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How Self-Driving Cars Could Reshape Our Cities


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To return to O’Toole’s original claim that self-driving cars will reduce demand for rail transit, I think it depends on which cities you’re talking about. In smaller metro areas, self-driving cars will likely make recently-built light rail systems look even more like white elephants, as the falling cost of taxi service and the reduction in congestion causes many rail customers to switch to them. As self-driving taxis become affordable even for poor commuters, smaller metro areas are likely to become even more car-focused and sprawling than they already are.

How do you think this new transportation technology will influence our cities?

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  • 4 weeks later...

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I'm not so sure about this idea. When self driving cars become legal and common, I see them taking on more of a car sharing system than a taxi style system.

Go with me here. I would imagine that early adopters will buy their own self driving car for personal use. But they will soon realize that all of the time the auto is sitting idle, is money down the drain. Programs like Zipcar and City Car Share will begin leasing this time to subscribers. Once there are enough of these autonomous autos on the road (to essentially be anywhere at anytime), a user will be able to summon a car on demand. You hail a car from home, and it drops you off at the grocery store and then picks up the next user. When you are checking out, another car is hailed for you.

Ultimately, I see us all paying a car subscription, much like we do a mobile phone plan. You pay X dollars a month for X amount of mileage/trips. Overages cost extra. Non-subscriber/Single use trips (taxi) cost a premium. Some people will be able to afford a lavish plan with unlimited miles and live in the suburbs. Others will still find it more economical/convenient to live near the city and use transit.

If anything, I see them running all of the taxi services out of business.

The only major change I would predict is the amount of space and finances we have to dedicate to our road system.

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