Autonomous cars can work with mass transit …

Maybe it’s five years away, or ten. The advent of widespread use of self-driving cars. Perhaps it should be called “the eternal sunshine of the cheap self-driving car”. Commentators seem to lose their minds when contemplating them. There are so many possibilities.

The scenarios are so broad. Everyone buys one, and uses it to go to work, then sends it home to return in the afternoon for the journey in the reverse direction. Or at the other extreme, everyone uses them like cabs and no-one ever buys a car again.

Why will mass transit persist? It’s a simple case of squashing people into a can and getting them to their destination as quickly as possible. Today’s technology? 20 passengers/sec. Contrast that with a non-stuck freeway of about 1.5 passengers/sec. Even with the reduced size, and perhaps higher speed of autonomous cars it is not hard to imagine an almost stationary queue of autonomous cars on the Bay bridge.

I figure the future is not that different from now. Some things, however, will disappear forever. Urban wastelands within reach of the city will be re-purposed as holding sites for autonomous cars. Parking? Maybe parking will disappear forever.

From the viewpoint of the traveller, isn’t it really simple: the tradeoff between time and cost. Sure, you could get a helicopter to work, some do, but it is financially out of reach. Doesn’t it make sense to offer a choice between cost and time? To me, the problem with public transport is that it is stuck in Soviet era thinking. It caters only for people who have little money and all the time in the world. Surely we can do better?

So there you are in suburbia. The alarm goes in the morning, how do you get to the mass transit station? If you had a choice between a 1 passenger, 2 passenger or 4 passenger autonomous car transport to the station which would you choose ? The single passenger car grabs you then goes straight there, the 2 passenger takes one extra. You have all booked, so pickup is very quick. Maybe the 4 passenger one is 1/4 the cost. Here I have assumed that equal numbers choose the 1,2 and 4 option.

I looked at how long it might take to get to the station if you were within 5km.

Histogram of time to get to the station for 1,2,4 passenger cars.

It looks promising to me. I wonder if it makes business sense?