“Self-Driving Vehicles, Robo-Taxis, and the Urban Mobility Revolution,” a new report by The Boston Consulting Group, envisions the consequences of widespread urban adoption of self-driving or autonomous cars and so-called robo-taxis: 90 percent fewer road accidents, an 80 percent decline in tailpipe emissions, and — perhaps the greatest impact on the automotive industry including car washing — a 60 percent drop in the number of cars on city streets.
While this makes for a scary scenario for anyone who manufactures, repairs, or washes cars for a living, there can be little argument that the quest for a reduction in urban vehicular traffic makes perfect sense. David Roberts, in a post on vox.com, calls the way we use cars now “dumb.” To effectively illustrate his point he needs only two examples: First, privately owned cars remain parked 95 percent of the time — and that does not include time spent going nowhere while stuck in traffic, which sometimes feels just like being parked. Second, single-occupancy vehicles make up more than 70 percent of commutes in most U.S. cities.
The Boston Consulting Group is not engaged in idle speculation. Its research, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, included input from 25 urban policymakers in 12 cities, nearly 60 percent of who expect that by 2025 at least one city will have banned traditional car ownership. Close to another quarter are of the opinion that this will happen by 2030.
Although David Roberts touches on the potential efficacy of autonomous cars, he expounds the merits of a far less radical approach to unjam city streets that is to be found in an International Transport Forum (ITF) study. Technology now exists, he says, to better coordinate the use of vehicles leading to efficient ride sharing. In one form this would look like Uber and Lyft operations with the added facility of picking up additional passengers on similar routes. He points out that Uber already offers UberPool service. A second setup would involve on-demand minibuses that would ply regular commuting routes.
In the ITF study, these two ride-share programs replace all motorized road transportation while high-occupancy systems like subways and trains are retained. Roberts terms the results “pretty stunning:” congestion disappeared, traffic emissions were reduced by one third, 95 percent less space was required for public parking, and the car fleet would be only 3 percent the size of the current one. Whichever future view wins out, cities seem destined to become less hospitable to the traditional privately owned motor vehicle.
One demographic will not be fazed by such developments. Writing on salon.com, Angelo Young notes that Millennials are not ditching cars, but rather car ownership. If it ties them down, he says, they don’t want it. They job hop and, as consumers, they love keeping up with the latest in technology. They prefer renting to buying — and they are favorably disposed to sharing. The future-city scenarios set out by both the Boston Consulting Group report and the ITF study seem to neatly match their needs and preferences.
In his Wash Front column this month (page 8), Anthony Analetto discusses Millennials as employees. It’s worth remembering that they are also customers — and will be for a long time.