The discussion around driverless vehicles has increased dramatically over the last few years and I suspect will only continue to escalate in the years to come. What’s also increased is the almost religious zeal by which some preach the technology, promising it will deliver some form utopian future. Many of the common claims used by were covered off in an opinion piece by Rodney Hide yesterday. There are a couple of points highlighted in there I want to explore further.

1. Safety

Improving safety on our roads remains the biggest promise of driverless vehicles. It means 300 fewer people in New Zealand and more than 1.2 million worldwide might not need to die on roads. Especially early on, this improved safety will be achieved by the vehicles being much more cautious on our roads as human drivers are much less predictable. More cautious also means slower and how will a trip taking longer by being driverless affect usage. Of course as I’ve pointed out before, it won’t take long for pedestrians to catch on and effectively reclaim the streets simply be threatening to walk across the road and all cars will stop.

Of course, driverless vehicles will only be as good as the technology behind them and based on. For example Uber’s driverless car that was being trialled in San Francisco ran red lights and performed dangerous turns that could have injured people on bikes.

2. Touch of a button mobility

The idea most talked about with driverless vehicles is that people will no longer own a car themselves but instead they will be companies like Uber providing fleets of vehicles for people to use at the push of a button.

Your ride will arrive with a tap of your phone. It will whisk you to your destination and disappear to the next fare.

That’s fine and a great vision but what does that mean in reality, especially when everyone is using the system. Particularly in the suburbs, does this mean there will need to be enough vehicles nearby so people never need to wait more than a few minutes and if so, where are these cars stored. Perhaps they’re just roaming the streets, racking up the kilometres just waiting for someone to need to make a journey. Do we really want to encourage the streets to be constantly filled with vehicles all waiting for a passenger?

3. Land use impacts

If the driverless utopia visions are correct then the land use impacts of the technology could be just as, if not more significant than the transport impacts. Rodney hits at a few of these in his article

No need to own, maintain or garage a car. No need to park it.

….

No wasted space for the parking of cars on the side of the road. No car parks.

If the promised revolution comes anywhere near as soon as some like to suggest then councils and transport agencies need to dramatically change their thinking now on many issues, especially parking. For example, while the Unitary Plan removed parking minimums from many locations, they will still be required in lower density developments. This could saddle property owners with a ‘feature’ which could shortly be obsolete. Freeing developments from parking and associated driveway infrastructure would likely have significant impacts on both the costs of development and the amount of land needed.

Perhaps an even greater impact from a city point of view is the amount of urban land in many of our town and metro centres that suddenly gets freed up and can be used for other purposes. It is interesting to think what impact that would have on urban land prices. As an example, in the map below of Botany, red is buildings and grey is parking.

By removing the need for parking it also means we do not need to invest in expensive park & ride and parking buildings become an obsolete asset. This raises the question of whether we should be making policy changes now in advance of the introduction of driverless vehicles such as divesting or redeveloping parking facilities now and diverting any planned expenditure on new parking facilities elsewhere.

4. Road impacts

Related to above, what happens to our roads if we no longer need to provide on-street parking. Demands for on-street parking by residents and businesses remains one of the biggest barriers to implementing better streets, providing more space for walking, cycling or transit. If driverless vehicles are coming then there should be no reason why agencies like Auckland Transport can’t be much more aggressive in rolling out these networks.

Interestingly the transition to driverless vehicles might not be as smooth as some assume. As this article from the BBC on research in the UK highlights, driverless vehicles will more safety conscious and therefore likely drive slower and more defensively than meat bag driven ones. That could result in a reduction in road capacity until there is enough of them on the roads.

5. Transit impacts

When reading the article, I was wondering at what point I would see the comment below, to be honest I was surprised it was so far near the end.

The investment in trains in Auckland will look as clever as if we had built canals for barges pulled by horses.

The idea that driverless vehicles will suddenly replace the need for well-designed public transport is frankly absurd. As we’ve commented before, driverless technology will also be able to be applied to buses and light rail, and it’s already possible to have driverless trains. Removing the driver will also removes a lot of the marginal cost of services so it means we can run more services for the same amount of money.

Additionally, while driverless vehicles are ultimately likely to improve road throughput, it still won’t be enough in dense cities. As Jarrett Walker points out, it’s not an engineering problem, it’s a geometry problem.

So a bus with 4o people on it today is blown apart into, what, little driverless vans with an average of two each, a 20-fold increase in the number of vehicles?   It doesn’t matter if they’re electric or driverless.  Where will they all fit in the urban street?  And when they take over, what room will be left for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, pocket parks, or indeed anything but a vast river of vehicles?

A driverless vehicle from your house is probably as likely to drop you at a train or busway station to continue your journey as it is take you all the way yourself.

6. Job impacts

The impact the technology will have on jobs is one not often discussed but rapid adoption is likely to be seriously disruptive to all of society.

There won’t be neighbourhood auto shops.

There will simply be fleets of driverless vehicles to maintain. The vehicles will be run 24/7 and serviced accordingly.

The savings will be dramatic. There will be no drivers. Freight and people will be shifted quickly, safely and efficiently.

Driverless vehicles will transport your children to school like a taxi, cheaper than a bus.

A trip to Christchurch will be done overnight while you sleep. The fare will be the running cost plus your minuscule share of the vehicle’s depreciation and maintenance.

According to Stats NZ, as of 2015 there were the following numbers of people employed in these industries:

  • 18,970 people in Automotive Repair and Maintenance
  • 17,390 people in Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Parts Retailing
  • 7670 people in Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Parts Wholesaling
  • 36120 people in Road Transport – this includes both freight (72%) and passenger transport (28%)

Combined, these make up about 4% of all jobs in NZ and I’m sure there are many others directly or indirectly associated with our road transport system. Now obviously not all will disappear with the advent of driverless technology but a good number would, almost certainly more than half. If it were to happen suddenly then the impact on employment in NZ would be greater than the Global Financial Crisis had where the number of people employed dropped by 2.5%.

6. Financial impacts

Finally, driverless vehicles are likely to have some serious financial implications with some potentially massive savings. One, even acknowledged in ATAP was that it “could present opportunities to defer or avoid future investment in additional road capacity”. In other words, we don’t need to spend more on new/bigger roads if the technology makes the current ones safer and have greater capacity. It also saves money in other areas too, such as road policing which is currently funded out of fuel taxes to the tune of over $300 million annually.

I do see driverless vehicles becoming an important part of our transport system but I don’t think they’re going to deliver the utopia some believe.

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81 comments

  1. I have to disagree….. “it’s already possible to have driverless trains. Removing the driver will also removes a lot of the marginal cost of services so it means we can run more services for the same amount of money.” the dwell time because of safety interlocks already makes trains slower. Removing the driver won’t allow for more services, capacity of the network is what’s holding it up. The CRL isn’t going to be the silver bullet either. Britomart will remain a choke point with a twin track throat and points that fail. Automation relies on everything running according to plan, signalling issues, points failures and humans still walking on tracks means we’ll still need humans in charge other wise we may as well all stay at home and let public transport cart robots to work and social engagements. 🙂

    1. Yes you do need humans in charge, the entire Vancouver metro system is indeed operated by a staff of three people (well arguably only two, the operator and shift manager, but there is a back up operator also).

      1. Great in a “sealed system” as in India’s Delhi metro etc. But NZ has open corridors with level crossings and human able to fall jump throw themselves or each other in the path of trains. My point is technology isn’t perfect and humans need jobs. We are not an “extra cost” people need jobs and the economy needs money going around. If not well we won’t need mass transit because no one will have to go anywhere.

        1. You are correct that people need jobs, but that doesn’t mean obsolete jobs need to be protected, otherwise we would still have lift attendants, a driver and a fireman operating a train. Jobs become obsolete and new jobs develop all of the time, think of all of the new IT related jobs in the last 30 years. Savings made from not having train drivers leaves more money in people’s pockets to spend elsewhere, thus creating new jobs.

        2. I’ll bring that up at the next meeting of The Society for the Reinstatement of Elevator and Telephone Switchboard Operators.

    2. More services isn’t just referring to trains and is not saying trains could run more frequent than what the infrastructure can handle, but could for example mean more services off peak. And while there are not yet driverless trains on an open network like ours, implementing driverless tech on a rail network would be considerably easier than driverless cars

  2. The most realistic expectation for driverless cars is that they will supersede driven cars. They will provide mostly improvements in safety but only limited improvements in mobility.

    There are many utopian theories to suggest they will eliminate congestion, eliminate the need for ownership, eliminate parking requirements, eliminate traffic enforcement, eliminate traffic signals and make public transport obsolete. I’m not buying any of those theories.

    1. I’ll enjoy watching driverless cars reactions to motorcycles splitting lanes. To think there’ll be driverless cars everywhere available all at the same time “rush hour” is like saying if we build more roads and wider roads then we won’t have any congestion. Doh!!

    2. I’ve got no doubt they will eliminate the need to for ownership, that of course doesn’t mean people wont choose to own a car, but it will almost certainly be possible to call up a car meaning ownership is not necessary. It’s probably one of the biggest uncertainties regarding driverless cars as to what proportion of the population will continue to own them.

    3. I have 2 car seats in the back of my car, specifically chosen as ones that I’m used to operating and that I have confidence in.

      How does that work with pooled cars? And until the last driven car is off the roads I don’t think the requirement/need for car seats will go away.

      1. it could work rather easily: When you book a trip in a driverless car, you specify how many child seats you want.

        Of course a lot of these types of options will only become available once the system reaches a certain scale, so I wouldn’t expect it to be offered initially.

        Basically, people like you (with particular needs) are harder to serve with driverless cars, and so won’t be the initial target market. But over time, as demand grows and the market matures, then these options are likely to be thrown in with a capitalist grin.

          1. I guess car sharing, car rental, and taxi companies already know how to handle that.

            For car seats: I think you’ll quickly learn how to get one in and out of a car quickly.

          2. Sure but this is another scale entirely. Every suburb would need huge parking lots for the cars overnight. And servicing schedules, cleaning etc.

      2. driverless cars are another strategic reason why we don’t need minimum parking requirements.

        Not that we needed any more, really.

  3. Typical innovation bias: “This technology will solve all our problems!!!.” Cars without a steering wheel are decades away from coming to market and becoming mainstream. There are still some situations too complicated to deal with. Google cars only work on certain approved routes in a desert. It will improve but will take time.
    They will have a big impact on society. They will really improve road safety with fewer deaths, but may make congestion worse. Not a silver bullet. I don’t buy any theory they will reduce congestion.

    I doubt they will be cheaper than PT unless we end up with some sort of AirBnB for driverless cars. Cars are very expensive, quickly depreciating liabilities. Taxi companies only survive because of monopoly protection, remove that and your profits are gone. Sure you eliminate the driver, but market forces would make it a highly unprofitable industry, like the airline sector. It would be unwise to invest in that industry.

    1. I think you’re right, true driverless cars that can go anywhere are many decades away, and may never come. We’re simply nowhere close to the level of AI required to match human decision making when driving, even ignoring the fact that driverless cars would have to perform better than human drivers, not just as good as.

      The big impact of these vaporware vehicles is likely to be decreased investment in PT, as governments bet on the imagined panacea of driverless vehicles solving all our problems.

    2. Where to start? I agree that they are decades from becoming mainstream, however “There are still some situations too complicated to deal with. Google cars only work on certain approved routes in a desert. It will improve but will take time.” Tesla are already testing on normal roads, and so are google so this is false, but they do need a ‘safety driver’ waiting in case something goes wrong during testing.

      “I doubt they will be cheaper than PT unless we end up with some sort of AirBnB for driverless cars. Cars are very expensive, quickly depreciating liabilities. Taxi companies only survive because of monopoly protection, remove that and your profits are gone. Sure you eliminate the driver, but market forces would make it a highly unprofitable industry, like the airline sector. It would be unwise to invest in that industry”” Monopoly? (Bluebubble, corporate cabs, cheap cabs, green cabs to name a few in Auckland even with competition from Uber and Zoomy). Hmm Uber is one of the companies trailing driverless cars for this, I dont think it will be cheaper for singular use however sharing an Uber is already usually cheaper, yet alone without a driver. Also the airline industry is a very profitable competitive industry so not sure on the relation here, hence Jetstar is investing heavily into NZ domestic, and why Auckland Airport is expanding heavily to account for increased traffic and new airlines. Probably not a bad industry at all to invest in actually.

      1. Airports are inherently profitable companies all else being equal because they’re often monopolies. You can have secondary airports competing for business, but they’re often further away from the main city it serves so comes with those disadvantages. Auckland Airport has a major monopoly as the only commercial airport for our only city of scale.

        Airlines however, are inherently profitable. In an unregulated environment, they chase customers with lower prices and profits can be hard to come by. http://www.investopedia.com/stock-analysis/031714/why-airlines-arent-profitable-dal-ual-aal-luv-jblu.aspx

      2. Hi Josh, like I said. Typical innovation bias. It’s not false. You need to do a bit more research into the technological issues and not be blinded by the hype. I said cars without steering wheels being mainstream is decades away. Tesla is not testing cars without steering wheels. Yet. And someone got decapitated relying on the Tesla AI showing glaring issues with sensors that engineers knew about. Google cars operate on carefully mapped routes, they cannot operate independently of their mapping system, they also operate only in an area that rarely rains, snows etc. There are significant issues with a small set of situations where driverless cars have no idea what to do. So I stand by my statement that cars without steering wheels will not be mainstream for some time.

        As for the airline industry, do some more research into it and into profitability of industries. As a whole, the industry has lost billions over the past several decades. It is not very profitable at all. Just because someone invests into an industry, it doesn’t mean it will be profitable. There is a reason why Air NZ is owned by the NZ government and why many national carriers are owned by their respective governments. (airports are a different story, but they operate as a monopoly.)

        Uber is fooling around with driverless cars as a PR stunt. There is still someone actually driving the thing. The cars they use are only driverless on motorways. Uber don’t actually want to own their own fleet of cars. They make money precisely because they don’t have to own any cars. They get other people to use their own cars. They avoid taxi regulation because they say they don’t own cars. Buying a whole fleet of driverless cars will not be profitable unless you have a monopoly (which Uber is destroying). Taxi’s profits arise from a monopoly by needing special licences. Remove the monopoly and competition destroys the profitability of the industry. The consumer benefits, but the competing companies don’t.

        1. It’s hard to take you seriously when you keep referring to taxi’s as a monopoly, when there are numerous companies in Auckland and like Uber most taxis are owned by the driver not the company, meaning there are thousands of operators, this is definitely not a monopoly.

        2. I don’t really care if you take me seriously or not. That is actually your problem, not mine. I think you just don’t understand my point.

          I’m talking about basic economics. The global taxi industry as a whole has historically operated as a monopoly. Monopoly is how they have maintained their profits, by limiting the number of taxi’s. Yes, NZ deregulated taxis in the 80’s and more than doubled the number of taxi’s. The numbers quadrupled in Auckland alone in a few years, but taxi prices havent really come down. Sure it isn’t a monoply any more in the purest sense, but it is still an oligarchy where power is in the hands of a few. The two big tax companies actually own over a dozen other taxi companies between them to pretend there is some competition. One man owns like 5 different taxi companies. Operators don’t set the prices, the companies do, even if it is a cooperative. If two big companies own all the other companies, is it real competition? So no, I argue that the taxi industry in Auckland is still very monopolistic in practice even if there are 40 different “companies” operating. In reality there are just a handful, but the profits are going to the owners of the companies, rather than the exploited operators.

  4. So… our children won’t need to learn to drive, yet driverless cars still require a person to sit and potentially take over the wheel in the event of an emergency / unforeseen event. Would you want a person who has never driven before, to grab the wheel and try to steer / brake, when your driverless car has spotted a traffic anomaly? No, I thought not. There would have to be a period of 10-20 years of changeover, with the dangers of both driven and driverless cars co-existing on the same streets, and ensuing total mayhem.

    I think that driverless cars will be more like the invention of the Segway – the invention that was going to change the world, but didn’t catch on, and now isn’t really allowed on either the roads or welcomed on the footpaths. And then it went bust, was sold to another bloke, who then died falling off a wharf into the sea, or something equally tragic. And then got bought out by its opposition, who undercut it and caused it to fail in the first place. The best option was going to be to miliaturize it, yet how many soldiers have you seen riding a Segway through the streets of Bahgdad?
    So; Segway = disaster / failure / not well thought through.

    Driverless cars also = not well thought through / future disaster / upcoming failure.

    1. Having now just read the article by Rodney Hide, it comes across as typical for ACT – i.e. not well thought through.
      It is typical of a (former) ACT leader – read all the hype, think that the market will solve all the world’s ills, and madly support it, but ultimately, it won’t, and it doesn’t, and Hide will be wrong once again. Of more pressing concern therefore, should be : what is NZ going to do with all of those unemployed taxi drivers if it does succeed?

  5. I think its unlikely that there will be enough driverless Uber’s etc to get everyone to work in rush hour. If so they will be mostly sitting around for the rest of the day so they would need to be incredibly expensive during the peak to be justified. So I think rapid public transport is the future of peak travel, and driverless Uber is the future of off peak travel (if it happens at all).

    1. Exactly like the problem that PT operators face- having large fleets that only get used a couple of times per day at peak periods!

      Another consideration is how will the infrastructure costs that are currently funded through the National Land Transport Fund by RUC and fuel excise duties, will be paid for under a Mobility as a Service scenario where people don’t own their vehicles. Possibly a model similar to electricity pricing, with a fixed “Network Access” component and a variable charge per km (variable by time of day or similar ) might work. This potentially would allow people to make more informed choices about both when and how they travel – e.g a single occupant taxi type journey could have a high per km charge compared to a multi-occupancy bus or train type journey.

    2. Rapid public transport is the future of arterial travel, driver less Uber is the last mile. You need a lot less cars if they only have to run around your suburb taking people from their homes to the nearest bus/train station, then repeat on the other end for station to office/factory.

      This should mean no more having to expend motorways because they are mostly being used for intercity travel or express buses. And you get rid of those silly indirect buses routes that go off through some random streets in the hope that there is 1 person there, freeing up more buses for the core routes. Think of it as the new network taken to the extreme with park and ride replaced by Uber and ride.

      1. I see this use as its greatest value. However I still see plenty of people driving, whether self or automated, as there are times that public transit doesn’t meet peoples needs.

  6. We have seen all this hype before. At the end of the cold war there were thousands of US scientists displaced from the arms industry looking for a new field. ITS popped up as the answer to all our transport problems. Except it didn’t work out that way. I struggle to think of any meaningful advance that has resulted from all of that investment in the last 25 years. The smart cards for PT we have are less useful than the cardboard ticket I had in London in 1991, The signs on motorways telling you travel is slow in the peak might as well be painted signs, The vehicle to vehicle communication that was going to allow less than 2 seconds headway has never happened and if it did we wouldn’t trust it. Now it is driverless cars that are touted as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Please wake me up when the next bullshit idea arrives.

  7. Some people will rush to driverless cars, but I think there will be a large diehard contingent who won’t. Whether the early adopters can legislate them off the road will be a key issue in how successful driverless cars are in realising the high hopes some have pinned on them.

    1. And although there are some people who can’t wait for driverless cars I can think of plenty of petrolheads, both young and old, who wouldn’t be seen dead in a vehicle they were not personally controlling.

    2. I wonder how the authorities will react to your point no.1 that pedestrians will be able to stop all cars easily?

      I can imagine that rather than designing superior software to deal with the problem it would be much easier for the powers that be to criminalise the act of stepping into the road other than at an officially designated crossing point.

      1. I doubt that would be popular. The idea of forcing someone to walk 500m down the road and 500m back up the other side just to visit someone across the road, just isn’t going to fly.

        1. I agree, but bear in mind that the ‘crime’ of jaywalking was invented in the USA in the 1920s to clear the streets for automobiles which were increasing in numbers and were beginning to conflict with other road and street users.

          It really didn’t take long to condition pedestrians into keeping to the sidewalks, freeing up the roads for cars alone.

          1. Fair point, although people in the US will cross a road if it is convenient just like in any other country. The main thing it achieved was ingraining in culture that cars have right of way and only cross the road when it is clear, this is primarily enforced by fear of being run over not by fear of being fined/charged.

            I would imagine if pedestrians didn’t have the fear of being run over they would be much more likely to step out and stop an autonomous car, even if there was a law against it, it would be pretty much unenforceable.

    3. I’m skeptical that we’ll legislate human-driven cars off the road in a hurry. After all, we still allow horses, sheep and cows on our roads if they’re driven by a farmer – not to mention bicycles, skateboards, motorbikes and even very old-school steam traction engines.

  8. I love the future ideas but in reality, the concept of driverless transport is still along, long away into the future. To have driverless transport whether its cars, train, buses, trucks or all of them, you need to dedicated ‘sealed’ infrastructure, as communities will need to be built to cater for it. Where is the trillons of $$ going to come from to upgrade or rebulid the ever increasing sprawl of Auckland to be driverless transport compatible, let along other communities through out New Zealand. By the way, Uber might not around for much longer, as it is already has loss $3billion in its endeavor to get driverless cars. Dreams are free and so is SciFi.

  9. The above reads like an article written from the perspective of someone who is petrified of change.

    It is high time the transport fraternity embraced future technology instead of sticking their head in the sand and coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful reasons why future technologies can’t work.

    1. “It is high time the transport fraternity embraced future technology instead of sticking their head in the sand and coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful reasons why future technologies can’t work.”

      I agree, let’s remove all roads in anticipation of teleportation.

  10. Driverless cars look like a great solution to some problems, but in the focus on the daily commute to work the techno-determinists forget about all the edge cases that are served by peoples’ current cars.

    The Google car pictured is great as a last-mile person transporter, but isn’t going to replace the 4WD people use to tow their boat to the ramp/horse to the paddock/rubbish to the tip, take a family camping or drive from Auckland to Wellington with a dog, a bike and a new clothes drier (as we did on the weekend).

      1. Thats old technology that we had in the 1940’s and is hundreds of years old. the farmer got a skin full and the publican help him into his cart and he slept it of as the horse trotted of to his stable were it new it would get a feed, I used to listen to a horse go past every Saturday night.

    1. +1; existing self driving shared cars (taxis) allow my partner and I to share a car, but will never IMHO replace the other car.

  11. Driverless impact..?! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWgrvNHjKkY

    I think it’s a concern that people in positions of influence are unable to differentiate between realistic technological developments that could well be practically and usefully applied in the short to medium term (increasing levels of driver assistance / automation, essentially on open roads) with really complex technologies that even if/when mature would be subject wholesale social and infrastructural change (driverless Uber to your door, on demand, wherever you live, wherever you want to go).

  12. Totally agree with the comments. If all current commuters are driving driverless cars in 20 year’s time, and all funnelling into the same space in the same time, by definition overall congestion is the same. There could be motorway improvements, if the lane is reserved for driverless only, but nada at the destination. If the cars head back out of the city after drop off, then total traffic is increased.

    More; if everybody wants a car at the same time, then it seems completely impossible that it could every be economic to maintain a big enough fleet of cars for hire. The fleet for hire is unlikely to be larger than the pool of people who want to travel out of peak. Everybody else would have to buy their own.

    Or take transit. Or bicycle. Even for longer trips, electric bikes now make it perfectly feasible to commute by bike, if protected lanes are provided.

  13. I wonder how well driver-less metro freight will work in practice for NZ. Maybe for nodal transport. But a lot of trucking work in cities involves taking one or two pallets from site A to site B. Who is going to supervise the loading of pallets on these trucks? Load balance, making sure it’s the right goods vs destination, etc. Does the location have a forklift, load balance, how do you communicate the exact placement of a container in the yard, what happens if there is a MPI/MAF event that needs to be dealt with during transport.

    A lot of this requires standardisation of process. I question how well this will work in NZ’s small business environment.

    Sending a truck load from Auckland to Wellington is certainly going to be possible. But this will have little impact on city congestion.

    Driver assistance to reduce errors (eg. truck vs bike) is certainly something that will be a social good.

  14. I think retrofitting your existing car to driver-less is more likely than scrapping it, you could then sit in the traffic jam and still do some work or read the paper.

    I just watched the film by Jeromy Irons called Trash and I wonder if the people who propose this new driver-less technology ever consider the impact of building an entire new car fleet.

    We certainly need to scrap this modern energy hungry transport system, unfortunately we are lumbered with the waste and the consequence of that no matter what, but we need to replace it with simpler methods ie. walking, cycling and public transport.

    1. I can’t see a situation where we would ever change overnight from all self-drive to all driverless. It would more likely be early adopters buying driverless cars or just selling their old car and using taxis, slowly moving to the vast majority using them.

  15. Have just been re-reading Rodney’s opinion piece, and thanks for posting on it Matt. A significant pillar of his economic argument is the picture he paints where no-one will own a driverless car and therefore the cost to the consumer will be much lower than currently. What is about these vehicles that will mean we will want to hire rather than buy? What is the difference compared to the current situation?

    As others have mentioned, who will own and operate these services – state? taxi companies? I would expect the problem for a private operator is that demand is greatest in the peak morning and evening through the week with less demand through the day. Most of us drive to work then have our vehicles parked for the day. Thus the operators will need to charge more at these peak times. Additionally there will be the stabling costs. I can’t see how this will be any cheaper than current taxi prices.

    Rather than relying on taxis now people prefer ownership of their own vehicles so they have control over when they leave on their journeys rather than wait for the service to turn up. Less congestion or no there is still a time factor in the vehicle getting to you. You can still buy cars at a variety of prices, this will continue into the future with more efficient production.

    I haven’t even got to the congestion issues, made worse because even though Rodney thinks we’ll all be using these vehicles he still wants a lane set free for him to drive! his v8.

    Given the issue of software glitches (we can’t even get ours to provide shorter dwell times on our new trains) I’ll be happy to catch the train. I think the fairy tale world is Rodney’s, not future train travel.

    1. Currently it is not possible to get a hire car to turn up at your door without it having to have a driver, this is a significant difference as you are basically paying to have a chauffeur. I’m not convinced that these will remove car ownership myself, but I think there is a very good chance they would reduce car ownership.

    2. I think a more common use case will be:
      – figure out a way to do your commute and daily chores like groceries without a car;
      – use car sharing for the remaining trips.

      There are car sharing services in Europe (Belgium has Cambio car sharing) and they seem to be able to make it work with those old school human driven cars. It won’t show up at your door, but it will show up on a parking lot nearby.

      1. Unfortunately many recent subdivision developments are very auto-centric such that almost no trips can be achieved without a car. The older European cities you mention are much less auto-centric.

        1. Yes Auckland has a few problems:
          • very marginal PT coverage
          • auto-centric design (as you point out. Don’t buy property in Millwater)
          • unusually hostile to pedestrians (even compared to other small towns and larger cities in NZ, e.g. look around in Nelson)
          • the Unitary Plan is a bit, um, disappointing

          Even then you could make it work (with a bit of luck maybe). Find a place not too far from one of the town centres. Get within walking or cycling distance of a mall, and of your employment. Takapuna and Milford are quite expensive, but the flat terrain will give you some range on a bicycle. It’s possible, although expensive unless you are willing to flat.

          I actually thought about selling my car at some point, but:
          • no way to get to a car rental place without a car. D’oh.

          The obvious case is when you work close to the CBD, and rent a place in the CBD. You wouldn’t need a car at all in your daily life. Getting out of the CBD without a car is extremely cumbersome though. For a taste, look up how long it takes on “public transit” to go from the CBD police station to Newmarket station. At least there are a few car rentals not too far away.

          We can only hope that some of these issues get sorted out after a while. The isthmus may eventually work out fine. But judging from the New Network the North Shore seems to be considered a dead loss. We will see.

          1. I choose to live where I can carry out many trips by walking and some by PT. However, my point is that your suggestion will simply not work for many people who live in auto-centric subdivisions, and unfortunately the likelihood of these subdivisions ever being corrected such that they are no longer auto-centric is very close to zero.

  16. A lot of misinformation and confirmation bias in the comments here i.e.The answer is more investment in public transport regardless of whether innovation puts this under question.

    NZ needs to think carefully about large investments in PT given the direction of travel with technology. A relevant analogy here is the third world ignoring significant investments in fixed telecommunications and moving straight to mobile, effectively using scarce funds in a more effective way.

    The latest research suggests that the adoption of driverless cars will happen at a greater rate than the consensus view expects, the impact of self-selection in the insurance market being the principle reason that will accelerate adoption. It pretty much goes like this: less risky drivers are strongly correlated to wealth who will be early adopters for driverless which will drive up the insurance costs of those remaining in the risk pool which will further drive adoption. At some point the govt. will legislate for compulsory third party insurance and sharply raise the WOF barriers pricing what remains off the road. Currently this is expected around 2030 at which point the following advantages kick in, speed limits raise substantially, traffic carrying capacity increases by a factor of 4/5.

    1. “The latest research suggests that the adoption of driverless cars will happen at a greater rate than the consensus view expects”

      If only you had linked to some research to support this claim which even you say is an outlier.

      Also, it’s hardly confirmation bias to expect something that makes transit cheaper and easier to get to will make transit more popular.

    2. Speed limits on areas free of pedestrians and other road users could indeed be increased, but New Zealand doesn’t have much of that sort of road/highway. Once you add pedestrians, cyclists, farmers with livestock and tractors etc the speed limits generally won’t change significantly. In addition add in lots of corners and it would be very unpleasant for the occupants. If you’re talking about systems like some parts of the US Interstates or German Autobahns (although many are already very high speed) then higher speeds are viable.

  17. No surprise to see diehard libertarians grasping at a selfish, individualistic solution. Just a rearguard action to resist public investment in shared transit.

  18. Everyone talks of driverless trucks and buses running perfectly down roads, much like a train runs on rails. This in fact would be a huge problem as this would lead to problems with pavements. As part of pavement design an amount of lane wander is allowed for (ie vehicles are not always exactly in the same wheel paths of other vehicles) which spreads the pavement damage caused by heavy vehicles (cars, SUVs and utes are effectively irrelevant in pavement design). Failure to deal with this could reduce pavement lifespans by 50% or more, which is additional costs to the taxpayer. This sounds like a simple problem to solve, but it is not as easy as you’d think. It is far easier to design vehicles to travel in the middle of lanes than vary a little bit. It is an obstacle that can be overcome if it is thought about and included in legislation from the start, after all the individual vehicle manufacturers could care less about the costs to infrastructure. Unfortunately the people that design and maintain infrastructure are not likely to be at the table when decisions are being made by politicians.

  19. Perhaps driverless trucks need to have extra wide tyres to spread the loading better. If they reduced the speed they run at they would reduce the damage to the pavement basecourses but you would still get rutting as you say.

    1. Extra wide tyres add costs to operating vehicles, typically from both an energy used point of view and a replacement cost point of view. The solutions are possible, but I suspect that the realization there is a problem will be after the cost of road maintenance significantly increases. This will then also make fixing the problem more difficult.

    2. What you can do is install steel reinforcement along the wheel-trajectories of trucks. And because steel is much more durable than asphalt or concrete, you could then make truck tyres narrower rather than fatter. You could even make them of steel with guidance-flanges, just like railway wagons have 🙂

  20. It’s funny how Hide’s thinking on driverless vehicles completely mirrors the thinking of the 1950’s when cars where the Next Big Thing and how nobody would ever need to take public transport ever again because everyone could own a car! That worked out well didn’t it, I don’t think.

  21. I do, however, think driverless cars will reduce private car ownership quite dramatically but won’t eliminate it for at least two generations as people here still like to go for a drive on weekends and take holidays away from home, but not requiring one for a daily commute will make most homes only require one car.
    Additionally, the best use of driverless technology would be for people to take a vehicle to the nearest transport hub, catch high speed mass transit and then grab another driverless vehicle to get to their destination, thus eliminating park and rides and increasing patronage on PT and helping to reduce congestion.

    1. Not sure how people in rural areas, where they are very spread out, aren’t going to own their own vehicles. Once some people have their own vehicles others will want their own vehicles too. This results in at the very least the wealthy owning vehicles. This makes owning vehicles as aspiration, which results in others also wanting to own vehicles. While there maybe many that don’t own vehicles, I don’t foresee a future where there aren’t private vehicles.

      1. There are not very many rural residents any more, the vast majority live in cities which is a trend seen worldwide. So when I say “most” I mean city folk, not country. Rural residents will need private cars for a long time but already there are fewer young people bothering to get their licence in the cities compared to when I was young.

  22. I wonder how popular jitney type services could end up being. I could imagine a device where all you have to do is dial up an uber like normal. You then get a few options, each with an estimated travel time and price. This would include an exclusive car, or a seat in a car or mini bus. It might even incentivise you to walk 5 min to the nearest main road to improve its overall performance. I could see such a system being very popular.

  23. “pedestrians to catch on and effectively reclaim the streets simply be threatening to walk across the road and all cars will stop”

    Perhaps, but it depends how manufacturers and lawmakers respond to the technology. I would argue it more likely that laws on jaywalking will be strengthened instead. We don’t expect trains to slow for pedestrians, and I suspect road corridors will increasingly become no-go zones for pedestrians in order to avoid the very situation you raise.

    Mercedes Benz have already decided they will be programming their cars to kill pedestrians when they encounter situations where the technology must choose, and I suspect the rest will follow.

    http://fortune.com/2016/10/15/mercedes-self-driving-car-ethics/

    1. Legislation, particularly in large markets like the US and Europe, can force the hands of the car makers irrespective of their preferred ethics. The issues around liability are also huge, remembering that countries like the US are very litigious. Unless roads are completely fenced then risks such as children running onto the road is always a risk, will it be acceptable that little Johnny was killed because the car didn’t want to swerve such that it hit an inanimate object.
      The other issue is what happens when the vehicle is out of control as a result of its own driving (a simple example of where this can occur is black ice) and then recovers but is between injuring someone else or the internal occupants, why are innocent bystanders at risk? From the linked BBC article about proposed changes to UK law, “In the event of a crash caused by the technology, a government consultation document suggests the driver and anyone else affected should be able to claim from the insurer and, in turn, the insurer would be able to claim compensation from the manufacturer.” In New Zealand this would involve a payout by the company to ACC, but in the US this would be a multi-million dollar cost to the manufacturer. Will we end up with different driverless car ethics and controls in different countries?

  24. What about the hot rod, sports and classic car scenes?? (combined, ‘automotive enthusiast’ activities are probably the most popular cultural pursuit in NZ).

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