The 1989 sci-fi comedy film Back to the Future II gave audiences a glimpse of what transport would be like in the far-off future date of 2015. Flying cars would merge and flow seamlessly in midair motorways, allowing for cities to be large, low-density, and free of congestion. (Something that is ordinarily a geometric impossibility.) And, of course, there was Marty McFly’s famous hoverboard:

Back to the Future hoverboard

Now it’s 2014, and I’ve got to ask: Dude, where’s my hoverboard? Why haven’t any of the promised revolutionary breakthroughs in transport technology actually happened?

Or, more generally: Should New Zealand wait for new, unproven technologies to solve its transport problems, or should it invest in existing technologies instead?

A few people, including the new Minister of Transport, have called for New Zealand to look to driverless cars as a solution to road congestion. Matt reviewed the state of the debate in a recent post. I’d like to look at the issue from an economic perspective instead.

Economists often use the concept of a “production possibilities frontier” to display the alternative production and consumption options available to an economy at a point in time. Here’s an example of a hypothetical PPF for an economy which only produces two goods (“guns” and “butter”). Points inside the curve (like point A) represent underutilisation of resources, while points outside the curve (like point X) are impossible to sustain.

Production_Possibilities_Frontier_Curve.svg
Source: Wikipedia

Importantly, the shape and position of an economy’s PPF depends upon the technology (and techniques) that are in use. Over the long term, economic growth means shifting the curve outwards by adopting better, more efficient technology. And I’d like to stress “adopting” rather than “inventing”. While some countries have done well by developing new technologies, the best way for underdeveloped countries to raise their living standards has been to adapt proven technologies. Technology transfer is almost always easier and cheaper than inventing totally new technologies.

This is how east Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and (most recently) China have become wealthy. They didn’t wait around for unproven pie-in-the-sky ideas to come along – they just figured out how to do the same things that successful countries were already doing. If Japan had decided, in the 1950s, to await the semiconductor revolution rather than figuring out how to make cheap copies of American consumer electronics and cars, it would still be a poor country.

The same is true for New Zealand’s transport system. In economic jargon, our transport system is far behind the technology frontier. While we have an extensive and relatively well-managed road network, we have failed to adopt a number of technologies and techniques that have been proven elsewhere. As a result, Auckland has:

  • A suburban rail network that can’t provide metro-style levels of service due to the lack of the 3 kilometre City Rail Link tunnel – in spite of the evidence from numerous overseas cities that frequent rail systems are efficient ways of moving a lot of people without congestion
  • A serious lack of safe cycling infrastructure – in spite of the fact that cities that have made cheap, efficient investments in cycling have reaped the rewards in terms of health and wellbeing
  • A single busway, and slow (but steady) progress on further busways – in spite of the fact that they are a cheap and easy-to-implement ways of getting high-quality rapid transit to underserved areas of cities.

Because these technologies already exist, we could implement them now and reap the benefits immediately. If we want to rapidly improve our transport system – i.e. move our PPF outwards – we should look to existing but underutilised technologies rather than awaiting this decade’s version of Marty McFly’s hoverboard.

A recent CityLab series on the future of transportation makes this point clearly. The cities that are moving ahead rapidly are largely investing in proven technologies like bus rapid transit, light rail, and cycling infrastructure. (As well as low-cost improvements to existing technologies like bike share.) They are not holding off on smart investments while awaiting new technologies.

PPF_expansion.svg
Auckland desperately needs technology transfer (Source: Wikipedia)

By contrast, there are three big reasons why waiting on unproven technologies like driverless cars will make us worse off.

  • Waiting for new technologies imposes a significant opportunity cost. If we use the future promise of driverless cars as a reason to avoid investing in the City Rail Link, safe cycling infrastructure, and busways right now, we will sacrifice years of better transport outcomes.
  • Waiting for new technologies is risky, because new technologies may not ever succeed. An in-depth Slate article on driverless cars highlights how far they need to come before widespread deployment. There are big problems to solve in navigation and safety in poor weather conditions. Computers are still not very good at dealing with unpredictable situations.
  • Even if the technology was available today, it would still take decades to replace New Zealand’s entire vehicle fleet. New Zealanders own 2.7 million passenger cars, and it would cost tens of billions to fully replace them. New cars entering the fleet today will still be on the road in 15-20 years. In other words, we wouldn’t see the benefits of a fully driverless vehicle fleet until the 2040s or so.

In addition, many people actually enjoy driving quite a lot and wouldn’t really want to be chauffeured around by a robot. Driverless cars are not a good substitute for a V8!

While driverless cars (or hoverboards for that matter) sound exciting, we can’t afford to pin all of our hopes on them. The pragmatic, proven way forward for transport in a big city is the same as it’s always been: Give people good transport choices by investing in efficient rapid transit networks, frequent bus services, and safe walking and cycling options.

It may seem boring, but as an economist I’ll take tried-and-true over utopian fantasies any day.

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56 comments

  1. Here is the problem I have with driverless cars. Imagine sometime in a driverless, motorway centric utopia you have have friends who buy a new house in the new, distant suburb of Farbush. Where just 12 months ago there were nothing but a few horses in a scrubby paddock, now new streets have been made and construction sites have sprung up on sections everywhere. So you get in your car with it’s updateable Heuristic Automotive Library of street maps, or HAL.
    Me: “HAL, I would like to go Longway Street, Farbush”.
    HAL: “Do you mean Longway street, Devonport or Longway Avenue, Great Barrier Island?
    Me: “No, Longway street Farbush thank you”.
    HAL: “I’m sorry, I can’t find that location, have you updated your maps with patch 103.21”?
    Me (resigned voice) “No”.
    HAL “Please login using your provided user ID and pay $25 for your maps to be updated”.
    Me: “Just start the car and open the steering wheel to “manual”, HAL”.
    HAL: “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t allow you to do that”.

    I mean, who wants to argue with a car?

  2. At best, driverless technology will marginally improve efficiency of private vehicle travel.

    But at the same time it could equally be applied to bus/train, thereby improving their relative efficiency as well – in fact by a larger amount than private vehicles.

    For this reason this technology seems likely to shift optimal point on production frontier towards mass transit, not away from it.

  3. I can’t see driverless cars ever happening on a large scale. Apart from the huge technological challenges described in the Slate article, having driverless cars means having fewer cars. Car companies love the fact that people buy cars that sit unused for most of the day, and turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

  4. Imagine if this ever comes to pass, so we all have driverless cars in 2040, Great.
    But now the powers that be want us all to use the next generation of technology (Driverless Cars 2.0), but you can’t just roll out a software update to all the current models – for all sorts of reason, not least as the car itself will need new hardware and software and no manufacturer wants to support 10 year old tech when they have newer models to sell.
    So for a period of time (at least 10+ years or longer) we will need to have mix of old (1.0) and new (2.0) versions of Driverless cars on the road, as you will be well aware, this would mean that the benefits of the new version would not be able to fully used until everyone was on the 2.0 version. So any updates to the technology will take years to be rolled out.

    I don’t think this “upgrade” cycle beyond the initial adoption phase has been considered and it will mean that driverless tech will take a long time to be universally rolled out, and as Stu said more likely to appear first in high value vehicles like mass transit (trains, buses) than cars/taxis.
    But this will also mean that the upgrade cycles can be shorter and allowed for in the design.

    This is the same problem that the “Internet of Things” world is gradually coming to realise it has to come to grips with too, as its the same problem, just, way way larger for the IOT world.

    1. Given how many years of software rewrites, patches and upgrades it took for Windows to become even moderately bug free it will be a cold day in hell before I will trust my life on city streets to Driverless Car software version 2.0 or even v5.0.

      The current Windows 8 and Mac OSX 10.10 are the latest top of the line products in consumer level computing, the end result of decades of research and development in the software industry and they still freeze and crash.

    2. I suspect that government interest in driverless technology is related to fact that research and development is currently being borne by private companies overseas.

      The NZ government doesn’t have to pay the cost of inventing this new technology and the cars, once they are on the market, will be purchased by private individuals.

      Government can say they don’t need to invest in any more new public transport infrastructure because, look, this new exciting transport mode will be here any time now and all our transport woes will be gone.

      Much cheaper than using New Zealand’s money to pay for the needs of New Zealand’s citizens.

  5. It’s all backwards. The goal shouldn’t be to eliminate the driver, it should be to eliminate the car. The problem isn’t too many drivers, it’s too many cars. Having 20,000 driverless cars on the road isn’t much different from having 20,000 driver-ed cars. If you’re going to go driverless, the best way is to have driverless buses or trains, which is current technology anyway. (There are driverless trains in many airports around the world. The Port of Rotterdam has GPS-guided driverless trucks that move containers around without a fixed guideway.)
    Efficiency is best when the square or cubic footage/meterage of vehicles is optimised on a per passenger basis.

    1. well said. I’d simply add that many new metro systems, e.g. vancouver and copenhagen, are also driverless. They tend to have significantly lower operating costs and – in the case of Vancouver’s SkyTrain – run at an operating profit. It’d be nice to see our government put down it’s modal bias when evaluating the merits of driverless technology and acknowledge that the most immediate potential relates to the urban rail networks in Auckland and Wellington.

      There’s little reason why in 20 years time Auckland’s rail network could not be 1) driverless and 2) operating at a profit. I note that the one busway we have built is running at 100% cost recovery barely a few years after it opened. I doubt whether any new highways comes close to achieving that fiscal/economic return.

      Like Peter says, we just need to adopt/implement existing technologies in an efficient manner, rather than dreaming about some future technological development that will save us from the dreaded socialist mass transit system.

        1. back of envelope calculations; steps as follows:
          1. Look at NEX timetables (publicly available) and calculate gross operating costs by multiplying in-service kms by $5 = A
          2. Calculate annual fare revenues from AT board report information = B
          3. Compare A to B and voila, you find NEX must be generating fare revenues that are approximately equivalent to gross costs.

        2. P.s. I have not done the calculation recently, but last time I did it was something like $10million in costs and $10million in revenues. As patronage has grown faster than service levels since than time, it may even be operating at a profit now.

        3. may I also just say that this is an excellent post?!? Very thought-provoking … hopefully Simon Bridges reads it …

    2. Agreed,

      Its a solution looking for a problem to fix.

      The current thinking of proponents goes:

      We can probably eliminate a lot of cars on the roads – if we can all share a lesser number of cars between more people – so if we can “re-use” a car somehow ,ergo less cars on the road.
      How can we share the same car when people don’t all want to go to the same places or at the same time?
      Lets make them all driverless – so they can act like taxis, without the expense of being one (i.e. having a human driving it).

      Ok, might work.

      (and heres the but) – they don’t think the rest through:

      If everyone has their own driverless car that drives them around to pick you up/drop you off and then find parking somewhere when you’ve got to your destination, then that won’t reduce the number of cars people need much will it? You’ll get a lot more trips made as all the to/fro trips and the waiting for “your” driverless car to find its way to you from wherever it parked.

      So to fix that we need to get people sharing these cars like they might a taxi or a bus.

      But if we rely on people sharing the same vehicle (either at the same time, or over time), isn’t that a lot of what public transport does now so why would we wait for a decade or more, and pay more money for the same “solution” we can have now – and for less $$?

      And also why would people who won’t use any Public Transport now, (but who do drive) use such car sharing mechanisms instead of continuing with what they do now?
      So won’t they continue simply driving themselves in their own car or having their own personal driverless car?

      And if we do that we won’t reduce the total number of cars on the road at peak (congestion) times – is this tech actually solving any real world problem except putting more money a few peoples pockets?

      And if those who currently do use PT switch to using driverless cars, won’t that also make the problem worse?

      1. I thought the idea was (sometime in the car-utopia future) driverless cars could go faster and drive closer together, and not need to stop for traffic lights. The idea being that congestion would be solved as these cars would be smarter and wouldn’t cause traffic jams, or something like that. Personally I think its an idiotic pipe dream, but this is the only way I could see driverless cars having a significant effect on ‘solving’ any kind of transport issue.

        1. That is indeed the selling point – that driverless cars will reduce the amount of space taken up by cars, especially on the roads. Reducing following distance (and, potentially, synchronising braking to avoid rolling traffic jams) could in theory increase the amount of cars that could safely move on a single motorway lane.

          However, we won’t see these benefits any time soon. Realising them would require most or all of the vehicle fleet to be driverless – and, as I’ve noted, that would take at least two decades even if the technology was fully market-ready today.

          And even then busways or rail lines could move a greater number of people in the same amount of space. And we could start building those today, because the technology already exists.

          When it gets down to it, driverless cars aren’t a “transformational technology” at all – they’re simply a fantasy that allows people to imagine that they won’t have to transform anything about our transport investment system.

        2. “Reducing following distance (and, potentially, synchronising braking to avoid rolling traffic jams) could in theory increase the amount of cars that could safely move on a single motorway lane.” Yes, exactly. It’s called a “train.” An amazing idea. Maybe someone should convince Simon Bridges and Dick Quax that they thought of it. As for driverless cars, I think the only way they make sense from a transport efficiency sense is as a car-share system. You don’t own the car, you simply schedule/request one from your iPhone app (or the implant in your left shoulder or whatever), and it picks you up and drops you off then goes back into the queue. Think about all the cars that are sitting somewhere doing nothing right now. We have a serious oversupply of cars at most times of day, and an under-supply of capacity at others. If driverless cars can rationalise this – allowing a significant increase in fleet utilisation, with *less* infrastructure – they may have a future.
          Perhaps the driverless cars are positioned at major transit hubs. Train to New Lynn, for example, then a driverless ride to Kelston. Buy the Platinum service and you get a car with a TV and swimming pool and no stops. Base package car gets you there but might pick up someone along the way. In any event, cars would be used as needed for specialised trips but most PMT – people miles traveled – would be in trains/buses/ferries/et al. So you wouldn’t just get cars off the road, you’d get them out of existence completely. Much less land wasted for parking, far fewer driveways and garages, narrower streets, huge benefits to safety. Shall I go on? (No, you already have.)

        3. Yet word is that AVs have to have ‘legal following distances’ programmed into their software….they won’t be uber close and they’ll be cut in on by human piloted vehicles, then they’ll fall back again. Rinse and repeat. Fun times..

    1. Hmmm … that seems like an electroc-magnet strapped to someone’s feet. While I appreciate the physical effect is the same in this context, it would not give the user the freedom to roam like a real hoverboard – because you’d be able to go only where there were magnets in the ground first. Or am I being too cynical/splitting hairs?

      1. Stu you are right,

        That tech demo mentioned above was really for a industrial “hover-pallet” which could be loaded up with goods and items, “hovered”, then pushed around a factory easily rather than requiring a forklift say.
        But it using the fact that a special metallic “floor” is needed for it to work.

        So its not the same as the one in Back to the Future which worked above any surface.

    1. Replying and expanding with that first comment in mind I would also say that driverless Buses etc would simply work better than driverless cars. You have a known route with hopefully a designated right of way as well as a larger number of people to amortise the cost over. A $100,000 system makes more sense on a $400,000 bus than it does on a $25,000 car. You also have a space advantage where you can actually fit the large processing requirements to what a typical bus can power and physically accommodate. Finally as a lot of buses are essentially idle a large proportion of the time you can run many of them fully electric, and you won’t have to worry about finding people who want to work split shifts, so in effect you could rotate them as they need to be recharged with no issues.

      Look at the maths — even at $10,000 a system if you spread that over 10-20 cars it would still cost $80-190k more than a single bus (assuming the bus cost more than a car to automate). At 50 or 100k it looks ridiculous.

  6. It’s definitely a very big if, but if and when driverless cars ever work, they won’t have much effect on traffic congestion, and in fact all the dead running may make traffic worse.

    The big change is what they’ll do to parking. Driverless cars will pick up and drop off anywhere, and can then trundle off for however far they need to go to find a free parking space. Taxis will just go on to the next pickup, but even if they’re privately owned, it’ll be worth travelling several kilometres to save a few dollars on parking. There’ll be no point in having long-stay parking in city and town centres at all. Anywhere that car-parking might cost money, driverless cars can just burn a few mL of petrol and find on-street parking in a residential or industrial side-street somewhere instead.

    This of course has a big relevance to us today: investments in parking buildings, underground parking, and other structures won’t be valuable in the long-term, and surface carparks will become valuable redevelopment sites. The main policy changes we should be looking at to prepare for driverless cars are… getting rid of parking minimums, and flogging off our publicly-owned parking buildings before the bottom drops out of the market.

    1. Absolutely right, but a real reduction in parking depends on people’s view of cars changing. They are currently personal things, an extension of your home/personality, used as a receptacle for things – “car-as-handbag” – as well as a means of transport – “car-as-transport”. A psychological change from personal to shared property will not be quick or easy to achieve, as the slow pickup in car clubs shows.

      1. From a recent Vancouver report:
        – 65,000 car share members in Metro Vancouver
        -1,000 shared vehicles
        – each shared vehicle eliminates or avoids the purchase of five to 11 privately owned cars.

        1. 1,000 car share vehicles in Vancouver is great, but it’ll be a very small proportion of the total number of cars in the city – a long way to go!

          The number of cars replaced does show how inefficient the current method of ownership is – according to Donald Shoup on average a car is in use just 5% of the time, a deplorable rate of asset utilisation.

        2. It would help if there were some share cars located out of the city centre. Especially if they were accessible with good cycle infrastructure or frequent public transport.

          If one was within a few kms of my house, it may well be a good option for some trips. We only have one car in our family and that is fine for now but in the future there may times a second car is useful.

          However, if we bought a second car, it would be inactive for 99.999% of the time (as opposed to only 99% of the time like our current car).

      2. > Absolutely right, but a real reduction in parking depends on people’s view of cars changing. They are currently personal things, an extension of your home/personality, used as a receptacle for things – “car-as-handbag” – as well as a means of transport – “car-as-transport”. A psychological change from personal to shared property will not be quick or easy to achieve, as the slow pickup in car clubs shows.

        I think the financial advantages will be too tempting for most people. It eliminates most of the convenience disadvantages of car-share and taxis, and brings the price way down. If driverless cars start to take off there’d be taxis parked on every street, and the wait time would be measured in seconds.

        But even if not – the thing about parking still applies even if everyone continues to own a personal car, since the car can trundle off and find a free park itself. At the moment there’s vastly more parking spaces than cars, since every location needs enough parking within a hundred metres or so for the maximum number of people who’ll ever be there. If memory serves it was calculated there’s something like three parking spaces for every car in the United States. In the world of driverless cars, there doesn’t need to be much more than one parking space per car across a whole city, even if the number of cars stays the same.

    2. +1
      Further to Steve D’s comment I would also say that driverless cars will allow the single person commuter to make other use of the time. At that point it doesn’t matter how long they are stuck in traffic if they can be doing phone-calls, work on the lap-top etc. It can all be charged out. This allows private cars using congested motorways to pretty much claim all the productivity benefits PT supporters claim for Public transport.

      If a “driver-less” motorway links can be established from Warkworth, and from Hamilton all the way into the city, it gives scope for future housing developments to spread over large chunks of land…..life-style block sprawl on a scale never seen before. Potential 150km commutes, here we come. Imagine how many people might drive in from Pauanui each day knowing that they can get the computer to do the driving and charge all their time out.

      When you look at driverless cars in this context, it isn’t about energy efficiency or congestion reduction, or even reducing car parking requirements in the city (useful though this all is). Turning commuting car time into chargeable time, by taking away the driving function from the commuter, facilitates a massive productivity gain by private cars and motorways.

      Yup – at present impractical, but you can bet that billions of dollars are being spent by “Big Oil Inc.” to try to make it happen.

      1. How is this any better than suburban railway lines with park-and-ride stations? We can already build those, which is one of the reasons that people can live in Pukekohe or Upper Hutt.

        Even if this happens – which it probably won’t – urban space will remain expensive. Which means that when people get to the end of their 150km driverless commute, they will have to pay out the nose to park their driverless car. If people attempt to avoid parking costs by sending the cars back to from where they came, it will simply strengthen the rationale to impose congestion charging rather than having the public pay for a lot of expensive, space-hungry road expansions to allow cars to circulate around without anyone inside them.

    3. No need to flog them off anytime soon – for when the arse drops out of the car park market.
      Its better to hang on to them and ensure that they can easily redeveloped into offices or apartments – to maximise the long term return to the ratepayer in future years.
      [or even – shock, horror, kept for use as future “social housing” to cater for for all those retired people (couples and singles) who won’t want to live in some retirement home in the wops].

      1. The really irritating thing about parking buildings is that they are generally impossible to redevelop, since the floors are too close together. Lots of them are barely over 2 metres floor to ceiling, which isn’t enough space to refit offices or apartments. A few buildings are built with deliberately high ceilings so they can be repurposed, but most will need to be completely knocked down.

        Still, maybe one or two buildings might have some future use as bicycle parks… until the riderless bicycle takes over 😉

  7. The real issue is that electric and driverless technologies are almost certainly ‘disruptive’ [an often overstated phrase], but what they will each disrupt is a really interesting question.

    My view is that EVs will, eventually, seriously disrupt the Service Station business and the fuel tax system, and big oil too [see Z Energy’s poor profit news today for stress in that field already from driving drop]

    While AVs [autonomous vehicles] will disrupt private vehicle ownership and use. In other words they will in fact seamlessly fit with volume PT, being a form of personal PT. The Smartphone is the personal owned device; movement vehicles will be used and passed on, whether big or small; both will grow in use.

    See below:

    ‘…familiarity and personalization of transportation comes from what is on my mobile device, not in the car, making the transition from one vehicle to another much more seamless’

    http://a16z.com/2014/07/09/auto-autonomy-cars-are-racing-toward-disruption/

    1. It is becoming clear that Steve Jobs was the Henry Ford of our era: The Smartphone is the Model-T of our time.

      Neither were new inventions, it is the mass distribution of existing technologies that really changes the world.

      1. It’s ironic in that in many ways he is a Henry Ford emulator. One thing I think people don’t understand about Apple is that they offer what I call ‘quality at volume’ which comes from the fact that they only sell high quality goods, but they have few models, so the overall volume is really high. Consider things like the iPad which offered a quality IPS screen which had better quality than laptops twice the price. They can really drive hard bargains on what you would normally call ‘niche or expensive’ technologies and make them mainstream. Where would high DPI IPS screens be for instance without Apple leading the pack?

        I’m writing this on a Mac. I kind of hate a few things about it, but when I bought it I was desperate not to buy one. I spent weeks looking for an alternative that had long battery life, not 768P screen, backlit keyboard (night owl) as well as a competitive price (with the Air). I could buy the equivalent, but it cost $3-500 more for pretty much the exact same thing.

  8. I agreed with everything but this bit was pretty shocking;

    It may seem boring, but as an economist I’ll take tried-and-true over utopian fantasies any day.

    As an Economist !!?? That’s not how economics works is it? I thought economists lived in an alternate reality where banks don’t loan money they don’t have, and where people make rational choices with perfect knowledge…

    1. Ha! I’m glad I retain the ability to shock!

      Without defending the policy recommendations of every economist in the world (there are lots, and they often have robust disagreements), I do think that the “rational expectations” idea can be a good starting assumption to use when analysing a situation. In other words, you look at what people have actually done, and say, “Let’s assume that they’re making rational decisions. What would that imply about how the world works?”

      Of course, at that point you have to be willing to go back and question your assumption of perfect rationality – in other words, to say “There are some things that are going on here that are inconsistent with the rational expectations model. What does _that_ mean?”

      That being said, don’t let us off the hook when we don’t undertake that crucial second step!

  9. I think taxis and then buses will be the driving force behind driverless cars entering the mainstream market as it makes the most business sense. Have a spare 100k to invest? By a driverless car, connect it to Uber and watch the income roll in. I think buses may come first as a fixed route is more conducive to driverless vehicle technology.

    However, I think many commenters are missing a key point of driverless cars.These cars may have a minor effect on reducing congestion and changing peak travel patterns. Matched with electric vehicles they will have a bigger impact on our economy through less oil imports. However the key point is that they will significantly reduce road deaths in the long run. I think 60% of accidents are caused entirely by drivers and another 30% by the combination of drivers and road conditions. Cars will be around for a long time used by large portions of the population. Alcohol and wannabe racers will always be around. Driverless cars will reduce the number of deaths, injuries and general damage to society. I recall reading an article of a top NZ brain surgeon who was killed in a car crash not his fault. The value of a brain surgeon is immeasurable. So reducing congestion is a secondary or tertiary benefit of driverless cars. The primary benefit is that rich people can show off.

    Regardless, the post raises a fair point. Waiting around for technology to fix the problem is a terrible strategy. Work with what works best now.

    1. I agree about EVs, eventually they will change the fuel demand and pollution situation positively, and will post more on this when I have time. But EVs don’t require autonomous technology; it’s a separate issue.

      But additionally EVs still are spatially inefficient, they are still just cars, and while i look forward to their uptake they still don’t address the universal inefficiencies of urban auto-depenency.

      They are not a replacement for Rapid Transit systems in cities, but are a good complement to them.

      1. ….and there are still some big questions to be asked around long term supply, economic and environmental sustainability of mass market car batteries for EVs – both supply and disposal.
        There is technology around for remote pick-up of power under the road for trams, buses, trucks and potentially cars. This technology would be for very busy roads only – eg motorways. But may allow for a variation of the hybrid technology with “mains electric power” on high traffic streets, and battery and/or fossil fuel power “off the grid”. Heavy and complex though I suspect to get multiple engine platforms into one vehicle.

        1. Range anxiety is overstated. Most journeys in cities (where we increasingly are) are well within even current EV storage. Motoring press and encumbant vehicle manufacturers bang on about it endlessly. Expensive induction infra only likely to be cost effective for big mass transit like trains and buses… And rich people’s garages (too posh to plug!)

        2. Range anxiety not the issue, many advances there. The big issue to manage is battery recycling and disposal.

          But, on the biggest issue, the carbon friendly nature of electricity itself, NZ is in a great space….quite a contrast to Australia with its dirty coal power stations. For Oz, dust is apparently an issue to widespread adoption of solar arrays leaving nuclear as one other obvious option on the table.

          The initial business case for wireless power use on the busiest motorways and arterial roads through congested city centres (eg Queen Street) will be driven by trams, buses, trucks etc. But, once installed, there is every possibility for the technology to be extended to include private cars.

    2. I’m not sure that driverless buses and taxis will happen that quickly, largely because of how they interface with passengers. How will they tell the difference between intending passengers and other pedestrians, or know when to kneel, or get close to the kerb if there are obstructons, or detect small or thin but potentially lethal objects like scarves caught in the doors? Most of these things can be solved by dedicated infrastructure such as BRT, but at significant cost.

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