Robotic cars could slash transport costs but cause unemployment

Cost-per-mile could be cut to less than €1, but the taxi industry will suffer badly

 “As a road approaches its maximum capacity, small changes in traffic volumes can cause proportionately larger changes in congestion delays”

“As a road approaches its maximum capacity, small changes in traffic volumes can cause proportionately larger changes in congestion delays”

 

Frost & Sullivan, one of the world’s major business consultancies and analytic companies, is suggesting that the rise of the robotic car could cut the cost of motoring by a factor of 12 or more.

According to the research, the per-mile cost of motoring is enormously volatile, but an average cost of say, hiring a taxi, works out at around $12 per mile, or €10 (€6.68 per kilometre if you want to be more precise).

Frost and Sullivan says that this could be cut to as little as $1 per mile (€0.89 per mile or €0.55 per km). That’s more or less equivalent to the cost of most public transport systems in major cities, and therefore brings motoring within the reach of a far greater number of people.

Sadly, though, it’s bad news from an employment perspective. While some of the saving comes from the whole concept of shared ownership, and the amortisation of the cost of the vehicle across several users rather than one, most of the cost reduction is because robots don’t need wages or downtime.

“The biggest potential for decreasing the price per mile is provided by autonomous systems replacing drivers, which will make it possible to save the 30 to 40 per cent of the cost we pay for the ride,” Frost & Sullivan’s Arunprasad Nandakumar told The Irish Times.

Mobility solution

Such a move towards more automated mobility solutions could significantly change the way we live our lives, especially in an urban setting.

“Shared mobility is becoming a global, social movement, and is growing rapidly as drivers look for ways to keep on the roads sustainably. New and exciting technology is making this a reality, and is allowing customers to shape their own carsharing and ride-sharing communities however they envision them,” said Edwin Colella, chief sales and marketing officer of Omoove, a leading proponent of shared ownership and ride-sharing.

“This is where the benefits of autonomous driving become obvious – while getting from A to B in a largely autonomous car the user will have plenty of gained time to spend on topics such as health, leisure and shopping,” says Franck Leveque, partner and business unit leader for mobility at Frost & Sullivan.

There are possible downsides to all of this, of course. Mass unemployment in the taxi industry is one, but another could be significant traffic problems.

Most experts agree that the greater the level of automation, the smoother the traffic will flow, simply because robotic cars talk to one another, and therefore can communicate to use junctions and sections of road much more efficiently.

City streets

However, that seems to ignore two salient facts. One is that our city streets are already clogged with cars driven by fallible, occasionally foolish, humans, and they’re not going to disappear overnight.

The other is that the potential for dramatic cost reductions means that many more people, who currently use public transport or cycle or walk, might well be tempted into the autonomous car-sharing sphere. We simply don’t yet know how many will be, nor how their wishes and needs will be accommodated.

One thing is certain, though and that’s that traffic is unpredictable. According to the Canada-based Victoria Transport Policy Institute, “congestion is a non-linear function, so as a road approaches its maximum capacity, small changes in traffic volumes can cause proportionately larger changes in congestion delays.”

One thing robots don’t deal with well is non-linear functions.

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