Self-driving vehicles will have a major impact on our transportation system and society. They will increase access to transportation, reduce congestion, reduce labor costs and improve the overall transportation efficiency. In our interview, Steve Gutmann, a business development executive with experience at two well-known car sharing companies explains how self-driving technology will impact consumers, businesses and cities.
How will a car sharing system work when using autonomous vehicles?
The fleet will probably operate much like a taxi fleet, except that there will not be any drivers. Users will hail a nearby driverless cab using their smart phone. The vehicle will alert them, probably on the customer’s mobile device, as it is approaching and billing will begin once the trip commenced. The cost will be based on the trip duration, number of passengers and distance traveled. Payment will be automatic.
After the passengers were dropped off, the vehicle will move on and pick up the next passenger. A single car could transport many different people throughout the day. And during periods of low demand, some of the extra vehicles could drive themselves to the car wash, get themselves recharged, have any necessary routine maintenance done and then either park temporarily or move to an area of higher demand.
What are the benefits for consumers, businesses and cities?
Improved safety will be the main benefit of a shared autonomous vehicle fleet. Accidents will likely fall close to zero. This will decrease suffering, and it will also reduce repair and insurance costs will very likely fall, leaving more money in consumers’ pockets.
In terms of efficiency, both capital and energy efficiency will improve dramatically. Cars being used more intensively will result in far higher capital efficiency. A $25,000 car being used efficiently and effectively should increase the owner’s return on that asset. Similarly, shared vehicle will be probably optimized for efficiency rather than performance, and it will lend itself to electrification, since it could turn itself off and find a recharging station automatically when its battery levels dropped below a certain level.
A third benefit will be the impact on urban land use. If each shared autonomous car replaced 10 personal cars, the need for parking will decrease by 90 percent. This will leave more room for either re-development into residential, commercial or industrial space, or for designated green space.
In addition, entire strips of on-street, curbside parking could be replaced by play areas, community gardens or dedicated bikeways. Much of the resistance to living in dense urban areas has to do with air and noise pollution, excessive car traffic and parking congestion, so reducing the number of cars in cities will very likely increase their appeal to more people.
How can autonomous car sharing fleets be integrated into a public transit system?
The cost of paid drivers dramatically distorts the relative cost of public transportation vs. personal transportation, because we generally do not put a price tag on our time when driving. Once both public transportation systems and car sharing fleets are both using driverless vehicles, busses and trains should finally have real cost advantages.
Why? Because a single driverless bus carrying 50 passengers will cost far less to operate than 50 driverless cars that are each carrying a single passenger. So a ride in a driverless car will cost more than a ride on a driverless bus.
What about the impact on bicycling?
Bicycling will continue to be the cheapest and most efficient way to travel in urban areas. Bicycling and public transportation will both expand with a shift to shared, driverless vehicles. So, public transportation authorities must be quick to adopt driverless vehicles, because driverless shared fleets could end up being far less expensive to use than public transit vehicles with paid drivers, so, they could dramatically reduce the overall demand for public transit.
Transitioning to a public transit system without drivers obviously would not be easy, since there are many bus drivers’ jobs and livelihoods at stake.
Leave a comment: If autonomous shared fleets are available in the near future, would you use them more frequently compared to now and why?
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.