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Dangerous Expectations: Robotaxis

It's dangerous to assume that our reliance on private vehicle ownership can be solved by robotaxis. Watch Bern Grush explain more.

How many zero-car families and zero-ownership neighbourhoods would you need to create in order to lower per capita car-ownership in your country by 50%?

A common 2016–2018 response to this question was “it’s easy, just use robotaxis.”

This dangerous expectation is conditioned on wildly optimistic calculations from several studies published prior to 2016, that assumed fleets of driverless taxis could carry passengers for a tiny fraction of the per kilometre cost of personal cars today while reliably arriving within two or three minutes of being summoned.

A key rationale for asserting that people would readily switch rested on the weak assumption that car owners make their decision to own a vehicle primarily on a cost basis.

Furthermore, this calculation was largely based on the assumption that removing the driver will be sufficient to provide a massive personal and societal productivity increase.

The involvement of fleet management, maintenance personnel, ground control systems, insurance, tragedy of the commons, and the high likelihood that many of these vehicles may require human attendants was often underestimated or ignored by visionaries focused on the ability of a vehicle to safely manoeuvre on city streets in relatively good weather.

This optimistic picture of the easy replacement of the private fleet with incredibly cheap AV operations has since been debunked.

A graph showing the steading increase in car production over time, from 60 million in the year 2000 up to almost 100 million after 2018 Automobile production per year shown in millions.

References

Kenworthy, J. (2017) Is Automobile Dependence in Emerging Cities an Irresistible Force? Perspectives from São Paulo, Taipei, Prague, Mumbai, Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou

Burns, L. (2013)

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Planning for Autonomous Vehicles: A People-Centred Approach

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