Why Disney Should Take The Lead On Self-Driving Cars - Forbes

October 24, 2017

 

I feel fairly confident that autonomous vehicles are coming eventually, and that the roadblocks critics cite are surmountable. But rather than showing up overnight as fully functioning options at the car dealership, autonomous vehicles will show up gradually as incremental growth of autonomy and flexibility. One of the first places that should go autonomous is pretty clear to me: Disney World.

 

Buses are likely to be among the earliest applications of autonomous driving in the real world. This makes sense because buses run on predictable paths, and therefore have to deal with less uncertainty and require less flexibility. This is happening already in some ways, with autonomous shuttles being tested in Helsinki and Las Vegas.Disney World in Florida has a massive bus system that would be perfect to replace with autonomous driving. The buses provide free transportation for guests, operating as a hub and spoke system. The four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot,

Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) and Disney Springs are the hubs, and the 22 resorts are the spokes. This system also connects to a monorail and water transport. This is a major transportation system, requiring nearly 400 buses, which Disney brags gives them the same sized fleet as the St. Louis Metro Transit and a larger one than the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

 

So Disney clearly has a major scale bus system that could justify the fixed costs of investing in this technology. Lets say the 400 buses require 400 drivers. According to the BLS the average bus driver salary is just under $32,000, so lets say Disney pays $30,000. Then they spend $12 million a year on bus drivers.

 

That’s just the potential cost savings, the benefits are likely an order of magnitude larger when it comes to customer convenience. Disney relies on a bus system rather than a taxi system because this economizes on driver time. This means the buses make multiple stops, and long queues can occur to even get on a bus. As a result, although buses usually run on intervals of less than 20 minutes, the transportation time within the park can be significant. The Disney Tourist Blog offers this advice to guests:

 

If you’re planning to rely on Walt Disney World Resort transportation rather than renting your own car or utilizing a taxi, be sure to give yourself at least 1 full hour of transport time to get where ever you wish to go. Typically, it won’t take this long, but on occasion it can (it has taken us over an hour and nearly two hours on multiple occasions).

 

If going from one hotel to another, they advise leaving yourself 1.5 hours.

 

These are significant wait times, and it seems very plausible autonomous vehicles could reduce them by a lot. Autonomous vehicles wouldn’t need to economize on the fixed cost of a driver, and therefore could be much smaller than buses, perhaps car sized or even smaller. Indeed, even compared to autonomous cars individual households might buy, these shuttles could be smaller for a variety of reasons.  The vehicles wouldn’t need to be fast, so the engine could be small, they wouldn’t need to go far without charging, so the battery could be small, and they wouldn’t need an emergency human driver option, so they wouldn’t need a steering wheel. All of this leans towards smaller vehicles.

 

Click here to read the full article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/modeledbehavior/2017/10/22/why-disney-should-take-the-lead-on-self-driving-cars/#2f65fdae1346

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