The end of the automobile world as we know it

driverless bus in Asheville

An example of a driverless bus that would work in Asheville.

Rethinking Parking and Traffic

Autonomous vehicles are going to change our world.

There’s a big change coming and local governments need to be prepared.

Serious analysts are saying that private automobiles are on the way out. One industry-study group believes the total number of cars in the world will fall by 90 percent over the next few decades.

This is really good news, but it is hugely disruptive news as well. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is urgent if we are to address the existential threat of climate change. Eliminating the cost of owning a huge chunk of machinery that sits idle 95 percent of the time will be of enormous economic importance to individuals. Democratizing transit will have enormous effects as well.

Here’s a link to my 2014 TEDx talk about driverless autos.

In the year and a half since I delivered that talk I’ve thought about and learned more about the subject. It appears that the first vehicles to see wide use will be commercial.

Trucks

Driverless interstate truck traffic is likely to arrive soonest of all because highway driving is the easiest for computers to handle. We might see caravans of trucks with a human driver in the lead and a string of autonomous trucks following. When the fleet arrives at a destination city, local drivers could take the loads to different specific destinations.

Buses

Buses will be next – again because following a regular route is simpler than navigating all over the map—and these driverless buses will offer the most noticeable shift for those of us not in the trucking business. A particular benefit will be the ability to run smaller buses on more frequent schedules. Today’s transit equation is greatly influenced by the cost of drivers and the need to spread that cost among as many patrons as possible.

My Pecha Kucha 20×20 Talk is here.

Both of these changes will be hugely disruptive to employment. Driving is the single biggest employment for men in the United States, and these new vehicles will un-employ more people than any other facet of automation.

Meanwhile, some experts predict that autonomous, on-demand cars will actually be more affordable than any sort of public transit. That is a little further out, but its a possibility that ought to be considered as well by future-thinking local governments.Will we need parking decks when cars drop us off and keep on rolling? And will that happen in ten years? The President of the Southeast Traffic Engineers professional organization told their annual convention in 2013 that cities may well ban human drivers by 2027.

As I asked in my TEDx and Pecha Kucha talks, what if the horse really does know the way?

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