Let’s start with the hell scenario, in which we all own driverless cars that do all our errands for us. To see the impact of our worst nature, consider a typical day owning an autonomous car. I have a breakfast meeting in Harvard Square, so my fully autonomous vehicle — my FAV — drops me off then sends itself back home to park for free. I schedule the FAV to return at 9:30 a.m., but I don’t rush out because the car will just circle the neighborhood until I tell it “I’m here!” Later on, my son decides to go to a friend’s house two miles away, but instead of riding his bike the family FAV takes him there and comes back. As I get a friend a gift at a hand-made jewelry shop, my FAV circles the block for 15 minutes. Rather than trip-chaining to get the dry cleaning, we send the FAV out anytime to pick it up (an employee places the cleaned and pressed clothes in my car for me). Ditto for our take-out dinner.
How getting from here to there is changing forever.
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Here’s why that’s a hellish vision: people consider the cost of individual car trips to be just the cost of gas and we won’t think twice about asking a driverless robot car to do our bidding. In a FAV world, where we won’t actually need to be doing the driving ourselves, each and every errand whim we might dream of is now a reality. If single-occupancy vehicles are the bane of our congested highways and cities right now, imagine the congestion when we pour in unfettered zero-occupancy vehicles.
Now for the transportation heaven scenario, in which shared FAVs are used for on-demand origin-to-destination public transport. Depending on the weather and our moods, both my son and I can choose to ride our bikes to our destinations, which is also door-to-door and basically free. Or we use an app to call the public (or private?) shared FAV and tell it “I’m here and I want to go here.” We wait less than two minutes and a six-seat vehicle arrives. There may or may not be people in it already, and we may or may not stop and pick someone else up along the way. If I didn’t want any side stops and were rich enough to pay a surcharge, I could say, “I’m here. Book entire vehicle.” I might also say “I’m here. Book entire vehicle. Fancy one, please.” With the shared FAV world, I have a full range of luxury and price points, and society has fewer individual car owners.