From Car and Driver:

If the driverless economy is imminent, and the endgame is fleets of fully utilized robot vehicles that create radical reductions in personal vehicle ownership, why would a car company be complicit in undermining its own market? The answer is that it wouldn’t.
No car company actually expects the futuristic, crash-free utopia of streets packed with Level 5 driverless vehicles to trans­pire anytime soon, nor for decades. But they do want to be taken seriously by Wall Street as well as stir up the imaginations of a public increasingly disinterested in driving. And in the meantime, they hope to sell lots of vehicles with the latest sophisticated driver-assistance technology.

So it’s really about the “latest sophisticated driver-assistance technology” – particularly for collision avoidance.  If built-in technology can prevent everything from fender benders to fatalities, that’s most of the problem solved, at least as far as insurers are concerned.
Collision Avoidance button1
And it may be the cost of insurance that drives the real change.  If, say, you have a car that prevents almost all accidents with respect to your personal liability, presumably you’ll see massive savings on insurance.  Which means, in turn, that those without the technology will see massive increases.  And may not even be able to afford it.
But there will also be a responsibility for those with driver-assistance technology to continually upgrade and maintain it to fail-safe standards.  Or again, the liability will be crushing if it can be shown that the owner was negligent in doing so.
So here’s the question: why take personal responsibility?  Why, rather than owning a car, instead rent, lease, share or contract with the provider of vehicles – effectively service providers rather than car sellers.  The service provider takes on the responsibility for the technology, and the liability, while also providing the latest versions in a very fast-changing market.
Rather like car-sharing already, you won’t actually have to own a car to get the benefits of a car.  And that will have two further radical consequences.
It will break the psychological bond an individual has with the personal vehicle they purchased – a bond cultivated with a century of advertising and cultural expectation.  By contrast, no one really falls in love with the particular smart phone they have at the moment, knowing the technology and model will change so fast.  It’s the service, not the hardware, that creates the dependence.
Then, once the personal bond with the vehicle is broken, it changes how government can approach taxation.  At the moment, it’s almost a third rail in politics to directly tax a driver by, say, increasing the price of gas or imposing a toll – anything that’s visible to and resented by the driver.  But what if government instead was taxing the service provider?
How much, for instance, is the tax on any individual cell-phone call?  You don’t know and you don’t care.  The tax is invisible, incorporated into your service contract, which is paid for once a month in a way you hardly notice.  What if the same was true for transportation services?  Rather than the car driver paying the tax, it was paid by the transportation service provider, who was also responsible for collecting it.
The Mobility Pricing Commission, currently looking at options for road pricing in Metro, should be thinking about a future scenario where taxation is separate from infrastructure and instead is incorporated into the price of a service which almost everyone will need.  Rather like your phone.




  1. There are really two topics in here, accident prevention, and who pays for it.
    Of course it makes sense to get more and more accident prevention technology into cars at reasonable costs, such as ABS, automatic window openers, dual mirrors or modern NAV systems – all of which used to be only in luxury cars say 20-30 years ago and today are in almost every car. As such, AV is not a black and white state but a continuum. Ditto with electrification. I think we will see more and more hybrid cars as it makes so much sense, more so than pure EVs. Ditto with AVs .. bit by bit .. technology by technology ..
    The other issue is how to pay for insurance. Isn’t the car always insured, regard of ownership? In the future we will get somewhat more car sharing, but we will continue to see ownership, as we see with condos or houses. Some prefer to rent, or can only rent. Others prefer to own. This will also be the case with cars. Likely more car sharing than today but likely never over 50%. House ownership in Canada is about 70% – one of the highest in the world but falling due to more urbanization and higher prices. Ditto with cars. A somewhat rising sharing percentage as ownership falls from 95%+ .. bit by bit every year .. but not to zero or even 50% anytime soon.

  2. The more I find out about driverless cars the more it looks like it’s impossible to work without removing anything or anyone that might get hurt by them. In this post-peak car world, the auto makers are scrambling to hold on and any new gimmick that can fool investors is worth looking into.

      1. Depends on how it is defined. We are probably at peak private car and maybe in distance travelled per person by private car. An internet search produces many articles on peak car theories.
        In Metro Vancouver, car transportation mode share has been declining though total number of trips are increasing slightly due to population growth. Cycling mode share is rising faster than any other transportation mode

        1. Right, just as we heard about peak car after the 2008 recession. American are driving less yada yada yada. Except we now see that trend reversing. And that doesn’t even take into account the developing world and the increase in vehicle ownership there.

        2. Kenworthy and Newman (2015) tracked data from cities all over the globe since the 60s and now have semi-tractor trailer loads of evidence that vehicle km travelled have peaked and is either on a plateau or is in decline since 2005. It follows that the world supply of cars has peaked.
          This is predominantly due to the construction and expansion of urban rail mass transit, including China which is well into a major long-term build-out. The killer air pollution in large Chinese cities was one of the main reasons for this policy.
          Vehicle km travelled peaked in the US, the long-reigning King of Autopia, in June of 2005 and as of 2015 (their last data at publication) was equivalent to the level in 1994. Similarly, graph after graph show the decline in Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia.

        3. “New data released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) show that U.S. driving reached 3.148 trillion miles by the end of 2015, beating the previous record of 3.003 trillion miles in 2007. For a sense of scale, 3.148 trillion miles is roughly the same distance as 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto.”

        4. Bob, if you are going to focus on something less than global VKT, why not at least focus on Metro Vancouver?
          The Transportation Panel Survey (I have the 2014 one handy, but the 2015 data shows the same trend).
          Metro VKT (total) declined steadily from 2004.
          Metro VKT (per capita) declined much more rapidly from 2004.
          Number of passenger vehicles per capita is relatively flat during that period.
          Total population and registered vehicles grew during that period.
          So, more vehicles, each (on average) driven far less, and even with the growth in population and vehicles, with a resultant lower total VKT.
          See Exhibits 4-22 through 4-25.

        5. My apologies, I typed Metro instead of City. Metro numbers are flat, City is declining as quoted above..

        6. Jeff, I focused on global VKT because two posters tried to make it sound that we were “living in a post-peak car world” where VKT was falling. It’s simply not true.
          As to Vancouver, total number of vehicles registered continues to climb. But perhaps you are celebrating global capital snapping up our homes and letting house prices inflate to the point where no working person can afford vast swathes of the city? Vision has been a screaming success in that regard.

        7. I noted that locally, VKT (both total and per capita) is dropping even though population and vehicle counts are up. How does that cause you to believe that anything related to global capital, housing prices, or local political parties is being celebrated?

        8. With new immigration targets of well over 450,000 PER YEAR, in Canada, BC and of course, MetroVan one needs to assume: more cars, more demand on healthcare, more demand on schools, more CO2 emissions, AND more demand on housing ..

          Not only here, but worldwide # of cars and # of airplane trips will grow substantially, some say DOUBLE by 2040:

        9. Bob, it’s still lower than 2005. It may catch up just as the world glut in oil comes to an end (almost there now) and the price of fuel to spike up to 2013 levels and beyond, driving car sales and VKT downward again. Pity the poor SOBs who recently bought Hummers and Navigators or cheap plastic houses in the outer suburbs because fuel prices were low. Kenworthy & Newman addressed the effect fuel prices have on automobile dependency extensively in their work.
          There are independent geo-science analyses of rock strata and fracking production data out there that point to a major decline in US shale oil in the near future. The over-extension of US frackers was the thing that created the glut in the first place. It is doubtful that an oversupply of such magnitude would happen again, especially now that OPEC and Russia are cooperating on banking off their spigots with perfect timing to coincide with the end of the glut.
          This is so predictable.

        10. Thomas, see above comment on the direct relationship between fuel prices and VKT. Can you predict what the price of gasoline or electricity (for EVs) will be in 2040? Neither can the authors of that piece. What a ridiculous exercise to even try project almost a quarter century ahead.
          All the cheap low-hanging-fruit supergiant oil fields were discovered a half century ago and all are in decline. All the expensive resources (tar sands, deep sea, shale) have very significant limitations on top of their higher cost to exploit. Oilman Arthur Berman calls shale oil & gas “sunset industries” and provides extensive analysis that the much hyped ballyhoo is proof that it is a “retirement party” based on their rapid decline characteristics, not a celebration. And on it goes.
          It’s quite entertaining to see these pro-car projections based on thin air, as though last century’s extractive economy will magically continue to underpin the extraordinary energy needed to maintain the world car fleet anywhere close to current levels. China and India are building mass transit in their largest cities at an extraordinary rate because that is the only mode of transport that comes closest to meeting urban and intercity transport demand using the most efficient levels of energy and costs on a per capita basis.

  3. The personal bond with the car will not be broken by making the car autonomous. We will need teleportation in order for that to happen, or some type of anti gravity machine. The history of travel by humans suggests that change requires new paradigms and accident avoidance is not one of them. Humans went from walking by foot to hopping upon a variety of beasts for a free ride, to then hitching those beasts of burden to a variety of contraptions, to then propelling those machines by mechanical forces which is pretty much where we are today. This is the essential story of the landlocked tribes, the coastal folks have a different story and came closest to the anti-gravity machine with the invention of the canoe and paddle which is still with us today because its use is such a sensual pleasure. Driving is a sensual pleasure as well, and both are extensions of the pleasure to be found in the control of one’s trajectory through space and through life.

    1. Well said.
      Transportation is just one of many element of vehicle use. Some even use bicycles for pleasure or races for pride or money. Others merely enjoy the sunshine in their convertible. Yet others sleep in it or make love in a car [ try that on a public bus … ] while others take pride in rebuilding 80+ year old vehicles.
      If transportation was the only use why would folks routinely spend 60, 80, even 250,000 on a vehicle when one for 12,000 gets you from A to B almost as fast and certainly much cheaper.
      AVs or EVs are like the evolution from a cranked car to one with an electric starter. It is a mere evolution that will be built into most new vehicles in a variety of progressions.

    2. Driving is a sensual pleasure …
      Do you make car ads? As an ex-cabbie who put on 200,000 km a year on both the day and night shifts years ago, and as someone who noticed that the advertising is distinctly false (hybrid SUV in the forest with deer nuzzling the windows // hybrid SUV waiting with 900 other cars for the fourth left turn light cycle), I’ll take a walkable neighbourhood any day.
      “Driving is a de-sensitizing experience” — that statement I can believe considering the 2,000 kg hunk of steel surrounding a single human 7 times out of 10.

      1. Many folks would beg to differ and routinely shell out $50,000+ (or $100,000+) for leather seats, fancy NAV systems, convertibles, oldtimers, sleek looking vehicles that are a work of art, fancy paint colors, etc
        Anyone who merely thinks cars are merely for transportation needs to get out more and ask “Why?”
        No one is forced to buy a car that costs more than $15,000 which is the basic minimum these days for a functional vehicle, yet many, or most even, do. Why is that ? Are they all deluded ?
        Maybe it is the same reason why not everyone wants a tiny condo in a crowded city downtown close to transportation.
        The role of government is to allow this freedom of choice, not hinder it !

        1. No one is forced to buy a car that costs more than $15,000 which is the basic minimum these days for a functional vehicle, yet many, or most even, do. Why is that? Are they all deluded?
          I would say no. It’s more a function of a lack of choice. Our society chose to exercise car-based planning for a lifetime, and now we are paying a profound price for that truly deluded idea. Cars are now nearly absolute, a kind of totalitarianism. The choice is so limited that to avoid car ownership or car-dependency is a very painful and onerous task.
          The evidence is clear: we can’t afford such a high dependency on private cars any more, and walking / biking and transit-based planning must now be given the proper tools and funding to fix this egregious mistake.

        2. Spoken like a true city dweller. Not everyone lives, or prefers to live, in dense cities. Your statement does not explain why car use is increasing worldwide nor why many aspire to own one.
          What works for Vancouver, or even SOME (but not all) of MetroVan does not hold true for everyone in BC, for example. Ever been outside of Vancouver, say Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast or Okanagan ? Without a car it is not at all enjoyable.
          Try seeing some of the most beautiful parts of BC without a car.
          So yes we can (or must even) plan for less car ownership or use in Vancouver but we need to acknowledge its continued widespread use elsewhere and plan accordingly.

        3. 85% of Canada’s population lives in cities. We are an urban nation. Over 90% of population and economic growth has for the last 50m years and will continue to occur in cities, or clusters of linked cities (e.g. the GTA and the Golden Horseshoe).
          Therefore, there is no excuse to continue automobile-centric planning that locks in hugely inefficient city functions and structure, or to neglect the fact that our cities generate the vast majority of the nation’s wealth.

        4. Further, intercity travel can be done with intercity rail, just like it used to. As the economics of last century disintegrate with modern cost-benefit, life-cycle accountability, per capita costs and benefits will practically dictate more efficient forms of publicly-supported transportation. Then you have externalities like the volatile price of fossil fuels and the limitations of EV battery and electrical generation capacity.
          Rail lines are the highways of the future for intercity travel.

        5. Yes rail lines make sense on SOME routes, usually with very high populations and loads of daily travel. It will NEVER be the future between Vancouver and Victoria, Vancouver and Nanaimo, Vancouver and Kelowna, Vancouver and Kamloops, Vancouver and Edmonton etc
          It may make sense to Abbotsford. Even to N Van it is not yet used and may never. Railways were invented prior to buses, trucks or cars as it relied on steam and coal. As such what was built in Europe in the 18th century may not make sense today with cheap airlines and/or bus or car technology, soon AVs.
          Wealth is NOT only created in cities. It is merely managed and financed from there. Mines, oil, gas, hydro, nuclear, windmills, forests, agriculture/food/wine etc are all NOT created in cities but elsewhere, probably 30%+ of Canada’s GDP and real wealth is not created in cities. Try getting to the west coast of V Island, say Tofino. The only real option for the next century will be a plane or a car. Ditto with 100+ places in BC where 100,000s of folks live & thrive ( & vote btw) !
          So, yes, cities need to have less cars but still need mass AND INDIVIDUAL transportation options, perhaps wifi enabled AVs holding 1-5 people each zipping about the city talking to each other, i.e. mini-buses really. This will be more and more electric and more and more shared but again individual ownership will remain with us as many do not like to share. Many folks used to own a horse as the only option available, then switched to more convenient cars. Ditto the next few decades when the individual exhaust emitting car will be replaced by one electric or hybrid. Publicly owned vehicles are not the only answer. We will see more EVOs, Car2Gos etc .. perhaps TransLink being one of the biggest fleet owners in MetroVan but individually owned cars will remain forever, until outlawed perhaps by ever more socialist governments to buy more union jobs [ albeit even I think this is unlikely ]

        6. “but individually owned cars will remain forever”
          No one has said otherwise. You are rebutting a position no one has taken. Of course, comparisons to horses etc aren’t useful or logical in this case, nor is the position that a big shift in public perception isn’t underway, but whatever floats your boat I guess.
          Here’s some turn of the century info on horse ownership.

          This quote shows more thought and a better conclusion than any horses=cars position:
          “I think, however, that people in cities and towns then were somewhat less likely to own a horse than a modern city dweller is to own a car today. And the reason for that is not so much the cost of the horse, but that our culture hadn’t shifted to being car-centric yet. People did expect to walk more, but their lives were also more easily lived without personal transportation than ours are today. Back then groceries and prescriptions were commonly delivered, and every tiny area had its own shops. (In the early 20th century, there were six small groceries within 4 blocks of the house I live in today. Not to mention the hardware store, bakery, butcher, etc.) There were streetcars all over the place.”

          What we have is a transformative change in ownership and usage patterns with the rise of car-shares now and driverless vehicles in the future. Predicating human behaviour in the future on outmoded beliefs is probably worse than useless, because it leads to really bad decisions made from faulty assumptions as often as note.

    3. “Driving is a sensual pleasure”
      This points to the real reason for the extraordinary popularity of car ownership: not what the car is or does, but what it represents: pleasure, beauty, virility, power, identity, freedom, wealth. What an incredible list! I can’t think of any other consumer product that promises such a dynamite assortment of positive associations. A century of advertising and ideology have had their impact. Regardless of whether it actually delivers, these meanings are what has given the car its tremendous cultural power. They are why people buy cars (instead of clamouring for transit, for instance), and it is they that are the biggest barrier to letting go of the private automobile.
      Assuming that consumers can afford to buy them, to argue that private car ownership will fade away amounts to arguing that the car will lose these associations. You think it can’t happen. Why not?
      The contemporary experience of driving is a far cry from the sensual pleasure you claim. Ninety percent of the time it consists of long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. (Speaking of which, war once had a similar list of positive associations. Actual war bore about the same relationship to its ideal as most driving does.) If our feelings where rooted in practicality, we would feel about as passionately about private car ownership as we would about off-grid power generation. After all, unlike the car, humble electricity really does deliver on that list of positive associations.
      Meanings change. What I see is not an argument that they can’t or won’t, but a desire to hold on to a bygone dream.

      1. Sensual pleasure is grounded in physical experience; it is not grounded in advertising or ideology. Contemporary experience is no different than past experience. Driving has always been a sensual experience which can include by definition both boredom and terror. The car will not lose its appeal going forward, indeed as it is transformed into an electrified machine it will only gain more positive associations.
        The issue is not the car but rather the grid locked car which at the individual level is best managed by making smart transportation choices even if you own a car. In some cases, walking is more pleasurable than driving even if it is raining.

  4. “The personal bond with the car will not be broken by making the car autonomous.”
    It does not matter how many grid locked robotic human cargo pods roam the inner city like lost and untethered elevator cabs even if such a future science fiction vision should ever come to pass because humans will still want to own and operate their own personal bubble on wheels for the reasons stated previously.

  5. Not everyone is getting the memo that fancy cars must be owned.
    “This month-to-month subscription program offers frequent vehicle exchanges, unrestricted mileage, and on-demand access for up to 22 different Porsche models. In a new relationship with Clutch Technologies, LLC, Porsche Passport will conduct its pilot program in metro Atlanta, which is home to both companies.”

    1. Not everyone wants to rent ie car share. Same as renting or buying a home today. Many prefer to won, many do not. With 4000 or so Evo plus Car2Go on the roads in Vancouver now we certainly have less cars overall (maybe 10,000?) but not a lot less on the road driving around !
      Owning vs renting by the minute or h or day is basically an economic decision and may reduce parking space, but not road space. Also see my earlier post about “Free Parking is like Squatting” here as clearly our parking in MetroVan could be far more expensive. As such, the rational choice is to park your BMW and Porsche on the road in Vancouver and rent out the “garage” to a student for $1200+

  6. A personal bubble on wheels need not be fancy, it could be an art car annually driven to the Burning Man Festival. Owning versus renting is not simply an economic decision, it is also an emotional decision, and an aesthetic decision, or a health decision made by asthmatics for example, that is why I refer to the car as a “personal bubble” on wheels.

  7. I don’t think anyone is disputing the fact there will be enthusiasts and hobbyists piloting the remnants of the non-autonomous, private vehicle fleet.
    But if the argument is that expensive sports cars must be owned… apparently not.
    The real question is whether this small fraction of society will have any impact on planning decisions around roads, transit, and zoning. It seems doubtful. Nor should governments spend much time or money accommodating the choice to play motorist among self-driving vehicles.
    In fact, the most probable outcome is special licensing and permitting requirements to make up for lost ticket revenue. If you thought automobile ownership was getting expensive, wait until a trip to the corner store for a quart of milk requires a special event permit!
    The personal bubble has been popped IMO.

    1. There will never, never come a day when the autonomous vehicle is as ubiquitous as you speculate. It is unproven technology in the real world of chaotic and unpredictable actions. It is a science fiction fantasy. And by the way a trip to the corner store never requires a car, that is why it is called the corner store. And further by the way, planning decisions around roads, transit, and zoning are public policy decisions made by all members of society. They are not decisions made by the gadget obsessed.

      1. “And by the way a trip to the corner store never requires a car, that is why it is called the corner store.”
        Corner store was a half-mile from my house growing up. Had room for about 10 cars in the parking lot IIRC.

      2. “There will never, never come a day when the autonomous vehicle is as ubiquitous as you speculate. It is unproven technology in the real world of chaotic and unpredictable actions. It is a science fiction fantasy”
        That sounds a lot like the discussion around ATMs replacing human tellers decades ago. Who would ever trust a machine to count out their money?

    2. I predict that humans will eventually be prohibited from driving on public roads since they have long since proven to be unreliable. In the future, driving under human control will only be permitted on private roads or on race courses.

  8. So the “real revolution” thesis proposed here is that why not bury mobility pricing in the cost of car rentals? A bit far fetched to think that such a money grab will actually work out even if these cars have collision avoidance technology.

    1. “So the “real revolution” thesis proposed here is that why not bury mobility pricing in the cost of car rentals?”
      I don’t understand the leap to this question, but it’s certainly not the thesis of my remarks, so I won’t attempt to defend it or discuss it.

  9. The “personal bubble on wheels” is not necessarily good for asthmatics unless the ventilation system has a HEPA filter. Even then, there is no avoiding the diesel fumes from the smoky Hino cube truck ahead. Roads are not only the most insidious manifestations of socialism ever invented — divides society into Left and Right, invokes total government control, disobey and you could die …. 😉 — but they are also horizontal columns of pollution.
    Our personal bubble will be sold off soon enough and we will enjoy a walkable community from the comfort of New Balance runners.

    1. Do electrons have any meaning for you? Can you provide examples of a civilization that was not organized around roads? Roads are the fundamental urban organizing element of both ancient and modern human settlements.

      1. Motorized vehicles in vast numbers over the last 75 years changed everything. The seemingly now-defunct 10-lane Massey bridge proposal (with an accompanying 21-lane freeway interchange) is not exactly the Apian Way.

        1. The only thing that separates the modern world from the stone age is the idea of the circle. It is found everywhere in the human world and no where in the natural world. The wheel in all its manifestations is the life blood of society delivering the essentials of life and in the process turning us all into cyborgs, part human and part machine. Ranting about cars is to descend into self inflicted chaos. It is better to work towards the harmonious integration of our activities with the fragile biosphere, the web of life in which we all are imbedded.

  10. The experts have great ideas. Experts always have. In Sydney the public have clearly said what they want. They want more development outside the city. By an overwhelming vote 3 – 1, they have voted for bigger suburbs.
    If the city decides to proceed with plans for thousands of new apartments they will probably be voted out.
    “More than two-thirds of people believe Sydney is full and property development should be pushed to the fringes, ”

    1. I’d say Vancouver and Burnaby are getting to that point too. I used to live in Burnaby in the late 80’s. I would never move there today. It is ugly and dense and lost its identity. Vancouver is close to it. Many folks wants less (or no) immigration and less highrises. Perhaps it would be worthwhile discussing the “white flight” to markets like Langley, Sunshine Coast, Okanagan or Vancouver Island from Vancouver area. Many folks moved to Richmond and Surrey to buy a big house and now think it is too dense with its many faceless 8-12 story highrises.
      Why is Kits Point, for example, or the whole of Kits or Vancouver West, not re-developed into another west-end or Yaletown with 20+ story highrises ? Massive resistance !!! Massive.
      AVs will eventually allow a far longer commute while you nap. Buy your lot in Harrison or Chiliwack now.

    1. note the word “eventually” .. and sarcasm tough to put in words .. My point is that with no toll on PM bridge and a widening on Hwy 1 to Abbotsford to 6 lanes we will see FAR MORE traffic on Hwy 1 and further out .. and if it can be done by a machine while the “driver” naps it will be done by many, and thus, land prices will rise even in the remote corners of Lower Mainland !

        1. Yes, but if gridlock is removed / reduced due to 6 lanes and tolls, an AV makes even more sense. Many cars already have these AV feature ie “folllow this car” ie it accelerates and slows down automagically .. and with auto-steering features soon upon us we are basically there in a few short years. You drive out of your driveway, push the AV button which will you get to the highway and it awakes you when close to the employer’s parking lot where self-parking while asleep will not be available anytime soon. So “manual AV” mode is here soon even if full AV is decades away.
          As such, with all the emerging EVs, ever more sophisticated AV features and car sharing we will NOT see less cars on the road, but perhaps only less cars overall (i.e. less parking requirements) but not any less traffic.
          Rapid alternatives to get to, say Burnaby, N-Van, S-Van or Richmond from Chiliwack or Abbotsford or rural Langley or south Surrey or Delta do not exist (and are not in the weak 2040 plan discussed here ) so the car (or AV enabled shared vehicle) is the ONLY viable options for much of MetroVan for decades to come .. even if $5-10 in toll is charged.

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