November 14, 2013
Would you still take transit if you had a self-driving car?
Although I’m normally allergic to panel discussions, I actually attended one last month at the Mobility 21 conference on self-driving cars that rose to the level of mighty interesting.
The gist of the conversation: virtually ever major car company is pursuing self-driving cars, the technology is sound, the cars could reduce accidents (in other words, not like human drivers are all that safe) and lawmakers better start getting super serious as to how to regulate them as a lot of them could be on the road within a decade.
And this–the really interesting part: the big marketing push and the big source of demand will likely come from those who can’t or don’t want to drive (seniors, teens, disabled, etc.) but need the mobility a self-driving car could supply. In fact, one of the panelists even proposed that self-driving cars could save government money by negating the need to supply transit in areas where transit is inefficient.
This is already how Google is framing the self-driving car issue:
Not discussed by the panel is another issue I find interesting: if there is a proliferation of self-driving cars, what does that do to transit?
On the one hand, roads will continue to have only a finite amount of space. Yes, perhaps self-driving cars may squeeze some extra capacity from roads by driving more efficiently — but you can only pack so many cars in so much space, presumably.
On the other hand, cars often enjoy the door-to-door convenience factor not afforded by transit. At present, one of the major draws to transit is that it’s a chance for people to relax and/or get some work done.
What happens if you can get that work done in your own car that is driving itself to work? Would sitting in traffic be more tolerable if you didn’t actually have to be the one tapping the brakes and accelerator? Or would traffic still make you go bonkety-bonkers?
Take the poll and comment please.