I recently saw the movie “The Martian”. Terrific film. Go see it, it is truly the hero’s journey. It is also the way-shower. A
lesson in what is coming in the future. Just as most films reflect our society or teach us what is coming from the future, the creative souls who put them together for us are our messengers. We learn through entertainment. We can accept imaginary events and personalities, amuse ourselves and then tell our friends about it. Buck Rogers, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Artificial Intelligence, the Matrix were all messengers telling us what to expect in our future.
We are usually ignorant of the oncoming changes that are driving towards us. We keep making 30 years plans for highways, high-speed rail, fuel efficient vehicles when AV’s (autonomous vehicles–(those without any driver) are already on our roads. We could be able to buy these vehicles as early as 2020. Steven Strauss, (writing in the Los Angeles Times, “What cars and horses have in common”, November 8, 2015) delivers some amazing figures that we should pay attention to:
- AV’s will be cheaper to operate and travel faster than cars and be fleet-owned (individual ownership won’t be worthwhile if AV’s are affordable and arrive on time.) They would mostly use a combination of electric or hybrid. In the long term, it will be hydrogen.
- Fleet ownership of AV’s (autonomous vehicles) could reduce the number of cars on the road by 60 to 90% due to more efficient usage and, consequently, reduce car sales by equal percentages. This could result in many of the million auto manufacturing jobs disappearing.
- More than 2.5 million driving jobs (there are 1.7 million truck drivers, 650,000 bus drivers — about 2% of the US workforce) will also be eliminated. The ripple effect through the economy is huge.
- Automobile insurance (which now has a revenue of $200 billion) will shrink. Fewer accidents will have fewer claims and lower premiums
- Land tied up in parking lots can be re-purposed for other uses.
- Hybrid or electric AV’s will help with climate change.
- Back in 1898, just before the beginning of the automobile, delegates came from around the world for the first urban planning meeting in New York. Their biggest concern was what to do with the horse manure. America had 20 million horses at the time and she was buried in manure. They certainly weren’t focused on cars or the replacement of the horses.
- The hour we are now experiencing is the 2nd ending of horse manure. Gasoline stations, Keystone pipelines, California high-speed rail, more freeways, etc. Yes, there are barriers to overcome between now and the next 5, 10 and 15 years of progress with AV’s. We need to change our thinking, remove our blinders. Cities need to start rethinking about how they are going to handle AV buses, highway taxes derived from the highway trust fund –which comes from the sale of gasoline–, economic calculations of large bus terminals and high speed rail. AV’s are coming quickly and we need to start thinking about a new driver-less experience. Many projects such as a new $10 billion bus terminal in New York or a $70 billion high speed rail in California need to be viewed from a future view not as things are today.
Remember, 20 million horses, buggies, buggy whips, spokes, horseshoes, blacksmiths are all quaint parts of our past. One day, driving your own car will be illegal—but that’s about 20-30 years away. In the meantime, we have met the future and it is driver-less.