Do we really understand what needs to happen to urban motorized transportation as it evolves further into Transportation as a Service (TaaS)? To deliver the Goldilocks world of tailored vehicles arriving within two or three minutes of demand we will need aggregation and matching services for large numbers of disparate, multi-owner fleets, far beyond what anyone, including Uber, provides today.
Many people see the household robotic vehicle replacing the current household vehicle. Some figure a reduction of 1.2 vehicles to one. Others project each household vehicle would be replaced by 1.2 robotic vehicles. Fundamentally these ratios represent a like-for-like trade, just without the steering wheel.
Other people think about the robotic taxi replacing the taxi and a robotic Uber replacing a human Uber driver. They willingly admit this might begin to nibble at transit – say 10 or 20 percent – but is still essentially a like-for-like trade, but with fewer drivers.
Of course Travis Kalanick sees a future driverless Uber replacing nearly all urban, automotive transportation. But even people hearing that do not really get it. Or believe it. It is like hearing the seas might rise by a meter and not really appreciating what that means.
Problem is, most people see the current modes – car, taxi, carshare, shuttle, bus – as just how transportation is meant to be divided up, as determined by a kind of DNA, or by the same imaginary book of rules that say bike-paths are anti-car. Some folks will admit some 15 percent shifts, but they do not see a total obliteration of taxi-car-bus-shuttle-carshare boundaries. They do not see that these modes just become different vehicle sizes or inter-mixable aggregations on appropriate routes from what would act as one massive common service.
Has iTunes and Amazon taught us nothing? People go now to Amazon and search for the product they want. People find that in addition to an Amazon warehouse full of products, there are thousands of other sellers hawking stuff there as well. Amazon is the marketing and pricing front end, the social hub for the buyers’ emails and “likes”, and the bank that escrows the money until the product is shipped.
Amazon sells trust and payment reliability more than it sells books or can openers. Many of us buy books there – including used ones – because we trust Amazon’s reputation management system. There are lots of resellers there, and most of us cannot remember if we ever used the same one twice. It’s all just Amazon.
How will people order a personal car trip in the future?
This suggests an analogous mobility aggregator. How might you order a personal car trip in 2035? First and foremost, you would have a profile reflecting normal daily use, for example:
Maximum fee: 40 cents per mile; Minimum fee: 25 cents per mile (to make sure not to get a beater); Preferred size: 2 seats (who wants to hold their groceries on their lap?); Ride sharing: no; Premium to meet schedule: yes; Maximum walk in meters: 200; Child seat: no; Cargo: yes; Cargo size: medium and Payment card: ****7221
Of course you could override these, but usually you would enter a destination time and place, then click to order and walk out the door for its arrival.
Importantly, a tailored vehicle that fits your immediate demand might be owned by a city agency, or perhaps by Uber, or by Cisco. As often as not it might belong to one of the several university, shopping or association affinity co-ops you happen to belong to.
When you order a trip to the airport, perhaps United Airlines will own the vehicle, since they co-manage a large autonomous shuttle fleet based at one of the emptied-out airport parking garages. Short trips might be assigned to one of several local operators who manage maintenance and cleaning of 30 to 100 robo-cars as a family business. Vehicles assigned for longer, intercity trips might be managed by the successor to Greyhound or Megabus, since those vehicles have different long-haul trip and maintenance properties.
But when you look at your smartphone, you are thinking only about the trip itself. You would care little about the brand of the vehicle or its provider and more about the provider’s current reputation on the app. Just as thinking only about the book you want from Amazon, you care little about the company that printed, sourced, picked, wrapped or shipped the book. Why would you care in 2035 whether the vehicle is forwarded from the municipality, Lyft or Wal-Mart, as long as you expect to be satisfied with the trip.
Could it be that Amazon has not announced an autonomous vehicle because they intend to become TaaS-A-mazon – a clearing house for everything with a brain on wheels?
One concern this disruptive threat implies is for progressive communities to find a way to protect transportation equity. We might not all be able to buy from Amazon, but we will all need to get somewhere. If transit agencies just wait this out, their services will be disrupted, ridership will drop and subsidies will become ever steeper for the remaining users – and those users will be the ones that could not make the switch. Commercial TaaS fleet operators would have no motivation to subsidize those riders, and neither would a TaaS-A-mazon.
Do you rely on online goods and services aggregators to initiate purchases for things such as books, hotels and vacations? Do you trust them? Would you prefer this for TaaS rather than directly joining and ordering from Zipcar, car2go, Lyft, etc.?
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.