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Could driving get catastrophically cheap? One smart Portlander speculates

Posted by on January 15th, 2016 at 11:55 am

car2go in the wild
Still pretty expensive.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Here’s an interesting argument about the near future from a Portland entrepreneur who’s also been a longtime advocate for biking and mass transit.

It’s a useful counterpoint to yesterday’s news that the U.S. Department of Transportation will kick off a $4 billion program to write national rules for self-driving cars.

The futurism here comes from Steve Gutmann, a Southeast Portland resident who has worked at various transportation-related startups since becoming an early employee at the local company that later merged with Zipcar. He’s also on the board of the anti-sprawl group 1000 Friends of Oregon.

gutmann
Steve Gutmann.
(Photo: M.Andersen)

In an email this week sent to BikePortland and a few others, Gutmann described a future where self-driving taxis will function like car2go, except cheaper because the cars will spend less of their time out of service. With that level of price and convenience, he predicted, large numbers of people would switch from public transit. Here’s our exchange, one lightly edited email at a time, starting with Gutmann:

Uber, Lyft, Tesla, Daimler, Ford and many others are all piling in. Massive change is coming to the transportation sector very, very quickly.

The key policy response, IMO, is to ensure that transit, walking and electric bikes are cheaper to operate than driverless taxis, because a car will otherwise always win out over other modes, and the final prediction of the video — that congestion won’t go away — seems likely to come true.

Which would suck.

Hopefully we’ll have the foresight to tax taxi fares (which will likely be very low, sans drivers…) to the point where everyone has an incentive to choose other, less congestion-and obesity-inducing modes whenever possible.

But regardless, if driverless taxis eliminate most personal cars, one nice co-benefit is that we’ll be able to stop arguing about parking congestion and minimum parking requirements! : )

Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be interesting.


I wrote back to ask how cheap he thought autonomous taxis could get compared to car2go, and to get his take on whether transit agencies are likely to autonomous buses to lower their costs, too.

Gutmann said:

If they can come to the next customer, they’re almost never idle, and I’ll bet a single car could be twice as productive.

In terms of competing, cars already out-compete transit for most people. If they become way cheaper to use than they are now, while transit agencies continue to drift toward becoming transit driver retirement funds that run a few busses, they’re going to lose. The cost of a transit driver (and another one who has already retired) is a huge competitive burden for transit agencies.

So yes, I think the transit agencies need to adopt driverless vehicles asap, or they risk losing ridership very quickly.

I replied that buses and trains will always be more space-efficient than cars during congested rush hours, but only if they have their own dedicated lanes:

Seems to me that this scenario leads to big drops in off-peak transit trips as more and more poor-ish people can switch from bus-oriented lives to automous-vehicle-oriented lives. But with peak-hour trips the time economics are way different and transit still wins, at least to the extent that we can continue improving its access to right-of-way.

Transit would then have a big problem with its assets being underused in off-peak hours, sorta like carsharing companies do today.

Gutmann:

Yup. So maybe we need traffic cordons (pay a $5 toll to take a Car2go inside the cordon…) so that they’re only used to drive people TO transit (vs. competing with transit), or for trips that don’t end downtown…

The other possibility is that buses just focus on trunk lines, running more frequently along main corridors, and they stop trying to serve unprofitable corridors. They could simply have fewer (and driverless) buses going up and down the main corridors all day long. Higher frequency at rush hour, but still being used off-peak, but only along certain high-demand routes.

All of this has been discussed elsewhere. But if you’ve been following this week’s tech news, you know that Gutmann may well be right that self-driving cars could spread rapidly. (In another email, he speculated that automaker Tesla could equip its upcoming Model 3 with “a ‘share’ feature that turns it into a peer-to-peer carshare vehicle, available for one-way or round trip (driverless) taxi rides.”) And it’s something that seems almost completely absent from our local transportation debates.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

132 Comments
  • Todd Boulanger January 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Yes – and the big problem of successful transition to driverless cars (EV cars too) would be the same land use problems we have now per sprawl: large unwalkable superblocks of land types, big fast roads, and parking lots as access barriers / density reducers. Maybe the parking lots would get smaller…but our roads might get bigger to handle longer peak periods as all these driverless car zip around for trips vs. being stored 90% of the time.

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    • Adam H. January 15, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      Yep. Driverless cars will still get stuck in the same traffic congestion. They can still only carry just a few people, vs many more on a bus or train. They will still be powered by oil (or worse, coal). They will still cause our roads and infrastructure to deteriorate. they still encourage sprawling land uses instead of more efficient density.

      The only issue they really solve is parking.

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      • Captain Karma January 15, 2016 at 1:07 pm

        Will driverless cars use cut-through strategies E.g., Waze etc. I wonder? School zones? Clinton St. ? And who is to decide those policies? Public process?

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        • Adam H. January 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm

          It makes sense that driverless cars would use some sort of algorithm to determine current traffic conditions and distribute the load across the street grid. Which sounds good for cars, but doesn’t take other road users into account.

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          • Scott H January 15, 2016 at 1:22 pm

            Automated vehicles won’t exceed the speed limit, run stop signs, illegally circumvent diverters or otherwise break the law. In all likelihood they’ll be even safer to be around than bicycles operated by error-prone-humans.

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            • Hayden January 15, 2016 at 1:30 pm

              Because autos have never been hacked.

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        • Pete January 15, 2016 at 7:08 pm

          “Will driverless cars use cut-through strategies E.g., Waze”
          Given that the company who’s spent most on autonomous vehicles bought this company two years ago… I’m gonna go out on a limb and say yes.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 15, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Driverless vehicles could have one small silver lining for transit agencies…if these vehicles can serve the paratransit market (either as a public transit service or as a private asset)…right now the cost to provide paratransit (per the ADA) is generally 6x to 8x the cost of a passenger for fixed routes in this region ($35 to $40 per trip)…and is becoming a cost that may bankrupt our transit providers unless something changes (ADA law, employment contracts for paratransit operators, higher supply of fixed route trips to subsidize paratransit, or reduced demand).

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    • David Feldman January 15, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Also, if the car is driving itself, there may be less ego/hormonal connection between the occupant and the vehicle–they’ll have no way to “drive” at all!
      They’ll be more passive than a bus passenger.

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  • Adam H. January 15, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    It’s insulting that the car companies are getting a $4 billion paycheck while people who walk, ride bikes, or take public transport still fight for pennies. The feds have again shown their incredible short-sightedness here, by touting low gas prices and putting all their eggs in one driverless basket.

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    • Pete January 15, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      “by touting low gas prices”
      Wait until Iranian oil supplies are added to the pipeline…

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  • SD January 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Please tell me if I am wrong, but one concern I would have is an increase in the number of zero occupancy vehicles. Personal car ownership may decrease the total number of cars while increasing the numbers of cars on the road (traffic) at any given moment. I could imagine that the market may continue to favor the convenience of having a car immediately available over environmental sustainability or quality of life, e.g. less time in car or bike/ped accessible streets.
    Essentially, free parking may become continuous driving, or the cost of continuously driving is less than parking.
    With our current appetite for building and widening roads, wouldn’t we just continue to make the argument that we need to build greater capacity to fit all of the ZOVs?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 15, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      I don’t think you’re wrong. “Free circling” could sneak up on us and gradually take over the streets just as invisibly/subversively/destructively as “free parking” did in the 1920s.

      Of course, it’s still really really expensive to widen roads. But if we don’t forbid zero-occupancy vehicles from driving in circles to avoid parking, then we can say goodbye to every strategy for adding bike or bus lanes that depends on streets having excess auto capacity.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      The phrase Zero Occupancy Vehicle is startling and powerful. It’s a wholly new concept, and conveys in three little words a whole world of potential problems that we have to start thinking about.

      Since these autonomous cars are going to be electric, we won’t collect any gas tax revenues in exchange for their circulating empty. Who pays for ZOV time? Who pays for the roads they run around on while empty and valueless?

      Great food for thought in one little phrase.

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      • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 8:07 pm

        “Since these autonomous cars are going to be electric”

        I’m not sure they are going to be either, frankly.

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      • MTB rider January 17, 2016 at 12:26 am

        I’ll bet those electric ZOVs, just like electric cars today have a thing called an odometer. Taxes can easily be collected based on miles driven. Might even be able to report mileage via the internet every time you charge the battery. Easily done. But not Oregon. I’m sure they’ll come up with the most complicated, intrusive, and despised method you can dream up to determine your tax – say, something like a GPS in the car to monitor your every move. Yup, I can see the gears in the bureaucrats heads in Salem turning now……….

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    • SD January 15, 2016 at 4:05 pm

      Oops…. second sentence should be “Decreases in personal car ownership may decrease the total number of cars while increasing the numbers of cars on the road (traffic) at any given moment.”

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    • David January 15, 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Luckily this $4 Billion dollars is also going towards writing the laws and regulations required for this to work. Bring these ideas, and possibly solutions, to meetings, write senators, city counsel, etc. to have them consider this.

      There are anti-cruising laws already in place, I don’t see why ZOV would be exempt. I’d imagine that these autonomous Taxi companies will work out leasing deals with the city for parking spaces and have advanced algorithms to determine the best spot to park, including metered parking, depending on likelihood of when the next user will call. The design would probably be something with a smartphone, you ping the service, it finds the closest vehicle and gives you an ETA of when it can show up, or if you would like to walk to it.

      With cross service apps you might choose a BIKEtown bike or a Car2Go auto. Companies would like to work out towards having a lean fleet that doesn’t cost them tons in parking, yet has enough capacity to serve during peak hours, and probably a garage to house extra capacity during non-peak hours with some sorting out of strategically parking vehicles at night where they will be needed in the morning for fast deployment.

      There is a lot of possibility for this that doesn’t equate to thousands of ZOV circling on the road, and helps expand the area in which people can move to a zero car residence.

      I live out in Hillsboro because it is close to my work so I can commute by bike. I would love to get rid of the car in my garage and be car free, except the occasional trips that we find we want a car for. Renting a car has the hassle of getting to the rental outfit. Car2Go and Zipcar don’t have offices or vehicles this far out, so again we would have to get to one first. Being able to have one come to us at any time would allow us to ditch the car in the garage.

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      • SD January 15, 2016 at 7:01 pm

        Good points! I agree that strong legislation is crucial for something like this to favor the public good rather than the private company that will allocate a large portion of its capital to shaping legislation to its advantage. I am hopeful, but seeing the strategies and successes of companies like Uber in manipulating local officials is telling and concerning.

        Its interesting that you mention Taxi companies using driverless cars. If this model takes off, I would imagine many people abandoning car ownership, like yourself and probably me too. If this were the case the market would be much larger and would be very appealing for national / multinational corporations to get involved. Either companies like Uber would buy very large fleets of cars to deploy in cities or car companies would stop selling cars to individuals and would simply deploy them onto the roads. Initially, it would be cheaper to use a driverless car per trip than to pay the full price of a car (depreciation, insurance, maintenance). You would only be paying for the car while you are driving it and not while you are not driving it. And potentially, it could be as convenient as having a car in your driveway.

        Likewise, car manufacturers would cut out dealerships, could bargain for cheap gas, insurance and directly control prices to meet manufacturing cost and profit margins. This market would best be exploited by companies with very large capital investment capacity and the ability to dominate the streets with sheer numbers of vehicles on the road, low operating costs by volume and most importantly, gargantuan advertising budgets.

        Given that many of the laws governing this aspect of transportation are local, I have a hard time imagining meaningful resistance from city hall against a large corporation. With our current officials, the best that I could imagine is barely hanging on to the status quo.

        On the other hand, I can imagine laws that take advantage of the disappearance of personal car ownership to improve urban quality of life; for example, requiring carpooling (easy with proposed technology,) limiting the number of cars on the road, and prioritizing active transportation.

        That being said, we could make and enforce laws to that same effect now or simply invest in these improvements now. Spoiler alert: the level of vision and effort at this point would not be up to the task of standing up to general motors putting 5000 ZOVs on portland streets and arguing in court that portlanders who pay 100 dollars a month are actually leasing the cars that come and pick them up and therefore the cars should not be regulated by the city.

        The technology of driverless cars, like most new technologies, could make things better or worse. Unless the interests of society and the market perfectly align (does this ever happen?) this will be another opportunity for the people of pdx to advocate for the portland that they want to create rather than the portland that is being fed to them.

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  • Scott H January 15, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    $5-day/$100-month is already a ridiculously high price for a trimet pass, the day I can use my phone to call a Tesla to my house and take me to work for $2 will be the nail in the coffin if we can’t figure out how to tax electric/automated taxis to subsidize public transit. A street fee isn’t going to do it, a gas tax isn’t going to do it. Whoever replaces Novick needs to be able to see more than two years into the future.

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  • soren January 15, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Mass transit will also become more flexible and agile. For example, driverless vans and small buses could serve flexible routes that are optimized algorithmically to shorten travel time for users.

    In meso- and south america “combis” are the predominant form of mass transit and they work very well indeed. I think that mass transit in the USA will come to resemble the “combi” model — except with EV vans.

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    • Adam H. January 15, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      Also, driverless cars won’t constantly block the MAX tracks!

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    • AMA January 15, 2016 at 4:56 pm

      This. You’ll be able to buy a subscription to different levels of “rider experience quality.” For a premium, you can get a really nice care with an espresso maker and a couch in it all to yourself. For most of us, we’ll subscribe to something more utilitarian (but probably still single occupancy). Trimet and other transit agencies will be able to use algorithms to route autonomous jitneys that are shared with several (or several dozen) other people for very cheap.

      Also, self driving cars will be able to drive essentially 6 inches from the bumper of the car in front of it, never break the speed limit or run a light, and they can be stored out by the airport or somewhere else similar in off peak times. There’s also no reason why the couldn’t be pretty tiny EV vehicles, instead of internal combustion.

      I’m excited by the possibilities. MAX though…MAX might be in trouble.

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      • AMA January 15, 2016 at 4:57 pm

        Oh! Also, I could easily see a scenario where a jurisdiction passes a new law (say no turn on red), and with a quick push of new software via a municipal wireless network, every vehicle would just start following the new rules.

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    • Pete January 15, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Here in silly valley, our local transit authority just launched ride sharing buses: http://www.vta.org/getting-around/vta-flex

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    • MTB rider January 17, 2016 at 12:40 am

      The combi may eventually be popular here but not until our standard of living goes far below what it is today. The way we’re going, that will indeed happen. Scroll down this page to the subheading “Minibus” for a description of South American combis.

      http://goperu.about.com/od/gettingaroundperu/tp/Types-Of-Public-Transport-In-Peru.htm

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  • mike January 15, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Well, they won’t “still use oil” but yes they will perhaps still cause problems. I watched this recently, interesting thoughts about how it might HELP with congestion.

    http://tonyseba.com/portfolio-item/clean-disruption-of-energy-transportation/

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      Interesting. Just prejudicially, the opening four words put me off: “Silicon Valley Will Make…”

      Even if this guy’s techno-optimistic exponential projections are accurate (and I have my doubts, though I’d be willing to read his book), he and everyone else on the autonomous car bandwagon seem to forget this one fundamental of human life: demand for transportation is wildly variable throughout the day.

      This awesome data visualization makes that fact crystal clear. When 95 percent of people are asleep, which they are at 3:30 in the morning, even those highly-efficient cars will need a place to park. Or will they just keep circulating?

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 1:58 pm

        Or will Silicon Valley next make humans whose sleep cycles are distributed neatly around the clock?

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        • Pete January 15, 2016 at 7:17 pm

          There is an extremely tight coupling between silicon valley companies, employees, and India… so yeah, that’s kind of already happening here. (I’m not being facetious: many companies here leverage operations in Bangalore and Hyderabad for 24-hour productivity – I say this after years of 10 PM conference calls).

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          • Anne Hawley
            Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 9:59 pm

            Yes, but do you have to travel to get to them?

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            • Pete January 16, 2016 at 4:56 pm

              By plane, yes; it’s why I left a previous job (I get wretchedly sick when I eat there). But your point is quite valid. There are peak travel times, though here in the valley they used to last for an hour or so and now they’re pretty much all afternoon long in some areas (i.e. 101 @ Mt. View). Not sure if you saw my other comment, but our transit agency is now experimenting with ride-share buses (they’ve been pretty well received in their short trial so far). These could come in handy for business dinner situations, for instance – so many times people drive their own cars because they go back to their different hotels. Corporate campuses here can be huge, and they can be summonsed for teams to go from one building to another (and back) for meetings. (Yes, they still have a driver… ;)

              What blows me away is that, however inconvenient (and angering) rush hour traffic is here, people still find it preferable to drive alone in their personal vehicles. My favorite quote: bike commuting is the single biggest secret in silicon valley. (Ironically many of those people involved with autonomous car development prefer it).

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      • B. Carfree January 15, 2016 at 10:16 pm

        That fun visualization tool shows why I start so many of my joy rides at 3:15. By the time the car folks get on the road, I’m in the middle of no where.

        I wonder if I will still ride so many night miles if the cars are all driven by reliably safe software. I hope to live long enough to find out.

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    • Pete January 15, 2016 at 7:14 pm

      Cars use plenty of oil for lubrication and plastics, regardless of gasoline.

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      • Middle of the Road guy January 15, 2016 at 8:15 pm

        Bikes are not exactly zero carbon either, and they rely upon an infrastructure built with petroleum and other high carbon products.

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        • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 8:49 pm

          Keep kicking that horse.

          Would you agree that if we were to compare the carbon signatures of the actual, existing fleet of cars and the actual, existing fleet of bikes, the bikes would be smaller by several orders of magnitude, both in absolute terms but also in the distribution about the mean? If yes, then what is your point?

          My bikes are all nearing 30 years old, with only a few small parts replaced. I bought all but one used and expect to continue riding them for decades. Someone surely can go buy a fancy shmancy bike that I suppose has some (relatively) higher carbon signature, but so what? How does that bike’s carbon signature compare to the carbon content of a tank of gas?
          You tell me.

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        • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 8:58 pm

          “and they rely upon an infrastructure built with petroleum and other high carbon products.”

          No they don’t. I don’t need a road, much less asphalt, to ride my bike, get where I need to go. The fact that there happens to be a road already there is fine, but not required by any stretch.

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        • Pete January 16, 2016 at 4:38 pm

          Not sure what your rebuttal addresses; have you ever seen me claim that bicycles are “zero carbon”? I am willing to bet you a paycheck that my high modulus Taiwanese frames leak less oil into water tables than my neighbor’s classic Mustang, though.

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        • MTB rider January 17, 2016 at 12:57 am

          Some bike commutes may have a larger carbon foot print than a commute in a car of the same distance:

          A rider who commutes to their office job by bike may need 2 showers per day. In the US in general, that hot water is heated by a fossil fuel in most cases unless hydro power is available – lots of electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. A car driver who drives a car to that same job may only have to shower 2 or 3 times per week. Depending on how much water you use, the bike rider may be contributing more carbon than the car driver. An electric car driver in the PNW where hydro is big, may have a significantly smaller carbon foot print than a bike rider particularly if the bike rider hot water is heated by gas and the driver’s water is heated by hydro electric.

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          • 9watts January 17, 2016 at 7:51 am

            “A rider who commutes to their office job by bike may need 2 showers per day. In the US in general, that hot water is heated by a fossil fuel in most cases unless hydro power is available – lots of electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. A car driver who drives a car to that same job may only have to shower 2 or 3 times per week. Depending on how much water you use, the bike rider may be contributing more carbon than the car driver. An electric car driver in the PNW where hydro is big, may have a significantly smaller carbon foot print than a bike rider particularly if the bike rider hot water is heated by gas and the driver’s water is heated by hydro electric.”

            Special pleading anyone?

            Your calculation is amusing but hardly fair. I commuted 25 miles over hill and dale to high school and never felt the need to shower at either end. Not saying many people don’t (whether they bike any significant distances or not, just balking at your use of the word ‘need’).

            Domestic hot water’s carbon signature (regardless of fuel) is a far cry from the electric car’s carbon signature (before we even get to the source of electricity to fuel it).

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          • Hello, Kitty January 17, 2016 at 10:28 am

            Given that all “hydro watts” and “wind watts” are already consumed, additional load on the system translates into more coal being burned. Your electric car is currently running on coal, though hopefully this will change.

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          • Kathy January 18, 2016 at 3:51 pm

            There are people who only shower 2 or 3 times a week? I guess I live in a different world. Most people I know shower every day, regardless of their physical activity.

            And what about people who drive but engage in other physical activity that might make them want to shower more than 2 or 3 times a week? Like working out at the gym. Going for a run. Etc.

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            • 9watts January 18, 2016 at 3:57 pm

              “There are people who only shower 2 or 3 times a week? I guess I live in a different world. Most people I know shower every day, regardless of their physical activity.”

              I’d venture the vast majority of people on this planet don’t shower every day or even every three days. As for 21st Century members of the Middle Class US, I suspect that even some of the people you know may shower less than you imagine since the assumption that it is a daily thing is so widespread. Why would they expose themselves to your scorn?

              But I appreciate your last clause, which was also my point upthread.

              My friend wrote a book on this subject. Not in many libraries but a fascinating read:
              http://www.amazon.com/Comfort-Cleanliness-Convenience-Organization-Technologies/dp/1859736300

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              • Kathy January 18, 2016 at 4:39 pm

                No scorn intended. Just my perception. And admittedly I was thinking locally (U.S), not globally.

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  • Champs January 15, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Social engineering is certainly possible with fleets of autonomous commercial vehicles. It also seems unnecessary if livable communities are a natural state.

    Utopian scenario as alternative to dystopia: demand for low-car lifestyles and creative transportation pooling will *increase*. Running meters make the savings quite evident.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      I hope you’re right. The techno-optimistic fleet scenario, in which private ownership of cars is restricted to big corporations, means that the profit model alone will make using them expensive.

      I mean, come on: Uber is famously squeezing its human drivers into poverty, and I still can’t afford to use Uber. Nothing in my lifelong experience of corporations, or in the last ten years of so of Silicon Valley, makes me think prices will come down much just because labor is out of the picture.

      And with labor out of the picture, the number of people who can afford to use robot cars is bound to keep diminishing.

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  • Brian E January 15, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    I see more potential with driverless cars delivering packages and freight. Get one to deliver your groceries, etc.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      Unless a drone is gonna fly out the back of the driverless box van and deposit my delivery on my doorstep, I’m not sure I see the advantage here.

      I expect that solutions are being mooted, but I haven’t heard what they are.

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  • Peter W January 15, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Planning for a future of/with self-driving cars was a topic brought up by members of the Citizens Advisory Committee during the last Washington County TSP update.

    Unfortunately, staff did not spend much time (or ink) diving into that topic (they decided that the plan update would be a ‘minor update’, regardless of the future looking to bring major updates).

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Disappointingly short-sighted.

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    • MTB rider January 17, 2016 at 1:09 am

      Spending a lot of money today planning for driverless cars does not make sense since we don’t yet know the ins and outs of how it will work. That’s probably why the government is spending $4,000,000,000 to get the car companies to agree on the driverless car rules. That seems like an unreasonable amount of money to me, but who knows – in any event if the rules are not known and development of the cars is ongoing it would be a waste of limited tax dollars to start worrying about it today. AND I do not think it’s a good idea for each county to be thinking up their own schemes.

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  • Chris I January 15, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    MAX will be driverless long before we see more than 1% modal share of driverless cars on the roads. Fixed guideway transit is relatively simple to automate. Several cities already have driverless transit vehicles.

    The biggest issue with the driverless car pipe dream is the fact that the majority of Americans want to drive themselves, or don’t trust the technology. Most of the benefits of driverless cars (reduced following distances, better coordination of traffic, etc) require that 100% of the vehicles on the road are driverless. Throw one “old” 2015 F150 with a driver from Estacada into the mix, and delays are created. This will require one of two things:

    1. Separated infrastructure for driverless cars and traditional cars. Obviously this will be politically and physically difficult.
    2. Wait until tradition cars are all off of the road. This would take decades. We still have people driving classic cars from the 1940s on our roads.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Agreed, and since we’re even less likely to outlaw or restrict private individual ownership of traditional cars than we are to outlaw guns in this country, the nightmare scenario is inevitable. A single oversized pickup truck will regularly clot the flow of little autonomous-car cells through the urban circulatory system, and the city will have regular heart attacks.

      So to speak.

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    • AMA January 15, 2016 at 4:59 pm

      “The biggest issue with the driverless car pipe dream is the fact that the majority of Americans want to drive themselves, or don’t trust the technology.”

      For now….

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      • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 8:14 pm

        What are you going to put into your driverless car pipe dream? What is it going to smoke? The ‘fuel’ has to come from somewhere. And just because it is (argued to be) electricity doesn’t mean it grows on trees. We have lots of capacity issues to wrestle with before much of this hype becomes reality.
        Just my take.

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        • MTB rider January 17, 2016 at 1:10 am

          Ditto that.

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    • B. Carfree January 15, 2016 at 10:23 pm

      The majority of Americans want to live like the rich folks. The early adopters of driverless cars will be the rich folks, drinking coffee and working in their cars during their commutes. Semi-rich one percenters will follow, followed by ten-percenters and so on.

      Also, assuming all the crashes are attributed to the human-driven cars, insurance rates will eventually drive people to autonomous cars. With far fewer crashes, the insurance folks will need to charge much more than they currently are on average, and the folks who are at fault in the crashes are going to be picking up the tab big time.

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      • MTB rider January 17, 2016 at 1:13 am

        Fewer crashes will drive insurance down for all cars. But human powered cars will probably cost a little more than the self-powered ones. I don’t want to live like rich folks. I want to be one.

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    • Eric Leifsdad January 15, 2016 at 11:17 pm

      Jaydriving. It’s a problem.

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      • Robert Burchett January 18, 2016 at 6:40 pm

        Ha. If driverless cars are really safe, it will be possible to bully them into giving up their right of way. Bike messenger work will become illegal and therefore, finally profitable.

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  • Anthony January 15, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    “So yes, I think the transit agencies need to adopt driverless vehicles asap, or they risk losing ridership very quickly.”

    I would argue that they lose either way. While transitioning to driverless vehicles might help them save money due to not having to pay and provide benefits for employees, how many people are going to want to ride on a driverless bus? Studies have shown that people are already hesitant to cede total control to a personal vehicle, and I would guess that it would be even worse for a large transit vehicle. So I don’t really see this working out for transit agencies either way.

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    • SteveG January 15, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      Here’s another just-announced transportation innovation (from the founders of Skype) that, if it takes off, could also have big implications:

      http://www.zdnet.com/article/move-over-drones-here-come-skype-co-founders-self-driving-delivery-robots/?tag=nl.e232&s_cid=e232&ttag=e232&ftag=TRE6a12a91

      It seems pretty clear that more or less every driving job in the US is threatened.

      And here’s a pretty thoughtful article about how all this could play out:

      https://stratechery.com/2016/cars-and-the-future/

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 3:47 pm

        That Stratechery article is very good. The central idea is that changes like a fully-autonomous nationwide fleet of cars and trucks happen generationally. I think I agree: my generation will have to die off before the private car paradigm can shift all the way to the shared-use model.

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        • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 5:03 pm

          I bet you’re wrong. I think that as people face a future of reduce mobility, the availability of cheap point-to-point on-demand transportation will seem a godsend.

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          • Anne Hawley
            Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 6:33 pm

            I hope I AM wrong, and that you’re right. It’s funny: speaking for my 60 year old self, I’m ready for the shift. But then, I’m 60 years old in the Portland bubble, not in…some other less progressive place.

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    • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      Give it time. I think people will come around quickly when they see the benefits. Which are legion.

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      • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 8:15 pm

        This whole conversation is about preferences.

        When are we going to talk about constraints?

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        • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:26 pm

          Probably when the constraints become clearer.

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        • Anne Hawley
          Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 10:06 pm

          This is America, We aren’t good at constraints. We can’t seem to pass congestion pricing, expand parking meters, levy a gas tax, or lose weight. What constraints can you see being voluntarily implemented in the absence of war or catastrophe?

          And yes, climate change is a catastrophe, but it doesn’t seem to be driving us to any kind of constraint whatsoever.

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          • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 10:13 pm

            “What constraints can you see being voluntarily implemented in the absence of war or catastrophe?”

            I guess I see a constraint here as something we recognize as a restriction, a narrowing of options, something we are stuck with, can’t do anything about. As such (at least in my view) the voluntary bit doesn’t really enter the picture. But you’re right the ostrich approach which our elected officials are experts at adopting is always (for a time still) a strategy.

            “And yes, climate change is a catastrophe, but it doesn’t seem to be driving us to any kind of constraint whatsoever.”

            Perhaps you are right. The constraint that climate change represents can and is being ignored. We pretend it doesn’t concern us and cross our fingers while pressing our eyes tightly shut that some smart person (probably in Silicon Valley) will get us out of this mess, sooner rather than later.

            I am a hopeless optimist. I have a faith in human nature that we can do better than this, recognize a threat when we see it coming and band together to make adjustments and change course.

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            • Anne Hawley
              Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 10:20 pm

              I guess I see a constraint here as something we recognize as a restriction, a narrowing of options, something we are stuck with, can’t do anything about.

              Sadly, that’s how we (the collective American We) view 35,000 car deaths per year. And that figure, at least, could be practically eliminated under a fully implemented driverless fleet.

              I admire your optimism and I hope you keep it forever.

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              • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 10:27 pm

                I see how I didn’t word that quite the way I intended.

                By ‘can’t do anything about’ I meant we can’t make the constraint go away, but we can (of course) do plenty else that reduces our exposure to it’s consequences. Like choosing human powered transport in the face of climate change rather than doubling down on automobility under the foamy halo of Silicon Valley.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 15, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    One policy to consider for ZOVs would be to segregate them to the far right lane and keep the HOV lane open for POVs (passenger occupied vehicles) as ZOVs would be a second lower class of road user with less concern for lost time…unless robots are enfranchised or corporations owning ZOVs fight this future law.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      That’s a big “unless” right there.

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  • SteveG January 15, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Anthony-

    I wouldn’t be so sure that people won’t accept driverless transit. Check this out:

    http://www.techinsider.io/driverless-buses-will-hit-the-road-in-switzerland-2015-11

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/11180429/Driverless-buses-on-the-way.html

    http://www.popsci.com/driverless-buses-go-with-traffic-flow

    http://gizmodo.com/the-first-driverless-transit-system-in-the-u-s-starts-1635908058

    It’s just a matter of time before this hits Portland. The main drivers will be safety (many driverless vehicles are already far safer than human-operated vehicles) and costs. Professional drivers are expensive.

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  • Charley January 15, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    It’s very simple: no car should be allowed to operate without a passenger or driver in the vehicle. Move a foot without a human onboard, and get a ticket. If that were the law, car companies would simply have to program their cars that way. I suppose someone could hack it, but then they’d be at risk of a ticket. It wouldn’t be impossible to circumvent the law, but such a law would be a great, simple way to cut down on some of these nightmare ZOV scenarios.

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    • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      Why would this be a good thing? When you’re done with it, let the vehicle shuffle off to give someone else a ride.

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    • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      How do you issue a ticket to a ZOV?

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      • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:25 pm

        Probably by typing.

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        • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:27 pm

          Like, the copy sends Google an email?

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          • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:30 pm

            Our files a big report.

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            • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:33 pm

              That came out wrong….

              Or files a bug report!

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 10:07 pm

        Heh. Maybe the ZOV can ticket itself.

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        • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 10:10 pm

          I know that was intended as a joke, but you might actually be right.

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          • Anne Hawley
            Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 10:14 pm

            Heck, if they can be programmed to follow other laws, then why couldn’t they be programmed to report themselves when they unavoidably break one?

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            • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 10:27 pm

              I’m sure they will be collecting all kinds of data about their performance, and constantly learning and improving collectively. Data on mistakes would be of enormous value.

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          • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 10:21 pm

            Like Alice boxing her own ears…

            and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet she was playing against herself, for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people.

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    • Pete January 19, 2016 at 9:49 am

      That’s how airlines do it. It’s not like pilots are actually flying the planes once they’re in the air. Airbus successfully showed that they could automate takeoffs and landings years ago… except for that one little crash…

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  • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    It seems to me that a cheap driverless vehicle could provide a far higher level of service to an individual than bus service does currently. I do suspect that if vehicles are available on a per-ride basis, and the price is low, it may put Trimet out of business.

    I’ve thought about this a lot, and my current thinking is that this will be a good thing.

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  • Mark January 15, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I don’t buy the hype. This list of “Self-Driving Car Doomsday Scenarios” sums up my thoughts pretty well: http://transportblog.co.nz/2016/01/07/doomsday-driverless-scenarios/

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    • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:54 pm

      Thanks for that link. Someone in the comments below that evocative list offered this perspective which I found worth considering:

      “I don’t believe the cost of hiring a driverless car will be any cheaper than Uber is now. As well as driving, human drivers also refuel, maintain, secure and store vehicles overnight. Drivers are also insurable and legally liable should anything go wrong.

      Providers of driverless cars will have to have systems and people in place to provide all of these functions. No one has published the estimated costs for all this. It’s all gee-whiz tech looking only at the task of driving and staying on the road, not the bigger picture.”

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      • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 10:16 pm

        Good point. The costs will likely scale sub-linearly though. Kind of like Hertz. They don’t hire new staff when another three new vehicles arrive.

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  • Joseph E January 15, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    Re: “except cheaper because the cars will spend less of their time out of service.”
    I strongly disagree with the contention that driverless taxis will be cheaper than Car2Go or similar services in cities. Taxis lose value per mile, not per year, because they are driven into the ground before they can become obsolete. More frequent use will make the cost of parking a little cheaper, but this will be offset by the higher cost of vehicles due to the need for expensive electronics and sensors. A Car2Go is a simple vehicle, with mainly mechanical systems. A Google car has very complicated electronics; they are not going to be cheap to maintain.
    The cost per mile for a driverless taxi will be the same as for a carshare or Car2Go vehicle: about $0.35 to $0.40 a mile for long distances in rural areas, or $0.60 to $0.70 a mile in cities. It will be very difficult to get costs lower, even if gas prices stay low.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu January 15, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Imagine if it were very cheap, very comfortable, and very convenient to get driven around by a taxi. Many people would take taxis instead of driving and parking their personal cars. The amount of traffic on the roads would not be reduced, but the amount of parking needed would be much less. With less demand for parking, today’s curbside parking could be converted to bicycle lanes. Today’s parking garages could be converted to bicycle parking and other uses.

    Now, suppose these taxis were all driven by drivers with perfect vision and awareness and control, instant reaction time, always courteous and responsible, strictly obeying all laws. This would mean they would adhere to posted speed limits, not hit other cars, not hit pedestrians, not cut off cyclists. This would mean cyclists could ride in bike lanes, or indeed in any lane, at whatever speed, without fear of being hit by these taxis.

    Replace “taxi” with “autonomous car”.

    These autonomous cars will, of course, consume energy to get around. However, they could be electric. And they could be very small, hence energy-efficient. Private cars, because most people only have one, are chosen to meet any need the person ever has, however infrequent. Even if the person usually drives alone and for just 10 miles, he’ll buy a car that can carry the whole family plus luggage for the occasional long road trip. But when he summons the autonomous car for his 5 mile commute, he’ll happily ride in a small vehicle (with no driver, even a tiny vehicle can be very spacious for the passenger) and doesn’t care what the car’s range is (as long as it is at least 5 miles).

    There will also be fewer autonomous cars, compared to today’s conventional cars. Since each autonomous car is carrying people 24/7, rather than sitting idle 23 hours/day, there don’t have to be as many cars per capita. Manufacturing fewer cars reduces energy consumption, hugely.

    So, imagine a future Portland where there are just as many cars on the road as today, maybe even more, but all those cars are the size of Smart Cars, are driving 20 mph, never break traffic laws or hit pedestrians or cyclists, and are silent and electric, and all the previous curbside parking lanes are wide bicycle lanes, into which no car ever ventures.

    That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

    Will we ever get there? Don’t know. It’ll take many decades to get all the way there. Maybe a few autonomous cars will be in our roads by 2020. I think the first ones might well be luxury cars that you can switch to self-driving mode as an alternative to driving yourself. Those wouldn’t bring much societal benefit, but I don’t see them making things worse either. To really get to the “future Portland” described above, we need, basically, autonomous taxis.

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    • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      I’ll continue to ride my bike, thank you very much.

      Curious to me how excited folks here are for this car-future.

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      • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:23 pm

        Why shouldn’t they be excited? It’s an exciting prospect to be able to rethink many aspects of urban life, with a revolution with the potential to be every bit as transformative as the advent of the automobile.

        By all means, keep on riding. Most here will do the same. But many things we take for granted could be transformed.

        Exciting!

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        • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:26 pm

          “with a revolution with the potential to be every bit as transformative as the advent of the automobile.”

          Right. That one turned out so well.

          I guess what I’m getting at is that removing the driver strikes me as a tiny piece of what makes up automobility. And yet here we are whooping it up how transformative and wonderful this is all going to be. Electric and cheap and no accidents, whoopee! I guess I just have a severe allergy to hype.

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          • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:28 pm

            It turned out better than what it replaced. I believe this one will too.

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            • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm

              Are you talking about horses in NYC?

              I think if we take a slightly larger view of transportation pre-automobile, and transportation as we’ve come to know it in the last century, we could debate whether it was self-evidently better. What would be the metrics you’d reference to support that claim?

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              • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:34 pm

                Near universal adoption.

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                • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:40 pm

                  Well, o.k., but ancient sunlight has a lot to do with that. Stealing from the past and the future to subsidize what otherwise would have had to be powered by your last meal has its charms, especially if we don’t ask too many probing questions.
                  Any transportation system that relies to the degree that ours currently does on fossil fuels will win if we take that view. But I would argue this doesn’t have all that much relevance in the face of the constraints that this century+ of overreliance has saddled us with. Dreaming is fun, until the parameters that made it possible get kicked out from under us.

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                • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:52 pm

                  Your last meal was likely powered by fossil fuels. Our country (and most of the world) would starve without them.

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                • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 10:01 pm

                  Sort of true but also fatalistic.
                  It unhelpfully obfuscates the fact that we could (and some of us are) striving to minimize the extent to which that is true. And besides the order of magnitude matters a lot. 6 billion people eating beans to bike is much more conceivable energetically than 6 billion people pulling into a couple hundred million gas stations once a week.

                  … A 140 lb (64 kg) cyclist riding at 16 km/h (10 mph) requires about half the energy per unit distance of walking: 43 kcal/mi or 3.1 kWh (11 MJ) per 100 km.[4] This figure depends on the speed and mass of the rider: greater speeds give higher air drag and heavier riders also consume more energy per unit distance. This converts to about 732 miles per US gallon (0.321 L/100 km; 879 mpg-imp).[7]

                  Here is the late Ken Kifer’s engaging take on this subject.
                  http://tinyurl.com/kenkifer-co2

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                • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 10:08 pm

                  Unfortunately, much of the world is striving to get past their dependence on walking and bicycles for their main modes of transport. I think I have reason to be fatalistic.

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                • 9watts January 16, 2016 at 9:09 am

                  “Unfortunately, much of the world is striving to get past their dependence on walking and bicycles for their main modes of transport.”

                  This is as good an example as any of the risk of mistaking consumer preferences for citizen priorities. There are thousands of reasons cars have been in ascendance around the world. Some of them reflect what we might call consumer choice, some reflect the tyranny of the majority, or corporate power, or the military industrial complex, and some reflect principled policy making. But those who may disagree, prefer another trajectory, are all too often pushed aside, their voices silenced. Which is why your 30,000 ft conclusion about what is going on with transportation is a little too glib, too tidy.

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        • Anne Hawley
          Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 9:47 pm

          And since I have no illusions that we will either ban private automobile ownership or voluntarily shift away from it, I’d certainly rather be riding my bike on streets filled with autonomous vehicles than what I put up with today.

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 9:33 pm

        I’ve got my concerns, but I’m excited for it for much the same reason that I call Uber now and then: sometimes biking isn’t an option, and I don’t own my own car or have a license.

        When the day comes that I can no longer ride my bike at all, I sure won’t be taking up driving again! And I don’t live in some idealized all-Pearl-District-Walkable City. Not everything is a cane-hobble away, and transit isn’t getting better. Light rail does not come to my door–or even to my neighborhood, and the bus service is less than ideal.

        I wish I could see a societal real will to change course and become more Euro or something, but I don’t, and tick-tock, man, my hourglass is way emptier on top than on the bottom. I respect your ideals, but my choices, like my remaining time on earth, are not unlimited. A fleet of driverless cars would answer a real need that I can see hoving over the horizon.

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        • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:42 pm

          I thoroughly enjoy your thoughtful posts, and appreciate that within the society we live in with all its quirks and flaws and skewed priorities, cars (and those future variations without a driver) strike a chord, inspire, fill a need. But when it comes to imagination, thinking big, the future, I guess I’d be more inclined toward what Jonathan found in Copenhagen for the kinds of transportation needs you are talking about:
          http://bikeportland.org/2013/05/31/cycling-without-age-in-copenhagen-87631

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          • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:49 pm

            Why couldn’t we do both?

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            • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:51 pm

              Amory Lovins answered that question almost forty years ago this way:

              “A society cannot aspire to be both conspicuously consumptive and elegantly frugal. The hard and soft paths are culturally and institutionally antagonistic, and furthermore, compete for the same limited resources.” The Energy Controversy: Soft Path Questions & Answers, 1979. p. 5

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              • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 9:57 pm

                Well I see more synergies between automated vehicles and improved cycling conditions than incompatibilities.

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          • Anne Hawley
            Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 9:56 pm

            I’ve actually even lived in European towns and cities (though not CPH or Amsterdam) and that experience has influenced my dreams of what a city can be. I just no longer believe that I’ll live to see an American city get much closer to that ideal. Not even good old Stumptown. I don’t see the sustained political will. I see a race to burn all the carbon in the ground as fast as we can, and damn the climate-change torpedo that is clearly heading our way.

            So I ride my bike and live in my almost-qualifies-as-“tiny”-house and I forgot to reproduce, and dammit. If the big CSZ quake hits, then MAYBE Portland will be the city that rebuilds itself on a whole new model. Maybe.

            Short of the 9.5, though, I’ve lost faith in radical change. Sorry.

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        • Kathy January 18, 2016 at 4:32 pm

          I share your concerns. I am about the same age as you. I currently own a car, but it will be my last, as I will not be able to afford another one. I would like to continue to live car-light, continuing to ride my bike and walk as long as I can, while not owning a car. Currently, options here range from a minor Zipcar presence to taxis.

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          • SteveG January 18, 2016 at 4:48 pm

            … and transit, Uber, Lyft, Car2go, Getaround. And home delivery of pretty much anything, via Amazon, with Amazon Prime. It’s already a pretty awesome time to live sans car, and will likely just get easier.

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            • Kathy January 18, 2016 at 5:11 pm

              Let me clarify. I don’t live in Portland. Where I live, we have lousy transit, although I use it as far as it goes, but no Uber, Lyft, Car2go, or Getaround. While home delivery is available and awesome, I still need ways to transport myself.

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  • Joseph E January 15, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    The one place where driverless will make a huge difference is in small towns and rural areas. Right now a taxi with driver can’t make any money in a rural area with infrequent demand for taxis. But since the cost of a driverless car will mainly be per mile, it can still be profitable making infrequent trips. This will be particularly helpful in low-density areas, to get access to intercity bus or trains, or for trips to the airport from small towns. It will also make it possible to have a driverless taxi waiting at a train station or bus stop out in the suburbs, to get people the last 1 mile to home. Someone could pay $1.50 a day for a 1 mile round trip to the transit stop, instead of paying for parking their own car, and then take the bus or train to the city. This will make it much easier to provide transit service to lower-density areas without building huge parking lots.

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  • gutterbunnybikes January 15, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Not sure how anyone can really be opposed to driverless cars.

    They obey the law, they aren’t drunk or stoned, they aren’t distracted, they are predictable, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say they will increase volume yet lessen congestion because easily 90% of traffic hold ups are people caught in intersections blocking opposing traffic, collisions from human error, red/yellow left turns, and they’ll be able to tailgate and draft each other.

    though there is no data to really back it up, I’ve long suspected that human error is as much a contributor to congestion as traffic volume.

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    • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      “Not sure how anyone can really be opposed to driverless cars.”

      Really?

      I’ve little objection to drivers and a lot to cars. I’m rooting for carless drivers.

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      • gutterbunnybikes January 16, 2016 at 5:52 pm

        The assumption is that they’re will be more cars, which likely won’t happen. The ride-share companies are positioning themselves for the switch over to a driverless on demand service. Recent partnerships with automobile manufacturers definitely point in this direction. I think the transformation will be much faster and will occur much sooner than most think it will happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if this service doesn’t start with n the next few years here in Portland.

        There are so many possibilities corporate accounts with driverless carpool, tie ins with public transportation etc which can dramatically reduce the number of automobiles on the road even during rush hour.

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        • Pete January 16, 2016 at 11:37 pm

          Shuttles that run passengers from off-airport parking lots to airport terminals, and terminals to rental car lots – I could see airports adopting these, as well as any busing or shuttling services with unionized and/or pensioned employees looking for long-term savings. As a society we’ve figured out how to automate many tedious and error-prone human tasks in the name of ‘advancement’ (well, cost savings really). Why would driving be any different?

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          • MTB rider January 17, 2016 at 6:34 pm

            g,9,and p,

            We have an airport here that has good transportation available such as MAX, taxis, shuttle buses, Trimet buses, etc. Yet most arrive in a personal car.

            Driverless on-demand rides will be popular for a few folks in the inner city. That’ll be about the extent of it.

            The number of cars will not increase since for the most part each driver already owns one car.

            I would not want a driverless car since I drive in areas that aren’t on the map – forest service roads, etc, and a driverless car would destroy itself hitting potholes, rocks, logs, etc. AND I doubt the cars will actually be driverless for several years until they are proven to be safe – the potential for a computer error is high as we’ve seen with all computers to date. A human will have to take over in some situations. I would not ride in one at a speed greater than the speed I’m willing to have a wreck. I suspect parking lots will be a challenge for them. AND it’s going to be interesting to see what the price will be – probably not cheap.

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            • Pete January 19, 2016 at 9:25 am

              “The number of cars will not increase since for the most part each driver already owns one car.”

              People don’t always buy cars because they need to. Most people I know could easily get away with one car in their household, yet they have the space and budget for two or more. People (myself included) rationalize their need for cars – and even their need to keep cars they’ve already paid for and depreciated and can’t recapture costs for. The number of cars on the road in my lifetime has never gone down, and as long as it’s cheap enough to own and operate them it likely won’t.

              “I doubt the cars will actually be driverless for several years until they are proven to be safe – the potential for a computer error is high as we’ve seen with all computers to date.”

              I agree that it will continue to take time, but that’s more because of administration, politics, and social acceptance than technology. Computers and robots have replaced humans in many, many tasks (primarily to save money) and the result is that production errors have gone down dramatically. I’ve been involved in complex system design for decades and worked on an unmanned military vehicle in the early 90’s, and unmanned aircraft in the mid-2000’s, and I can tell you it’s not that the technology isn’t there, it’s that it’s still not quite cheap enough for how many sub-systems you have to integrate to manage the number of use (and abuse) cases a driverless car needs for all possible route situations. When the roads start ‘talking’ to the cars that will help, and our gov’t is already spending money on that R&D. From an American business perspective, the question will always be “what’s my ROI when weighed against risk (e.g., lawsuit).” Think about the number of incompetent drivers we already let on the roads…

              “We have an airport here that has good transportation available such as MAX, taxis, shuttle buses, Trimet buses…”

              When I need to get to Portland from the gorge there are almost no options other than driving, especially as I’m combining trips between downtown and west ‘burbs and then sometimes Tigard/Sherwood to stay with friends. Yes, Portland has better transit options than most US cities, but they won’t entirely eliminate car travel into the city. If you saw my comments in the other thread about gorge biking, then you might have seen that I’ve often flown into PDX and taken CAT from the Gateway MAX station to Hood River. That’s only a total cost of ~$10, but it involves flying mid-day mid-week (i.e. peak work hours), taking a four-stop MAX trip with bags and sometimes dogs, waiting sometimes hours for the shuttle (3:30 pickup), and then a 15-minute walk to my place (again w/bags+dogs) after a 50-minute ride. And I can only do it on Tuesdays or Thursdays. As I’ve mentioned here before, when I needed to get from PDX to Hillsboro or even western Beaverton, MAX couldn’t cut it. (Businesses won’t let you account for non-optimal travel times; for instance if it takes my boss renting a car at PDX and driving a half-hour, it better take me no longer than that during work hours – especially if I’m with other people).

              So yeah, transit options around central cities in general tend to be OK – MAX is great when I need to get from Portland to Portland (or even eastern parts of Beaverton) – but many people simply don’t center their lives around central cities. For these reasons it would take a long time for single-driver car use to be phased away – if that was even a goal for our government and society (which it’s clearly not).

              Driverless cars will have their place, and that place will be driven mostly by economics, as in the examples I mentioned – once capital costs come down.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 15, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      If we mean “a whole system of driverless cars as compared to human-driven cars, everything else in the system being the same,” then yeah, I’m with you. At a minimum, road wrecks would plummet.

      There is, in fact, some data to back up the assertion that human error causes traffic congestion. I love the idea of eliminating it.

      But you don’t just lift out all the human-driven cars and plug in a driverless car module. I’m enthusiastic about driverless cars for all sorts of reasons, but the level disruption will greater than when we got the first kind of cars, and we’d be nuts not to consider every scenario we can think of.

      Some of that thinking is going to come from out-and-out opposition, and that’s a good thing.

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  • B. Carfree January 15, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    We’re all assuming that autonomous cars will not crash into us. I think part of that has to do with Google’s management of perceptions. However, they were recently compelled to hand over their “human intervention records” and those show that, had the “driver” not intervened, Google cars would have crashed into things eleven times in 424k miles. That’s a rate of about once every other year, based on current average miles driven. Autonomous cars have a ways to go to reach our expectations.

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    • Hello, Kitty January 15, 2016 at 10:46 pm

      Given the difficulty of the problem, I see that as a great record. Of course, that would have to be improved, dramatically, before the vehicles are brought to market, but I have no doubt it will happen.

      Also, I don’t know if that was 11 incidents the first year, or if they were evenly spaced in time, or what it really means.

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      • Train Engineer January 18, 2016 at 9:00 pm

        11 kills in 424K is a “great record”? I’d call it a total failure. The first time a driverless car hits a cyclist in town will everyone on this website say: “It’s OK it was a driverless car.”? Have my doubts.

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  • SteveG January 18, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Here’s a long list of driverless transit systems:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_automated_urban_metro_subway_systems

    Seems To me that TriMet should start by exploring technology that would allow for the elimination of drivers for MAX trains. Then BRT and then busses in general. This would keep TriMet solvent without having to constantly increase payroll taxes, which punishes job creation.

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    • Train Engineer January 18, 2016 at 8:57 pm

      Driverless trains? That’ll be the end of my days of taking MAX. Too risky.

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      • DaveB February 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm

        Guess you don’t take BART when you’re in San Francisco, right?

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    • Adam H. February 18, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      All automated railways are grade-separated though. Additionally, most have platform gates to prevent people from falling onto the tracks. This wouldn’t work for light rail, that shares grade with other road users. Far too many variables for the train system to account for.

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  • Dan Sturges February 18, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I hope Steve runs for Mayor, as we are going to need mobility-intelligent public leaders as we progress into this future.

    I have to laugh, we look at the cute Google self-driving car as our big future. Actually we should be thinking about Generation 8 of the concept. As the Google “car” is like the first Apple MacIntosh with 128K memory standard.

    All this back and forth about Cars vs Transit. If you are riding in it, not driving, and it’s taking you somewhere, well, it’s “Transit”. In this AUTOMATED mobility future (yeah, forget “autonomous” – our vehicles will not be autonomous in the deeper future – your city won’t want them to be, and neither will you) any 1,2,3,4,6,8,12,18,24,48,200 person surface vehicle that is self-driving is a TRANSIT vehicle! 8 little 2 seaters that are full and traveling in a PLATOON – that means they are all traveling within 4 inches of each other, well that takes the same space of a 16 person can or mini-bus. Do you get the idea? It’s a complete new game.

    Of course we want people using active modes over powered ones. Of course we want the smallest footprint of Potland’s coming Public Mobility System. And we need to mak sure every person can get to nearby commerce (hub) and not rely on corporate automated mobility system (Don’t want to be dependent on Big Sister)…

    I think the thing I mostly never hear is how this future is about the shape and function of our future cities. We are always talking about transportation. I for one expect many aspects of our lives to change in the time me adopt AVs. Virtual Reality is one. Who has googles on when traveling through Portland? Does it look like their office? Are they crouched over in the back in some kind of truck hardly using much space and traveling way cheap?

    I also expect more people to use Airbnb and live in a more distributed manner. Yeah the first AV I expect to see go by me is probably Steve’s neighbor’s “CLOSET”.

    Instead of saying what the AV will be and how it will be bad, why don’t us people just make it right, how it should be. As if aliens were in charge!

    Mayor Gutman! Like Architect-Mayor Jaimie Lerner in Braxil created Bus Rapid Transit. Here we are in a President election cycle and I sure wish we had fewer LAWYERS running for office and more ARCHITECTS and real CITY SHAPERS!!

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  • DaveB February 18, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Academia has not been asleep about autonomous cars. There have been several modeling studies done about what would happen if all private trips were replaced by autonomous cars that could reposition themselves. One that looked at shared autonomous vehicles (SAV) serving a 10 square mile area of Austin Texas (twice the size of Car2Go’s current operating area in Austin). Each vehicle would serve 30-40 travelers per day, very few waiting more than 5 minutes throughout the entire area. Preliminary results indicate that each SAV would replace around eleven conventional vehicles, but adds up to 10% more travel distance than comparable non-SAV trips, resulting in overall beneficial emissions impacts, once fleet-efficiency changes and embodied versus in-use emissions are assessed.

    (From: The travel and environmental implications of shared autonomous vehicles, using agent-based model scenarios by Daniel J. Fagnant, Kara M. Kockelman, 2009, published Transportation Research Part C 40 (2014) http://www.elsevier.com/locate/trc (not free)

    There was another report from Europe in the past few years that modeled what would happen if all personal vehicle trips AND buses and train trips were replaced with shared autonomous vehicles. As I recall the results indicated it would result in more traffic than presently (although with much faster travel times for everyone) but concluded that the additional traffic would be mitigated by continuing to provide buses & trains on main routes. (Sorry, I’m not finding a copy of the report to quote it more precisely.)

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