jobs disappeared almost overnight. We need to make sure that people can diversify their income with benefits that are portable and apply no matter how few hours you work, and we need to start piloting basic income.
So if we want Heaven and not Hell, we have to start working together to get the right laws and regulations in place now, especially for the first cities that set the example. Just as your head is reeling from the impact and potential for self-driving cars realize that this is just the tip of the big automation iceberg. The electric car delivers enormous productivity gains without the associated labor.