Some pundits suggest that private ownership of autonomous (self-driving) cars is right around the corner. But that’s not the conclusion of Bern Grush, a systems engineer, futurist and the author of a recently published study on the subject. He suggests that before they begin to be purchased in large numbers by private individuals, autonomous vehicles will first find their place with taxi and taxi-substitute companies like Uber and Lyft and seriously impact public bus services. Large-scale private ownership of self-driving vehicles won’t occur until the late 2020s at the earliest, according to the study.
The personal transport industry is ready for change
Recent research by Goldman Sachs Group has found less than 10 per cent of travel in North America is currently taken in non-personally owned vehicles, but the personal transport industry should get ready for a change. Grush says that by 2030, that percentage may climb to 25 per cent or higher as more people turn to robo-taxis, micro-transit and ride sharing. Why? His report claims automation will make these systems more reliable and far cheaper than today’s taxi and bus services. Going further, the report contends ridesharing will be less expensive than personal car ownership for an increasing number of consumers. Improvements in vehicle automation, combined with a sharing economy, will vastly expand the robo-taxi and micro-transit juggernaut being readied by providers such as Uber, Lyft and Google’s Waymo.
“We saw what happened with the town council in Innisfil (Ontario, Canada), which contracted with Uber rather than investing in a traditional bus system,” Grush said. “This type of disruption will spread to other municipalities. Once these commercial providers begin to automate their fleets, their role in public transit and goods movement will accelerate.”
Despite predictions that ridesharing in self-driving cars is imminent, the report has identified many barriers to getting people out of their personal cars and into robo-shuttles or robo-taxis. These include the safety concern of having young children in a car seat; being disabled and traveling with assistive gear; driving with a pet; and the fear that an automated car won’t take a passenger everywhere she or he wants to go. Grush calls this “access anxiety.” As these barriers are dealt with, the need for personal vehicles, as well as non-automated taxis and buses, will diminish dramatically over 15 years, the report “Ontario Must Prepare for Vehicle Automation: How Skilled Governance Can Influence its Outcome” said.
Right now, there is a lot of hype surrounding fully automated vehicles that can operate without a driver in any imaginable circumstance. Due to many hurdles, Grush does not anticipate this type of autonomous vehicle until well after 2050, when the technical issues of having driverless vehicles operate in every possible condition will have been addressed.
Grush encourages governments to prepare for this future by determining now how to influence the role fleets of shared AVs will have in cities and towns. The key to harnessing this technology is for governments and the private sector to work together to implement a regulatory system that will enhance mobility for all, the report said. Grush’s concept, the Harmonization Management System (HMS), would provide the digital tools to incorporate a subsidy and pricing system, and optimize the distribution and social performance of commercial fleets.