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Just what do we have to fear from Autonomous Vehicles?

Uber and Lyft have already delt a blow to airport, hotel, and valet parking. But it seems that more traditional parking operations are not suffering. So with what senario will autonomous vehicles deal a slashing blow to the parking industry?

If we posit that Uber and Lyft are basicially autonomous vehicles with a driver.  You call, they appear, take you to your destination and disappear.  That’s what autonomous vehicles are supposed to do, right?  The problem with Uber and Lyft is that they are basically tapped out. They have reached a level where there aren’t enough drivers to meet the demand, assuming there is a demand. That, it appears is why they are investing so heavily in self driving vehicles. Plus the existance of a driver makes the trip expensive.

Once they have a infinite number of autonomous vehicles, as many as Detroit, Stuttgart, and Tokyo can produce, they can pick up and drop off virtually everywhere and be more cost effective since they aren’t paying drivers.  However they will have to pay fuel, maintenance, cleaning, insurance, etc that is now included in the driver’s pay. But that’s another issue.

Let’s assume that true autonomous vehicles exist — that is cars that can drive in any weather, in any traffic, at any speed, and find they way anywhere, without a driver. We then assume that they pick you up at home in the burbs and deliver you downtown to your office. They also take the kids to school, soccer practice, their friends house, to the mall, etc.  And they do this more cost effectively and efficiently as a private vehicle.

(Keep in mind that this is a very difficult task. Right now, Tesla and Audi are at level two at best. Level 5, as described above, may be decades away.)

In the morning, tens of thousands of self driving cars will be in the burbs, picking up folks to deliver to their work down town. After they do so, what do they do while their passengers are working? There certainly aren’t enough people who need to move around downtown to keep them busy. And if so, think of the traffic jams. And we thought these self driving vehicles were supposed to do away with traffic jams.

But wait! you say. What is supposed to happen is that there will be more than one passenger in these vehicles. thus reducing traffic jams. Ah ha, I say. Then why aren’t people car pooling by the tens of thousands today? It would save them time and money. What is going to be different in a few decades that will make people want to share their rides downtown?

So we have all these self driving cars down town. Where are they going to wait for their passengers to finish work and head home?

AH, you say. They will return home and take the kids to school and to the mall and etc. So, I say, we will have four rush hours instead of two — driving to work downtown, returning home, returning downtown, returning home. Not very efficient, is it.

I”m sure our betters have planned that those heading down town will take rapid transit, buses, or maybe transporters to get to work. So why aren’t they doing that now. It seems that the percentage of people using mass transit hasn’t changed in the last 50 years, even though billions have been spent building the infrastructure to carry them.

Most cities don’t have the transportation infrastructure to handle all these commuters. It will have to be built at a cost of trillions. Who is going to pay for that? But that’s another issue.

Remember level three and four autonomous vehicles won’t cut it. These cars have to be completely without drivers (Level 5) or the business model simply doesn’t work. But even if they exist, where are they going to go when not in use? Will we have empty garages during the day, but full garages at night, when they are maintained, recharged, cleaned, and etc.

We now have full garages during the day and empty garages at night. Those cars that originate in the burbs will have to have places to go for their charging, cleaning and maintenance. This is most probably not the typical single family garage. If that is the case, the business model of me not owning a car but simply paying for it by use goes away.  I’m certainly not going to house and maintain a car I don’t own.

It seems to me that rather than stew over the end of parking, we should think of the end of parking as we know it. The “new parking” will be storage, maintenance, charging, cleaning and repair facilities. It would seem that the revenue generated from that activity would be greater than the revenue generated from a simple parking operation.

New facilities would have to be built in the burbs, existing parking structures would have to be revamped. Combo facilities, that provided storage/maintenance at night and normal parking operation for those hapless few that continued to drive themselves during the day.

The fantasy above is only one scenario. I’m sure if we thought about it, we could come up with a myriad of others.

Now is not the time to be afraid, but the time to look forward to a simply wonderful future.

By the way – most people who think about autonomous vehicles tell me that they would love the vehicle to drive them from Houston to Dallas, or LA to Vegas or Indianapolis to Florida, but would prefer to drive themselves around town. How does that fit into the mix?

JVH

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