Future with driverless cars 1: Rental vs. taxi


This is the first part of a series on changes that driverless cars may bring. I expose some of the ideas I have, mostly quite practical things. There may also be more profound changes on how people see the world but my looking glass is out of focus with such matters.

We moved project troglodyte to it’s own website, so the more patent centric recap of the Google driverless car patents can be found from there.

Below I assume that the problem has been solved completely. Driverless cars can access any part of the road network, function even when there are people darting around and can handle any weather including lots of snow and very slippery conditions. Accident levels are same or lower than currently and people are not scared to use autonomous cars.

See also: Rental vs. taxi, Mass transportation, Pirvate cars, Cargo, Parking and driving empty, Zoning Traffic volume and Externalities

The distinction between renting a car and taking a taxi will disappear. When a small car is needed it can be called for from any comms unit. It is possible that this will create a pressure to move away from the personal automobile affection as getting a rental car to any location is as easy as asking for a taxi as the rental can come to the renter and not vice versa. But this is not necessarily the case. There will still be a delay in getting the rental. This might not make a big difference for longer journeys taking several hours, but for shorter intra city traveling the difference might be too large.

When the road network extends very close to one or both ends of the trip journey times will be shorter than now for the rental (or a private) car as it can can pull up at the door and find a parking spot by itself after the passengers have left. A taxi is usually rented only for one leg of the journey at a time, but this is largely because of the cost of the driver. If a taxi was much cheaper many might want to get rid of the waiting in line by reserving the car for themselves in the same way a rental car is often rented for a longer period.

While a driverless taxi will be cheaper it  will of course lead to a massive reduction in the need for taxi drivers. There will likely still be some cases where a human might be needed, to help elderly or disabled passengers to get to the car etc. In these cases it might be economical to share one driver between several cars, for example if the customer is visiting a place where help is available at the other end the driver may change to another car on the way to assist someone else. The relative cost of a car with driver will be higher than now which will lead to pressure to reduce their use especially in cases of subsidised trips.

For a car of comparable size a driverless taxi will have a larger passenger capacity by at least one, possibly more as the seating arrangement can be made more freely. Because there is no driver to oversee the passengers, interior of the vehicle may need to be more durable, but on the other hand use of mass production models straight out of the factory is cheaper than using modified vehicles.

In some places offering taxi service is subject to licence. The rationale for this includes driver proficiency, health, reputation etc. It is difficult to see how such licences would be needed in the case of driverless taxis. This is likely to lead to more widespread secondary use of personal cars as taxis. While the owner is working or sleeping the car can drive around the town transporting passengers as needed. This will give a further advantage to those who can arrange their lives so that their traveling is off peak.

Acknowledgment:  Thanks to Laston Kirkland for thoughtful evaluation of these ideas.