2020 Transit = AV (Driverless Vehicles)
In case you haven’t noticed, there is a major revolution occurring in the energy sector. Gas just reached its lowest record selling price in twelve years, but that’s only the start. Fracking (whether you hate it or love it) reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and solar has broken out of the green-space and is being paired with traditional energy in corporations. You know there is a coming revolution when energy companies begin lobbying to fight the trend they helped start. A related topic caught my attention last week when Google and Ford continued serious talk of a new joint corporation.
If you spend any time perusing news headlines, you probably came across the following in September 2015: “Google Pairs With Ford To Build Self-Driving Cars“. At first glance, it may just look like any other technology article, but this autonomous vehicle (AV) headline jumped off the page at me and here is why:
- Ford Motors, well known as an auto pioneer and a high tier Fortune 500, reported $6.3 billion in pre-tax profit on their 2014 annual report. The company also spent over $2.5 billion dollars annually advertising their vehicles to Americans over the last few years. That dollar amount in advertising is more than all other automakers with exception of GM (who took government bailout dollars when times got tough). It’s my opinion that Ford knows their customers well and strategically invests in legitimate partnerships and research.
- Google, a technology pioneer in many respects, deployed it’s fleet of 7 self-driving cars on American roads back in 2010. After more than a dozen accidents, Google retains a clear record since the CA DMV determined humans were at fault in each incident.
- Ford’s recent addition of a Palo Alto, CA research center theoretically puts Ford in the back yard of innovative Silicon Valley. In addition to some extra legal protection, this partnership fosters collaboration with M.I.T and the University of Michigan.
It seems unlikely that a 113 year old company like Ford would align itself with a relatively new company such as Google. Ford, Google, and various global brands would not spend so much on research and development unless they expected high returns on long-term investments. That’s a signal – they know something you don’t. You may think you would never ride public transit, but Ford and Google beg to differ.
There is also a major shift occurring in transit right now, and you will most likely be affected. It is well known fact that vehicles are expensive and severely depreciating assets. The feeling of freedom associated with driving has become a costly habit pushing many Americans deep in debt. From a safety aspect, vehicles driven by humans, as opposed to computers, are also less safe as 93% of accidents are the result of human error according to CBC News. Even our normally slow-to-adapt government is making moves to speed up autonomous adoption by easing regulations on what they deem “safer” vehicles. AV safety is extremely important considering real-time software updates are published immediately when problems are found such as the recent incident when Tesla was made aware of human-induced errors in driving.
In a previous article, I mentioned PRTs and the emergence of personal mobility. So many transit changes in such a short amount of time begs the question: What will become of transit? Will the standard remain London’s double decker bus, an electric Nova Bus, a Metro subway system, or maybe even your own personal Pod? Personal mobility could become a driverless Uber-like service callable from your iPhone app. If a new company emerges between Ford and Google, personal mobility could become synonymous with pre-ordering your Starbucks drink via the app. Launch the app 15 minutes prior to your leave time, then the car shows up ready to take you to your destination. The best part – you wouldn’t have to talk to anybody in the process since the car and it’s driving functionality would be fully automated.
What will become of transit?
What if you want your own personal car instead of the Uber-share method? Maybe you have issues with people talking too much or sneezing in confined spaces. I get that. There’s an app for that as seen in the below Mercedes autonomous car video. At least there will be an app for that. But the laws of supply and demand ensure your own personal AV will cost more than a shared ride. The benefit is that you’ll have the ability to save thousands of dollars if you avoid purchasing your own vehicle. Sure, some will want to keep at least one car, but what’s the point in having a second car if it permanently sits in the garage, requires maintenance, and increases your costs of insurance.
Mercedes Goes AV (Video)
Just like bus and HOV lanes, I expect we’ll have autonomous vehicle lanes in densely populated areas. Dedicated lanes means your AV will get you to and from your destination much quicker although you won’t care so much about speed since your commute time can be used efficiently on a computer, listening to music, or even relaxing. And what if your electric vehicle automatically and wirelessly charges while driving down the road? There would be no need for gas stops which means your driverless car could keep going, and going, like the energizer bunny.
City planners in Toronto are already working to improve their AV future by making plans for narrow lanes, expansion of public spaces, and reinvention of the city layout through tighter design.
Will autonomous vehicles have the ability to completely replace public transit? Urban planners are trying to answer that question too, but the overall assumption is that there will be a merge between technologies. The biggest problem with AV single riding service could be itself; too many self-driving on-demand vehicles clogging more narrowly designed roadways. That fact alone could keep light rail, subways, and long-range buses in business although they will most likely be automated as well.
But Google and Ford are not in control since you will decide. Even if you think you are fiercely independent of transit and will always want to own multiple vehicles in order to have “car freedom”, I bet you’ll at least try an autonomous vehicle when you first cross its path. If you try it, you may even find you like ride-sharing. Maybe you’ll find a dedicated group of riders or co-workers who live in the same area. I’m sure one of these AV companies will give you the ability to pre-book your car with co-workers so you’ll avoid having to learn new people.
Want More? Watch this Ford autonomous car video from CES 2016.
Ford Corp annual report available at this link.