I AM a new, though somewhat reluctant convert to the Church of the Autonomous Electric Vehicle (AEV).
I must give credit where credit is due. Clinton “put a mural on it” Edminster has witnessed his AEV faith to me on many occasions.
Among his many hats, Clinton wears one labeled President of the Self-Driving Vehicle Coalition (SDVC) of Coastal Georgia, if you didn’t know. It’s hard to keep up.
So, eventually I took a closer look at this supposed future-trend that in the past I’d been very skeptical and dismissive of, considering it a form of techno-Pollyannaism (which I don’t completely retract).
Into my hands was placed an innocuous sounding recruitment document—“Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030” by the RethinkX think-tank (Google it). I dare you to read the executive summary and not get excited about robot cars.
The RethinkX analysis, which claims to do a better job of taking into account the dynamics of a disruptive technology than other analyses of AEVs, forecasts that by 2030, 95 percent of vehicle miles travelled will be in “on-demand autonomous electric vehicles.”
The vast majority of these AEVs will not be personally owned, but part of a fleet. Riders will pay by the ride, or purchase a plan with a particular fleet. These fleets will also mesh with public transportation networks, creating a seamless web that provides access to all corners of urban areas, and reaching out beyond.
This is the end-game for Uber and Lyft (and Google, and Tesla...). Their current systems (with human drivers, ha) are just potty-training you for the real revolution, my friends.
The report predicts that individually owned internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will still make up 40 percent of vehicles in 2030, but they will account for only 5 percent of miles driven.
Thus in the near future, the decision to personally own a car will become much like the decision to own a boat—you won’t need one, but it might be fun to have, and will also be seen as something of a status symbol, a declaration of personal freedom.
Some people will still need to own a land vehicle of some sort, either by trade, or because of where they live. A roofer needs a truck, just as a shrimper needs a boat.
In rural areas, where the cost of operating an AEV fleet rises dramatically, as do wait times, residents will likely still need to have their own vehicles, just as people living on islands have boats.
For most everyone else, personal ownership just won’t make sense anymore.
As the report states: “Individual vehicle ownership, especially of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, will enter a vicious cycle of increasing costs, decreasing convenience and diminishing quality of service.”
Sounds just like owning a boat, am I right?
But wait, you say, having to constantly pay by the ride is going to be too expensive. Not according to the report—fleet membership will be four to 10 times cheaper than buying a new vehicle, and even be two to four times cheaper than buying and driving a used car.
Estimated savings for the average family is $5,600 a year. Aggregated across the country, that’s over $1 TRILLION of newly disposable income per year, or “the largest infusion of consumer spending in history.”
Damn. It will be like having a fleet of magic carpets that put money in your pocket. But some downsides immediately come to mind. The RethinkX report glosses over the biggest with this bullet point:
“Conventional energy and transportation industries will suffer substantial job loss. Policies will be needed to mitigate these adverse effects.”
Boy, is that an understatement. We are talking millions and millions of jobs, and not just jobs lost due to the robot car revolution. Robots are coming for many more jobs, all the time—salespeople and counter workers of all types, accountants, unskilled manual laborers, to name just a few classes that will soon be decimated.
People can retrain, or follow their passions, but to what end? How many people can make a living selling products of the “Maker Culture” to one another on Etsy?
I’m sure that new jobs and industries will arise that we cannot predict. That, or we are going to have to start having some very serious discussions about Universal Basic Income, soon.
And speaking of things we can’t predict, what will The Law of Unintended Consequences have to say about AEV fleets and urban form? It seems like they would make dense, compact urban form more possible and convenient, but will human desire do the opposite and smear residential development even further across the landscape?
Anyone that can afford to own and maintain a personal self-driving car will be able to make housing choices as if they employed a live-in chauffeur. Commute time is negligible when you can sleep and/or work during it.
And don’t get me started on what the collapse in demand for oil could do in some already volatile regions of the world.
But despite my continued worries and reservations, I have joined the Church of the AEV because I have come to the realization that robot cars can deliver unto me a very dear, very particular bit of wish-fulfillment.
Robot cars don’t need to park. Therefore, people will have to shut up about parking issues. To me, that is worth the loss of millions of jobs and any prospect of peace in the Middle East .
NIMBYs will have to think of a new go-to gripe when they don’t want something, other than “there won’t be enough parking.” Oh, glory be to that day!
Another favorite gripe, sometimes sincere and other times just NIMBYism wearing SJW clothing, is “it displaces affordable housing.” Hopefully this can also be taken off the board, thanks to robot cars.
Real estate is a zero-sum game—in reality anything that isn’t affordable housing is displacing affordable housing. Therefore, the biggest use displacing affordable housing is, you guessed it, parking lots.
I can give you facts and figures about how much surface parking we have in this country, but I will not. Just look around. It’s everywhere.
Douglas Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, once said on a Freakonomics podcast: “America is the Saudi Arabia of developable land” due to the incredible amount of surface area we allot to parking.
By 2030, perhaps churches alone can solve our affordable housing shortages by turning their now-useless (and property tax free) surface parking lots into affordable housing. I can think of many church parking lots in highly desirable areas for working class people. Step up, churches.
But enough of the fevered rantings of the newly converted. Robot cars will happen, quicker than you think.
Rather than being behind the curve, as with most trends, Savannah should be on the bleeding edge of this one.
The Oglethorpe Plan of the Landmark District, with its small blocks, and high proportion of area given to streets, is ideal for the operation of an AEV fleet.
The District can accommodate more residents and more tourists, but it cannot accommodate their cars and parking needs. It’s time to convert.
In 1864, the Mayor and Aldermen of Savannah made a deal with an approaching force, much to the benefit of the city.
It is time to do it again. Let’s make a deal to be an early adopter of an AEV fleet.