Jack Hope’s comments on the post below about self-driving cars deserve a higher profile.  Like here:

The reality is automated automobiles (auto-autos?) are going to be here and they going to get here fast. And this is, as they say, a ‘game changer.’


A couple of ideas off the top of my head:

1. This is basically ‘Personal Rapid Transit’ (PRT) writ large and practically attainable. But while most PRT schemes to date are either hopelessly naive or scams, this could work. Mostly.

As has been noted and commented elsewhere, any PRT system ultimately runs into the same problems as any system based on single occupancy vehicles, with traffic jams and infrastructure being the biggest one. As Neil Salmond mentions, this is physics. Automated skinny cars tinker at the edges of that and increase efficiency, but a highway full of single-occupancy vehicles will never be as efficient moving people as, say, a Skytrain line.

2. Our notions of car ownership are changing fast, and this will kill any lingering sense that a car is anything other than what it is: a means of conveyance.

Hobbyists and enthusiasts will still have their own personal cars and I suspect that there will be locations set aside for their use. But given the ability of auto-autos to essentially eliminate accidents, I expect that directly operating a motor vehicle will be a thing of the past.

3. Some sprawl supporters view electric powered auto-autos as their saviour, a way to shut up all the environmentalists and also deal with pesky traffic jams. Hooray, we can kill public transit once and for all! Except, it’s not going to work that way because the physics simply won’t support it and building more lanes of freeway is still going to be wrecking our local environments.

And in Metro Vancouver where we have very real physical barriers to growth too.  And no suburb will ever provide the wealth of experience that a proper city can. Still, there will be renewed push for suburbanization in the wake of this technology.

4. The biggest risk to public transit from the arrival of auto-autos is that there will be a push to make them a public utility. That would be a huge mistake. Computerized buses will obviously be phased in, but public agencies should not be in the business of providing single occupancy vehicle use.

With the de-personalization of car ownership and cars being relegated to just being a service, any transit agency that started operating them would probably be doomed pretty fast. We do not want to be subsidizing single-occupancy vehicles, even if they use the hopes of little children as fuel and the hand of God as driver. We’ll be stuck in the same situation we are today, trying to build more and more freeway to keep up with more and more demand while wrecking our own health and having the government subsidizing it.

5. Following up on thought number 4: auto-autos are the best chance that’s ever come along to make sure that you really are paying for what you use when you travel anywhere on publicly owned asphalt. You’ll be taxed right down to the last centimetre used. But with luck, it will be the end of government subsidizing single-occupancy vehicle use.

6. Rubber-on-asphalt….  Not really all that energy efficient. I expect some places will start trying alternatives, including possibly standard-gauge rail. As long as the computer onboard can talk to a central computer to mange switches, it might work. There’s probably other options in this vein that I can’t conceive of that might work even better.


  1. I’m honoured, thank you. And I wish I had double checked my spelling and grammar before I hit ‘Post Comment’ now.

    Watching Sebastian Thrun, I have to admire his vision. At age 19, I lost a dear friend of mine in a car accident between Calgary and Vancouver that was utterly preventable. So I understand and do think the automation of automobiles can drastically improve safety and save lives.

    But I’ll also admit, the idea of increasing the capacity of highways by a factor of 2 or 3 does worry me as well.

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