Self Driving Cars the Silver Bullet? Nope

Another dream like the 1960’s telecommute


Unfortunately our Government amongst others have been caught like possums in headlights over a technological ‘fad’ known as driver-less cars or more specifically autonomous cars. That is cars controlled by a computer rather than a driver could be hailed by the consumer and take the consumer to their destination before the car repeats the process with another consumer. Proponents including some in and supportive of our National-led Government believe self-driving cars would even replace things like rail (heavy or light).

Like telecommuting before it in the 1960’s the driver-less car will end up as another technological fad. Rail in fact any mass transit system will be with us for a very long time and will not be put out by the reinvention of the car.



From Human Transit:

Choosing our words: autonomous cars or autonomous vehicles?

When you talk about autonomous cars (or automated, or self-driving, or driverlesscars), do you really mean vehicles? If so, say vehicles.  The word cars(or taxis) explicitly excludes transit (as well as trucks and many other vehicles).

As a transit planner, I’m routinely told that we should neglect our transit systems, and certainly not improve them, because transit will soon be made obsolete by “autonomous cars.”  There are very low density places where this is true, but it is geometrically impossible for dense cities, because there is simply not room to move everyone out of big transit vehicles into the tiny ones that the word “cars” implies.

However, the fantasy of cars replacing big transit vehicles can lead to serious dystopian outcomes, including higher Vehicle Miles Traveled, higher emissions, and higher exclusion of disadvantaged groups from opportunity.  The fantasy is already encouraging neglect of transit systems and opposition to efforts to improve them, which is having all the negative impacts listed above,  today.


When I press an autonomous-car advocate on this point, they almost always say that of course autonomous vehicles will come in all sizes, including transit vehicle, etc.  But they keep saying autonomous cars, which implies the opposite.

Remember, many people hate transit, love cars, and are generally OK with all the outcomes of mandatory car dependence, especially sprawl.  These people love to hear that autonomous cars will destroy transit.



As for “last-mile” stuff:

R A Fontes October 25, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

The cost/benefits ratios will change among different types of transit vehicles. In general, autonomous buses will become cheaper to operate than low to medium capacity autonomous rail systems because driver expenses comprise a higher proportion of total operating expenses of current buses compared with current rail systems.

If the “first & last mile” function and most short trips are handled by car sized AVs, then express, frequent service longer distance, and commute hour buses could still have a place. Streetcars, lower capacity light rail, hybrid rail, etc. would have trouble being more then pricey affectations.

Maybe the most important factor in shared autonomous cars’ favor is that they are coming without any expectation of direct subsidies from local taxpayers other than what car owners already receive. That’s should be a pretty compelling argument in their favor, especially if operators are successful in getting customers to pool rides.

  • Jarrett October 25, 2016 at 5:30 pm #

    R. A. Remember that as transit evolves toward really attractive mainline services, bus and rail features converge. Buses become higher-capacity and are deployed with supporting infrastructure to ensure speed and reliability. If you focus on bus services that are intended to carry high ridership the difference is already much less. The problem is that the extreme diversity of bus services causes analysts to grab an average of bus performance that isn’t relevant to the situations where transit actually succeeds.


Source for both the post and comments:


Self driving cars might have a place in Auckland on our urban fringe but with a proper transit system that transit system will always move the most people around in the most efficient manner possible. One of our electric trains at a 3-car set mode still takes 288 self driving cars off the Southern Motorway for users like trucks and trade’s people. Regardless if a human or computer is driving the car it still takes that same amount of space a car will always do.

What is seen more overseas as a ‘last-mile’ mode between origin/destination and a transit line is e-bikes. As the cycling infrastructure system becomes more user-friendly and safe for all users the prominence of the bike would increase. So e-bike to a transit station or stop, board and travel the transit system (medium or long distance as short distance would be by bike), disembark transit system, e-bike to destination (if the bike was not stored at the origin transit station and you decided to walk the last bit to your destination).


Self driving cars replacing transit? Nope

Active transport modes and mass transit modes replacing cars in more urban environments? Yep.


So this Government would be better investing in active and mass transits rather than the next fad – the self-driving car.


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