August 2, 2014


Don't Fear Driverless Cars : They could solve a host of urban transportation problems. (BRANDON FULLER, 1 August 2014, City Journal)

Currently, drivers have weak incentives to curb fuel consumption. Drivers park private cars, often free of charge, on public streets, taking up valuable space. Private cars' "land consumption" while in motion is even greater. A parked car consumes about 150 square feet of street space; a car moving at close to 20 miles per hour occupies nearly 700 square feet.

Driverless cars can save on energy and space. Because their reaction times are faster than those of human drivers, driverless cars are safer and less likely to crash. They can be built lighter, making them more energy-efficient than regular cars. When traveling together in "pods," driverless cars can also cut down on energy expenditures by reducing "drag." Smaller, lighter cars also take up less space, both in motion and at rest. Because driverless cars can park themselves, they can park closer together.

When shared, driverless cars can operate like on-demand taxis, increasing urban mobility. Fleets of shared driverless cars could reduce the need for prolonged parking altogether, freeing up urban spaces outside of commercial and residential buildings as well as bike lanes, sidewalks, and parks for better uses. Outside the urban core, shared fleets of driverless cars could offer door-to-door trips for any itinerary, free from mass transit's time constraints. Paired with computerized ride-share systems, driverless technology will also make carpooling more appealing. Easy coordination of passengers based on trip itinerary and time will increase the number of passengers per vehicle and reduce the space and energy intensity of car commutes.

As Bertaud points out, driverless cars also have the potential to complement public-transit networks. They can take people to and from transit hubs, potentially boosting transit ridership, especially on rapid rail routes between or across large metros. Someone taking a high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles still needs a way to get around in L.A.; driverless cars can provide flexibility for the last few miles of the trip. (Toyota is testing its i-Road car-sharing program--a fleet of three-wheeled electric vehicles--as an extension of heavy rail in Japan and France.)

Driverless technology is not limited to cars. Applied to buses and mini-buses, it can reduce the cost of providing mass transit to underserved areas--which, in turn, could improve people's access to jobs and effectively increase the size of the metropolitan labor market, making it easier for firms that can't afford city-center rents, such as startups, to thrive.

Posted by at August 2, 2014 11:38 AM

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