The car is set to undergo a massive transformation in the coming years, as automation gradually eliminates the need for drivers, and electric and hybrid vehicles occupy a growing share of the global market. But, in a future where autonomous cars arrive on demand to take you where you need to go, there seems little point in owning one.
The average car spends around 90 percent of its life parked. A shift away from privately owned vehicles towards a service — owned and run by public or private ventures — is a smart and efficient solution that will revolutionize the way traffic flows through cities. But it also could have profound consequences for existing transport systems such as trains, metros and bus services.
Give up your cars
For many, cars represent independence or freedom, so you might expect some resistance to this. But on the whole, evidence suggests that people seem ready to accept the loss of car ownership, provided alternative transport goes fast and far enough.
This is clear in cities such as London, where regular, comprehensive public transport options make owning a car unnecessary for many people. On average, there are 0.8 cars per household in Greater London, where the tube connects the city with about 250 miles of rails.
But car ownership is higher in areas where transport is less reliable. For example, residents in the Great Manchester area, in northern England, own on average 1.3 cars per household with an urban rail system extending just 58 miles. If alternative solutions are competitive, there seems to be little opposition to abandoning car ownership.
The price of anarchy
It’s likely that autonomous cars will operate as part of a networked system. This will enable them to avoid congestion, thus reducing pollution and minimizing the time people spend on the road.
This bears explaining: congestion is often caused by too many drivers all trying to take the most direct or convenient route at the same time. Only drivers who take the route early will benefit, while the rest will get caught in traffic — mathematicians call this "the price of anarchy."
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