Breckenridge, Colorado

The Disruption Is Gaining Speed

Over the last few years, I’ve written several times on the coming disruption in transportation thanks to autonomous vehicles. When I first wrote about it, the big news was the testing of self-parking cars. Of course those are old news today. Many of you now own a car that parks itself and much more.

How far we’ve come! Last month, Las Vegas in partnership with AAA launched a driverless electric shuttle service in the city’s downtown innovation district. The eight-passenger shuttles are an exciting next step in moving driverless technology from testing to implementation. Rides are free but passengers will be surveyed extensively to monitor changing perceptions about autonomous mobility.

Earlier this fall, the University of Michigan launched a fully autonomous 15-passenger shuttle service between its engineering school and the North Campus Research Complex. Like the Vegas shuttles, the Michigan vehicles are electric and built by the French company, NAVYA. The French are so confident in their technology and its potential in the U.S., they are building an assembly plant in Michigan.

Of course commuter and tourist shuttles are only a piece of the overall driverless revolution. After over four million miles of testing on public streets, Waymo is launching the first totally driverless taxi fleet in Phoenix this year. Soon there will be 500 Chrysler Pacifica minivans cruising the streets of Phoenix with no driver behind the wheel. Waymo is the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

After my first column on this topic, I heard from several people that any big changes were 10 or even 20 years down the road. Others said the public will never embrace cars with no driver. Hmm. That’s what I heard about Uber and Lyft a few years ago. And that is what many said about the first horseless carriages 120 years ago.

The fact is that big changes are happening now and people are embracing them. Picture the future with no big, smelly busses rumbling down our streets. No more having to adapt your day to the bus schedule or worry about how to get from the bus stop to your final destination in the rain or snow.

Instead, we could have a fleet of carbon-free electric taxis and shuttles that come to you when you need them and take you exactly where you want to go. If the taxes and public subsidies that currently flow to RTD were instead directed toward autonomous mobility solutions, the cost for riders could be even less than current public transit.

Of course bus riders are not the only ones who could reap the benefits. Those who currently need a car will also be able to get where they’re going via driverless mobility. The need for personal vehicles and driving will drop dramatically. Imagine life with no need to own a car. The savings on buying the vehicle, insurance, taxes, maintenance, parking, gas, etc. would be huge. When you take a road trip or just want to relive the thrill of driving, you could rent whatever you want.

Picture our beautiful downtowns without a need for massive parking garages taking up some of the best real estate. What could we do with all that prime space? How about streets where the endless rows of parked cars are replaced with trees, outdoor patios and wider sidewalks or bike lanes?

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