When most transportation wonks predict how self-driving vehicles will be used in the not-too-distant future, it sounds a lot like how people currently get a ride through Uber or Lyft — just without the driver.
"I need a car, I need a ride, I dial it up on my smart phone," University of Minnesota transportation researcher Frank Douma told a group of community leaders in Grand Rapids, Minn., recently.
"It shows up at my front door, takes me where I need to go, I get out, and somebody else is waiting there immediately or shortly thereafter to get into it and go somewhere else."
But that model is designed primarily for cities or suburbs where lots of people live relatively closely together. And that could leave a lot of people who could really benefit from driverless vehicles out in the cold, said Douma, who directs the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
"People who can't drive, whether they have different physical abilities, or they are too poor, or they're getting older and they can no longer drive, could all benefit from self-driving technologies," he said. "But if you don't have the market model that works in cities, you don't get those benefits."
So, last year Douma organized a task force to explore how to make self-driving vehicles accessible to all Minnesotans, which he and others predict will be cruising Minnesota roads by 2025 or 2030. Former teacher Myrna Peterson was one of his first recruits.
Peterson, 68, is paraplegic. She was paralyzed in a car accident more than 20 years ago. Now she often uses her electric wheelchair to make the two-mile commute to Grand Rapids.
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