The driverless economy: what our city streets might be like in 2020

The driverless economy: what our city streets might be like in 2020

Paradoxically, here in early 2016, we are witnessing the lowest U.S. gas prices in years, but we are also moving toward a transportation era based on dramatically different economic premises, most obviously driverless vehicles. So it seems a perfect time to dig into the deep economics of cars, their impacts on city life, and what we can anticipate coming down the pike with the rise of driverless vehicles and smarter ways of living in cities once we can depend on AI-augmented transport.

Perhaps there is nothing so pedestrian as parking, a global phenomenon that we generally take for granted along with many of the other externalized costs associated with car culture. The hard fact is that the typical car spends 95 percent of its working life parked. This means that little of the value of the car is actually realized. And, according to the AAA, the average cost of owning and maintaining a mid-sized car in the U.S. in 2014 was almost $9,000, of which $1,300 per year goes just to parking! Therefore we should not be surprised that parking is a $100B industry. This despite the fact that as much as 98 percent of car trips — at least in Los Angeles — start or end with free parking, according to the California Household Travel survey.

Parking consumes a great deal of time, and according to Daniel Shoup, 16 studies from 1927 to 2001 found that 30 percent of the cars in congested downtown traffic were cruising to find parking, on average. He also notes that more recently, in 2006 and 2007, 28 percent of the drivers stopped at traffic signals in Manhattan and 45 percent in Brooklyn were searching for curbside parking.The average American takes four car trips a day, and if you figure two are commuting based, that can still translate into a half hour or more of looking for a space.

We seldom think of how much of our cities are given over to cars, but in one study it was found that 14 percent of Los Angeles is devoted to parking. Barclay’s Capital reported that we could see a 60 percent decline in the number of cars on the road, but the impact on parking could be much greater.

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