Will self-driving cars eliminate the demand for public transit?

Hello and thanks for reading.

I have heard on a number of occasions (namely from local politicians) about how the most important form of politics is the local kind, namely your Mayor and your town council.  This blog isn’t a place to debate that one way or the other, but I do agree that their decisions often have more of a day to day impact on the average person than other levels of government.

One of the key areas of local politics in many areas is the future of the car.  Most of us love our car and don’t want to make the move to public transit if we don’t have to.  This explains rush hour in most areas of North America, often with only a single person inside each car.  In theory, most people “could” take public transit to work, but often choose not to.

This has often made it difficult for your local politician.  They want to be seen as doing things to reduce issues like pollution and traffic levels  and want to be seen as “going green”.  This is the thinking behind many of the massive plans for public transit, ranging from increased subway lines to dedicated bus and bike lanes to even wide-area commuter trains to bring people from the suburbs.  Despite their efforts, traffic does seem to be getting worse each year.

Enter in the self-driving car to solve all of the issues … or does it?

News articles from all over the US (and likely in most developed countries) have shown there is a big movement from many politicians to abandon many large-scale public transit projects as they may become obsolete with the introduction of the self-driving car and its ability to change the business model of companies like Uber.

The theory is that once drivers are eliminated (which is Uber’s biggest cost today), the cost difference between a direct Uber ride and using public transit will be so small that the vast majority of users will opt for a ride in an Uber.  As well, the thinking is that once we take humans out of the equation in driving, traffic will move so much quicker that the traffic jams of today will not be a concern.

Is this realistic?

I do agree with some of the thinking in the above statements.  I do think that Uber’s drop in cost will drive more people towards this service (and likely away from some areas of public transit like buses).  As well, I do think that self-driving cars have the potential to increase the capacity of most roads.  However, there are some flaws to this thinking if it is the basis for not going ahead with projects like light rail.  

Here is a quote from Jarrett Walker (a transportation consultant from Portland) that sums it up well …. “Highways today can carry about 2,000 cars per lane per hour. Autonomous vehicles might quadruple that. The best rail systems can carry more than 50,000 passengers per lane per hour. They move the most people, using the least space. No technology can overcome that geometry”.

The Bottom line
I think cities need to take a pause before considering eliminating many large scale projects.  Uber and other services are (and more in the future) definitely putting a damper on the demand for certain bus routes and this needs to be considered in future planning.  However, there will be a demand for subways lines and light rail for many years to come, as there will be for other solutions such as electric bikes and scooters.  We need to keep our options open to all ideas to solve these issues … 

 

A dog that won’t eat your shoes…

As someone who runs through different parks on a regular basis, I definitely have a lot of interactions with dogs.  As a dog lover, I don’t mind at all actually, and often stop to pet the ones who seem like they want to bust off of their leash just for the opportunity to “say hello”.

Having a dog comes with a lot of benefits, namely they truly are great companions.  However, there is obviously a downside, such as some dogs who are prone to chewing on many household items.  Enter SpotMini … if you aren’t familiar, watch this short YouTube video and come back … I’ll wait for you.

 

Ok, now that you have seen SpotMini, let’s talk more about it.  As the video shows, the “animal” can do so more than just be a four-legged companion.  It seems to help with the dishes, be able to run errands and more.  It seems that SpotMini may be an ideal companion for many who are looking for both companionship and for a little extra help around the house.

 

So, is this the future of the “family dog”?

 

While I don’t see millions of households abandoning “Fido” in short order, I do see some great opportunities for such an invention.  Its familiar form factor as a dog does help (somewhat) to reduce some of the fear that many would have towards using a robot in the home.  This will be key as one of the main demographics that may benefit would be the elderly, as this could help to alleviate some of the extra burden expected from the health care needed for the aging baby boomer population.

 

As well, one only has to wonder where this technology will go?  If you just add some of the technology that we have now to this device (such as Alexa, GPS and more), you can see how its value would increase further.  Add in the power of Artificial intelligence to learn patterns and our likes/needs and this device could truly become a lifesaver for many in our society.  One can see how it may help to make many people live more independently for many years.

 

As well, as time goes on, it would make sense that these devices would become even more life-like …. Just like how the different Terminators did in the movie.  Hey, wait, is that a good thing to compare it to?

 

Well, to date, there have been no recorded incidents of SpotMini acting up.  In fact, in one video where a man tries to interfere with it opening a door by tapping it with a hockey stick, SpotMini just continued on its mission of opening the door.  Perhaps they have programmed in some “iRobot” code into it (feel free to watch the underrated movie with Will Smith if you do not know what I am talking about).

 

The Bottom Line

There is definitely a market for a device like SpotMini in our society, as its flexibility and form factor will be very appealing to many people.  I don’t see it replacing the family dog anytime soon, so you still may have to come home to the odd shoe chewed here and there…..

 

 

So, the use of automation will increase the amount of jobs?

Hello and thanks for reading.

When one thinks of automation, the idea that comes to mind is that it will change how many businesses operate, namely by streamlining production and work.  For many, this is a fancy way of saying that it will put millions out of work.  However, it appears that our friends at the World Economic Forum see things differently.  Click here to read their report.

I will spare you reading a 147 page report.  It goes into great detail how automation and IoT will change how business is done, what jobs will be in demand and how it will eliminate many jobs.  This is the usual scary story that we hear … but this time, it comes with a twist.

It estimates that while 75 million jobs will be eliminated in the next 7-10 years, as many as 133 million new ones will emerge.  The jobs being eliminated will mostly be “tasks that have become automated or redundant”, while the jobs being created will be in new products and services to help the world make this transition.  The report goes on to echo what I have said for years in that the most in-demand roles going forward will be in Data analysis, Engineering and skills that are “distinctly human” and cannot be duplicated by machines (such as Sales and Marketing).  The report goes onto say that the majority of current workers will need to have substantial skill training (as much as one year full-time) to adapt to this changing climate.

So, does this mean that we are all good then, since it will create more jobs than it eliminates?  Far from it, actually …

Most of the new jobs being created will require specialized degrees, and with the growing economy, these jobs are already not being filled.  So, the current mismatch of the labour pool (where we have millions unemployed who lack the skills to thrive in the new economy, while companies have equally large demand for skilled roles that they cannot fill) will only be made worse.  So, even if the WEF were to be correct, where will these 133 million new skilled workers come from?

We need to act fast …
• Start to invest in training for engineering, design, sales, creativity and other key sectors
• Offer tax breaks and incentives for companies to re-train their key workers
• Change our focus in post secondary education to get more students to move towards these sectors
• Start to change how we educate our children, starting as young as age 5, to thrive in this new environment.

A short plug, if I may … I do cover these topics and more in my E-book (The Internet of Things Made Simple), now available on Amazon and iBooks.

Will the public’s current fear of autonomous cars slow down their progress?

Hello and thanks for reading.

Even as a kid, I had an odd fascination for numbers.  To be clear, I never saw myself going into Accounting as a field, but I was often able to find unusual patterns or anomalies in ways that many people could not.  This perhaps explains why I have had good success in the past as an investor in the stock market … or maybe that is just dumb luck, who knows?

 

A number of polls have come out in the past few weeks with regards to self-driving cars that seem to be quite contradictory in nature (from the Brookings Institution):

 

“While 70% of people expect a widespread deployment of self-driving cars within 15 years, 59% said that they would be no safer than human cars while 69% said they were concerned / very concerned about sharing the roads with them”

 

So, to look at it another way, most people think they will be coming but believe that not only will they not improve safety, there is actually cause for concern to their presence on the road …. Hmm, that is interesting.

 

Why you may ask?  A commonly cited figure is that 90-95% of all car crashes were caused by three factors that a self driving car might eliminate as they do not get distracted, they do not drive drunk and they can be programmed not to speed.  If you eliminate those things, how would a self-driving car not be safer than driving with the “average” human?

 

There is a strong reason why I have put the word “average” in quotations.  I think most of us truly need to examine how could of a driver the average person really is.  Sure, if you took away all distractions, they may actually have decent skills, but let’s be realistic.  Humans can be at less than their best behind the wheel for many reasons … here are a few:

 

Loud kids in the back that need yelling at, looking at your phone to find an address, you had a little too much to drink last night or did not sleep well, your boss just chewed you out in front of the team …. Need I go on?

 

The average driver driving at their average capability in today’s world is not a great driver and it is likely that a good self-driving car would prove to be as good (or likely much better) than they would be.  Throw in that the road would now be surrounded by other vehicles who aren’t being driven by people who are equally as distracted and how is it that anyone would ever think that a world with self driving cars would not be safer?

 

Sure, I will be the first to admit that we are not there yet, but in 10-15 years, I am quite certain that we will be. 

 

To finalize, one thing that seems to separate a good driver from a bad one is being able to anticipate what another driver will do.  In the world of self driving cars, the theory is that not only will one vehicle be able to anticipate the move of another, they will actually communicate it to one another.  Imagine how much better / safer merging onto a highway will be when there are no egos involved?

 

The Bottom Line

I am in total agreement that we continue testing before we do any large scale deployments.  However, one only has to look at things rationally to know that this move will make the roads safer and quicker to get around than they are now.