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Even with driverless cars we’ll still need transit


Published:   |   Updated: November 27, 2013 at 01:52 PM

Automated cars are coming. In one scenario, most homes will continue to have one car per driver, but driving will become better and more efficient. Cars will still consume a substantial portion of the average household’s income, but you can text while in the driver’s seat and driving is safer.

In another scenario, automated cars are used to deliver a supercharged version of car sharing. You no longer own a car, but have access to a car, on demand, 24/7. Parking spaces become obsolete because the car picks someone else up when it drops you off. Without the need for parking, cities get more dense.

But even in the most ambitious scenario for car sharing, we still need more density in the urban core, more transit, and the government should decrease parking regulations.

Car sharing companies like Zipcar are already providing service in many American cities. Car sharing doesn’t exist in the Tampa Bay area because we have inadequate transit and few walkable neighborhoods.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I was a Zipcar member. This allowed me to rent a car for $10 to $12 per hour. Zipcars were located close to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority stops throughout the city. I still chose to take transit because a Metro ticket cost only $1.35. As a student, Zipcar was a luxury I rarely used. Keep in mind, I was driving the Zipcar. Having an automated car might not make Zipcar any cheaper.

Plus, if you can make a driverless car, you can make a driverless train or bus. So, public transit will likely still be the most cost-effective option.

Will automated vehicles change how we drive and live? Maybe. Will automated vehicles make the need for transit choices obsolete or transit spending today wasteful? No. People with different needs and different wants will seek out different transportation options.

Government should never pick a winning transit technology and force it on everyone. Cities with good transit systems and walkable neighborhoods are already benefiting from car sharing, and in the future, cities with dense urban centers will be the ones that benefit the most from automated cars.

Brian Willis is president of Connect Tampa Bay.

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