Driverless cars must be publicly owned – here’s why
Shared, electric, driverless cars could help us create a seamless, clean, green public transport network. But only if we own them.
Are driverless cars really happening?
Yes. And driverless car technology combined with electric vehicles and car sharing are likely to completely transform how we get around.
Tech companies like Google, Tesla, Apple and Uber are driving this change. Waymo cars are already on the roads in California. In Paris and Helsinki there are robot buses. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling wants driverless cars to be allowed on UK streets by 2021.
“The automobile industry is at an inflection point for massive change, not just evolutionary change” Tim Cook, CEO Apple
Self driving cars are expected to replace taxis, but will be much cheaper (because the cost of the driver won't be included). When combined with car sharing, they can be cheaper still. This means driverless cars could be very popular - people will start to choose the new driverless Uber option, rather than owning their own cars.
“The private motor vehicle has been an expensive convenience for many decades, but it now sits idle for 95 per cent of the time – it is an extremely lazy and inefficient asset.” NRMA Insurance
In the future, it’s likely that driving your own car will be a slightly unusual hobby, like riding a horse.
Right now, our roads aren’t ready for driverless cars. There are a lot of questions that need answering. But the most important one is, will this be just another story of corporate profit trumping the collective good? Or this time can we do things differently?
We need to collectively own this new technology, not leave it in the hands of corporations.
The companies keen to get these cars on our roads must negotiate with government to do so. This is an opportunity to rethink transport and create sustainable cities that work for everyone.
Who owns the network of driverless cars? Who tells them where to go, coordinates their movements and decides on incentives and pricing to fit with the rest of the public transport network? Who makes sure the data they collect is properly protected? We should.
Uber is currently undermining our public transport - offering a cheap trip at the expense of the wider network, and increasing traffic and pollution for everyone. If we let corporations introduce driverless cars on a similar individualistic, profit-driven basis, we'll put our public transport and the quality of our cities at risk.
We can't just leave this disruptive technology to the private sector. Can we make driverless cars part of the solution rather than a new problem to be fixed down the road?
What could publicly owned driverless cars do for us? (WeGo!)
Publicly owned, self driving, electric, shared cars could help us transform how we travel. Here's how it COULD work, if we make it happen.
Forget owning your own car. You don't need to. You simply buy 'mobility as a service' and pay an affordable monthly fee or as you go. You have access to a car, if and when you need it, wherever you live.
Walking and cycling are the highest priority in our new transport system - in the countryside as well as in cities. Where we used to have parked cars, we now have a comprehensive network of cycle lanes alongside the pavements. Garages and car parks are now bike parking, green spaces or housing. (Self driving cars can take themselves out of town to be recharged overnight and serviced as and when.)
We have a strong public transport network for fixed, high intensity routes. Where lots of people need to make the same journey - we have buses, trams and trains. These might also be driverless but there should always be guards on board to help out passengers and make sure everyone is safe and looked after. You can easily walk or cycle directly to the bus stop or train station.
We have driverless cars for flexible, low intensity routes. If you're in the countryside, travelling late at night, or need a door to door service - you can jump in a 'WeGo': a publicly owned driverless car. This will link in with the public transport network routes to give you a seamless, integrated journey.
If we get this right, it could mean fewer cars, quicker journeys, better health, livelier communities, greener and more spacious cities.
What happens when you book your WeGo car?
Book on your smartphone (if you don’t have one, there’s a phone number to ring with an actual human at the other end!) and confirm:
- How many passengers are travelling?
- Are you happy to carshare?
- Do you want a door to door service or can you walk or cycle some of the way?
- Your WeGo will connect in with buses and trains in the most efficient way for your journey - will you need a mobility assistant for transfers?
- Do you want WeGo entertainment or snacks on board?
- Will you help power WeGo by cycling along with the WeGo gym? This gives you a workout while you travel and is cheaper (but you could just cycle in the first place...)
- Would you like human company with your WeGo? You can ask for a tour guide or a therapist, for example! These are some of the new jobs that humans can do better than robots. Other jobs include safety technicians and support teams for the vehicles, regulators and lawyers, gardeners, architects, engineers and planners for our newly reconfigured cities.
But right now, we're on track for privatised driverless cars (MeGo!)
There is no successful city in the world designed around the car. Motorways were introduced without proper planning for sustainable, liveable transport. Reversing the damaging effects now is very difficult.
If we fail to plan properly for the introduction of driverless cars, and if they are owned and run privately by individuals or corporations, this will be a disaster.
If we don’t plan how driverless cars will fit with public transport, they will drive it out, hurting us all. Uber and Lyft are already creating much more traffic and pollution in city centres - we need pricing policies and coordinated services to stop this from happening.
If driverless cars are allowed unfettered access to our roads, they could hugely increase congestion. If road space is freed up without a good plan for how to use it, this will simply encourage more travel by all modes.
If cities are redesigned around driverless cars, this will mean more driving, less active travel. If new lanes are created for driverless cars only, this will make it harder for pedestrians and cyclists to get around.
If we don’t plan how driverless cars will fit with walking and cycling, we might jump in a MeGo at any opportunity. This will make us unhealthy and unhappy.
If everyone owns their own driverless car and there is no car sharing, they will still take up lots of road and parking space. Rich people may buy fancy, large driverless cars as status symbols which clog up everyone’s road space. Loneliness will increase as people spend more time in individual, isolated pods with only adverts for company (no chat with the driver).
If we leave alternative job creation in the hands of private corporations, we won’t get the vital new public service jobs we need. The car industry will be transformed and drivers will lose their jobs in huge numbers (self driving cars are banned in India for this reason).
This could be heaven or this could be hell. Let's choose WeGo, not MeGo.
Photo credit: GmanViz