Possible electric futures: Last-miles

Triggered by a car commute that passed several of Toronto’s downtown hospitals. Passed them slowly. Particularly slowly, even by Toronto commute standards. From there I leapt to unconfirmed speculation about why traffic around hospitals would be particularly slow: out-of-towners under stress trying to find parking and get to their medical appointments.

Eventually all vehicles will be self-driving, of course. For some significant switch-over period though we will have have a mix of human- and robot-driven vehicles on the road.

Why would a 67 year old man, say Lee, who’s from the outer suburbs upgrade right away? It’s expensive and confusing to buy into a new tech early on. Driving his old Honda is pretty manageable in his neighbourhood and he kind of likes being behind the wheel (at least he can remember a time when he did).

He hates driving in city traffic but he’s too set in his ways to take the train. He opts for a contract with a last-mile provider. The night before yet another hip clinic appointment he books online and ThereAndBack™ Inc. They remind him of the directions to his local pick-up and give him a window of arrival time. He can show up anytime, but arriving in the window means he’s eligible for their much touted guarantee “get there on time, every time”.

Arriving at the designated parking lot, the systems detect Lee’s car and guide him into an open parking spot. After pulling into the space he can rest easy. This is where his ThereAndBack™ Inc. takes the strain. One of their drone-beds in sharp looking grey and red livery pulls up in front of the Honda. It really does look like a cross between a king-sized bed and a old school flatbed truck. The drone-bed is pretty much a low-slung surface with wheels. There’s no need for a cab or an engine compartment or any of the other quirks of design that humans and internal combustion evolved between them.

The drone-bed’s integrated ramp extends and Lee carefully pilots his hatchback onto the flatbed. A shallow ramp and strategic padded bollards make it only a little trickier than parking at the supermarket. From here Lee can lie back and listen to the radio. He won’t have to worry about the driving again until later today when he is deposited back at the lot after his appointment.

Thirty-four minutes later Lee exits his car at newly installed platform right outside the doors of Toronto Western Hospital. As he navigates the ever-turning doors to the hospital his car is already being whisked efficiently to the warren of underground parking beneath the nearby park.

Lee grumbles sometimes that the feds requires last-mile arrangements for all non-auto vehicles inside city limits. Inwardly though, he’s quite content to have a consistent, safe drive into the always crazy downtown. The membership to ThereAndBack™ isn’t cheap, but it’s not too bad either. He could always switch to a cheaper plan, where he’s one of many passengers in a shared vehicle. They pick up from the same edge-of-town locations and are quite comfortable. He’s kind of attached to his car though, even with a traffic-omniscient bot at the wheel.