3 Ways Self-Driving Cars Will Change Transportation

Self-driving cars can undoubtedly change the transportation industry, but only if humans can let go of any dependence on personal automobiles.

Photo Caption: Robot Taxi Inc. has begun field tests of self-driving taxi service in Kanagawa prefecture, which is just south of Tokyo. The self-driving taxis will carry passengers from their homes to local grocery stores. Robot Taxi hopes to commercialize the service by 2020. (Photo Credit: Reuters/Yuya Shino)

Although we are years away from a fully robotic roadway, the introduction of self-driving cars opens our eyes to a world where driving, in all senses of the word, could very well be changed forever.

Self-driving cars could mean profound reduction in pollution and usage of valuable resources. Fully electric self-driving cars would also equate to much lower production and maintenance costs, prompting a drop in public transport costs for consumers. Lastly, if cars are no longer defined by the parts under the hood, public transportation might take on a new form entirely.

An Electric Future

In a fully autonomous vehicular future, cars won’t need nearly as much fuel, if any at all. In turn, this would mean a significant decrease in emission related pollution. Currently, 75% of carbon monoxide pollution comes from cars, which could potentially be completely eradicated. Studies are confirming that if society makes the switch to self-driving taxis, we will see a 94% reduction in carbon monoxide emission per mile by 2030. This figure was calculated based on the fact that most taxi trips are made carrying only one passenger. Automated taxis could be downsized to hold a smaller number of customers resulting in much less energy usage. The team also determined that electric taxis that last five years would be the most cost effective option in the future.

It seems one major obstacle keeping developers from converting self-driving cars to entirely electric motors is the fact that car batteries don’t last nearly as long as gas-powered engines. Most taxis plug anywhere from 40 to 70 thousand miles per year, while personal cars in the US usually last to about 150,000 miles. It seems that until a longer lasting battery can be created, fully electric cars might not quite hit the mark.

Free Transport For All

On average, those in the US who make the switch to public transport will save $9,238 per year. Although we have no way to say with any certainty what the economic state of the world will look like by the time this fantasy will come to fruition, chances are public transport will remain fairly cheap if not decrease in cost. Some European cities have already begun to employ a various aspects of a futuristic system. Paris Metro trains run a driverless system on a set schedule. It is one of the most popular means of transport in the city, more than 1.5 billion passengers use the metro system per year. What’s more, because so many folks use the train consistently the ticket prices remain quite low. One ticket costs 1.80 EU ($2.04) or a pass of 10 rides can be purchased for 14.10 EU ($15.98). This is about equal to the cost of most of public transport in most major cities in the US.

Tallinn, Estonia has launched a completely free public transport system. To take advantage of the free train rides patrons must only register for a public transport card, which costs 3 EU ($4 US). Although other governments seem apprehensive about the amount of revenue lost in public transport fees per year, Estonian officials feel optimistic. What the city loses in membership or pay-per-ride costs they gain in environmental and traffic congestion benefits. The city also believes that free transport will open up memberships to low income families that may not have been able to afford it otherwise. They believe this type of offering could also help to decrease the unemployment rate and homeless population by providing access to jobs around the city. 

What Is A Car Anyway?

Automobiles as we know it do not dictate how future transportation is experienced. The shape of a car is currently maintained due to the need for various accoutrements within a car. Engine, windshield, air conditioning, large tires - what if each of these pieces didn’t have to fit into a car the way we see it now? Some engineers are suggesting that without a need for gas-powered engines, the “car” will greatly evolve in coming years. Something much more resemblant of travel “pods” could be the way of the future. Italian engineer Tommaso Gecchelin designed a potential option for such travel pods. His vision for public transport is more of a futuristic train. Each section of the train would be independent, meaning that a person could travel in their own individual pod or link the pods together and walk throughout the train.

In theory, unity of the above ideas could undoubtedly change the transportation industry forever. However, this feat can only be achieved if humanity can let go of any dependence on personal automobiles. While most projections of public transport usage assume that even in the year 2030 people will still be driving their own cars, a public transport revolution of this magnitude could completely redefine exactly what a city looks like. While it may not be the city seen in many sci-fi films, it could realistically mean that roads as we know it become obsolete. The possibility for seriously compact and efficient travel is endless.

About the Author

Trisha is a freelance writer from Boise, ID. She promotes an all around healthy lifestyle, including environmental health. You can check out her blog and find her on her on Twitter.


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