One of the biggest changes that will occur during the transition to autonomous vehicles is that there will be a dramatic shift in the mobility consumption model. Rather than owning cars, people will purchase mobility as a service in much the same way as they buy airline tickets today.
Already we are seeing a major move in this direction in metropolitan areas with the growing popularity of ridesharing services offered by companies like Uber and Lyft. Many young people living in cities no longer bother going to the trouble of obtaining a driver’s license, much less purchasing a car, because they can get around much more cheaply and conveniently using these and other micromobility services such as bikes and scooters together with public transport.
Indeed, in cities that have excellent public transportation networks complemented by efficient privately-operated taxi and ridesharing services, the case for owning a car is even weaker. During the thirty years I’ve lived in Taipei I’ve never driven a car or experienced the need to buy one.
The picture in smaller towns and rural areas is much more cloudy, however. Their lower population densities and larger geographical spreads make it extremely difficult to justify major investments in public transportation systems or private mobility services that people can use to take them from A to B more dependably and efficiently than their own vehicle. How can you rely on a bus that never arrives on time to take you to a doctor’s appointment?
The transition from the private ownership of vehicles to the consumption of mobility services thus looks set to take much longer in rural areas than urban ones. A key question that needs to be looked at is whether there are any ways to speed up this transition in order to meet emerging mobility needs among, for example, the rapidly growing aging population.
Although this is a tough ask, it’s not impossible due to a combination of rapid advances in autonomous driving and deep learning technologies, not to mention lower-cost electric vehicle manufacturing, as well as more inventive policy making.