Companies like Tesla & Google are making advancements in self-driving technology, which could remove a need for cab drivers and will lower the price.
Mass transit, the lifeblood of cities worldwide, is under the threat from the biggest innovation in automotive technology since the Henry Ford’s assembly line first flooded the streets with cars
The self-driving vehicles being pioneered by the Tesla Motors Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google &others are poised to dramatically lower the cost of taxis, potentially making them a cheaper than buses or subways, according to the joint report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Co. Having no driver to pay will reduce taxi prices to 67 cents a mile by 2025, less than a quarter of the cost in Manhattan today, the report found.
It’s a change with a potential to reshape cars the automobile commuting patterns, transforming and a car invention in urban life. As prices fall, the challenge for cities is that the cars can become too popular. Instead of complementing public transit, they may attraction commuters away from buses & trains, inundating streets with drone cars.
“If we don’t manage this properly, the densest cities in the world will be pretty and unpleasant places to live,” said Colin McKerracher, an analyst at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Automakers have significant footraces to overcome before automobile cars can effectively drive themselves; the technology now is more like an autopilot that should be constantly monitored. While driverless cars have already shown its ability to handle highways, companies are pushing to perfect them for city streets, using GPS to navigate & sophisticated sensors to detect vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and pets.
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“It’s an astounding development in the transportation world,” said the Lucius Riccio, a professor at Columbia University & a former New York City transportation commissioner. “This is the first major change in 100 years.”
Taxi, No Driver
The arrival of driverless taxis comes as the industry is overturned by ridesharing services offered by Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., and others. The prospect of computers at wheel will dwarf those controversies, imperiling and the entire profession immortalized by Robert De Niro in the film Taxi Driver. More than the 150,000 people of automobile earn their living driving taxis & limousines in New York City, accounting for 4 percent of employment.
“The possibility of self-driving cars in New York is not around the corner, but it is in the future,” said New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission chair, Meera Joshi.
Elon Musk has pledged to have a Tesla drive itself to the New York City from Los Angeles next year. Uber is piloting autonomous vehicles in the Pittsburgh. General Motors Co. in March acquired Cruise Automation Inc., which is testing self-driving vehicles in San Francisco. And by 2021, Ford Motor Co. expects to offer the fully autonomous car — devoid of steering wheels & brake pedals — for ride-hailing services.
Once companies work out the kinks, they say driverless technology may make the traffic accidents nearly nonexistent. Computers don’t fall asleep at the wheel, get drunk or text while driving. Electric automated vehicles could reduce the smog and greenhouse gasses. Lower-priced taxis meanwhile could make bus & train stations more accessible for the suburban commuters, boosting mass transit ridership.
Cities are grappling with how to respond. Los Angeles is exploring how a driverless vehicles might fill mass-transit gaps. And Boston is working with a World Economic Forum to test whether driverless electric vehicles will reduce the pollution and can improve safety on city’s twisting streets.
“We know that humans aren’t very good at driving vehicles, and this is maybe a way to starts to eliminating those roadway fatalities,” said Kris Carter, co-chair of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.
Not all cities are an embracing the technology. On the same September day Uber began testing Ford Fusions in Pittsburgh, two Chicago lawmakers introduced the legislation to ban automated vehicles. “We do not want the streets of Chicago to be used as an experiment,’’ said Alderman Edward Burke, one of the sponsors of a bill that would impose $500 fines for deploying the driverless cars on city streets.
Cabbies are unlikely to vanish all at once. The automated taxis Uber is the testing in Pittsburgh have drivers in the front seat, ready to grab the wheel if needed, & initially, they’ll stick to certain neighborhoods. As the technology advances, companies say the cars will start to roam throughout the cities, just as the mobile phone services gradually blanketed regions years ago.
“Urban driving is the most difficult piece of this,” said Carol Reiley, president & co-founder of Drive.ai, a Mountain View, Calif., company that develops software for self-driving vehicles. “But that is where we are heading.”
The shift could dramatically recreate the streetscapes. Entire lanes may be dedicated to driverless cars. Traffic signals, highway signs, and the parking lots may become obsolete. Even curbs, designed in part to prevent the vehicles from careening onto sidewalks, may go the way of the horse-drawn buggy.
“At the same time, we need to remember that cities are for people,” said Seleta Reynolds, general manager of a Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “We can’t let the arrival of driverless cars change that.”