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The Demise of our Car Culture? Not.

May 19, 2013   [permalink]

In today's Denver Post editorials, Vince Carroll discusses the demise of the car. He describes a survey that shows the Millennial generation strongly favors "green" transport. He argues that he thinks cars will hang on, and I think he's right... but for the wrong reason.

Since transportation is ultimately about the process of getting from point A to point B, while it's great to have options, those options have to satisfy many criteria: Not just "green-ness" but also, and probably primarily, cost to use -- in both dollars and time. I would love to take public transportation more, except that a 10-15 minute drive may take 1-2 hours by RTD bus and/or light rail.

Whereas, what I would love to have: Self-driving cars.

These would get people where they want, and give you the time to do something interesting/useful at the same time. Want to text while driving? No problem if the car is doing the driving. Watch a movie? Read a book? Drink a beer? Imagine the benefit for the elderly and disabled. And they're already as safe if not safer drivers than people.

Yes, public transport offers some of this freedom too, except for the massive more time it takes.

Use google maps to get some comparative time estimates for your own travel paths. For example, to get from home to the nearest King Soopers grocery store is 8 min by car out, 10 minutes back. Via RTD, it's 1 hour 3 min out, 1 hour 16 min back. That's 18 minutes total travel time by car vs. 2 hours 19 minutes by public transport. Another sample route for me would be 18 minutes by car one way vs. 2 hours by RTD, and that's just ONE WAY. I can't fathom spending four hours, half the work day, to get to a destination and back that I can do in 36 minutes by car.

I can't afford to spend that much time. If it added a small amount of extra time I'd be glad to -- I particularly think the light rail is cool -- but RTD's system is so timewise inefficient that it just isn't a viable option a lot of the time.

For that reason alone, my hunch is that the solution the millennials and others will ultimately embrace is the self-driving car. Particularly when you consider the idea that one need not have to own your own self-driving car if you don't want to: imagine self-driving "taxis" and self-driving ride sharing -- slightly longer times at lower cost.

Again, it's about options: And self-driving vehicles will open up a lot more options than we have now. So, from a predictive standpoint, since the technology exists already, this is almost a no-brainer to predict that it will get widely adopted in the upcoming years.

Hey, Google, when can I buy mine???

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