Self driving transit vehicles will be small and frequent.

Today’s transit services are big for reasons that self driving technology will solve. Assuming a future where self driving vehicles are safe and ubiquitous, transit agencies will hugely benefit from using small vehicles that make more frequent trips.

The reasons why transit systems use large vehicles are legit.

  1. Drivers are expensive. The cost of paying drivers is somewhere between 50% and 80% of the cost of operating a bus route**. To make routes economical, transit agencies operate few larger buses.
  2. Roads are crowded. Adding more vehicles to already crowded roads causes congestion. Bus drivers need to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of them because their job depends on not crashing. This distance between vehicles takes up valuable road space and is another reason to use vehicles that transport many passengers at once.

Self driving transit vehicles will solve these issues by saving the driver cost and allowing vehicles to operate closely together (platooning). In addition there are additional benefits to using small vehicles.

  1. More frequent service. Smaller cheaper buses will allow agencies to run more frequent bus services on their existing routes.
  2. More routes. New routes will be possible because they cost less to operate.
  3. Lower vehicle costs. Using the mass produced components of cars, transit vehicles will cost less. Here is my sketch of a 8ft tall bus super positioned on a Tesla Model S chassis and drive train.
Sketch of bus built on a Tesla Model S chassis.

Overall self driving, will rewrite the rules of transit. Now it depends whether private or public transit agencies will seize the opportunity.

Footnotes, Calculations and Assumptions:

** Drivers cost transit agencies $80k per year including salary and benefits. Buses average 11 miles per hour and get 4 miles per gallon.