Andy McKay

Sep 20, 2016

Autonomous cars are not the answer

I'm frustrated by suggestion that self-driving cars are the answer to congestion, gridlock and a bunch of other things.

There are a bunch of people you have to move from location X to Y, maybe going via location Z. Location X, Y and Z will vary.

The assumption from the self driving car lobby is that this will increase the effectiveness of the transportation system. First some problems:

  • Use of a car transportation system is dependent upon a solid tax base to support the system which is inherently inefficient in so many ways. It is expensive to maintain for low density environments. Conversely, it is almost impossible to maintain for high density environments.

  • The car transportation system has no limit on capacity so as the efficiency of the transportation system increases, so will demand and density.

Secondly, one assumption seems to be wrong:

  • That X and Y are usually some parts of the suburbs and that people are commuting from X to Y because they are trying to maintain a standard of living. As a result everything else must change to support that. That seems to be terribly wrong.

And so, what troubles me is:

  • The location of X and Y. Can X (peoples homes) be moved closer to Y (where people work). Can Y be made redundant (e.g.: tele-commuting)? Will anyone have a Y in the near future (job automation, robots etc)?

  • The mode of transportation. Does another option other than cars exist? How about bikes? Walking? Even public transportation? Why do we have to depend upon cars? Is this really the best we can do?

  • If a lot of people change to another transportation system, what's to stop a large number of people moving to cars and causing grid lock again. Isn't that what history has shown us will happen?

  • Why do we keep supporting the most inefficient and expensive form of transport ever?

As an engineer I am frustrated that the choices here seem to be: self-driving cars or not self-driving cars. The real question is, why do we need cars at all?