Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming and There’s No Roadmap (Yet)

From job shifts to reclaimed parking-lot acreage to the end of traffic tickets. How will cities and their residents gain, or lose, once AVs hit the mainstream?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is excerpted from “No One at the Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future,” by Samuel I. Schwartz, published by PublicAffairs. In it, the author argues that forward thinking and smart planning will be necessary to grapple with benefits and concerns surrounding the autonomous vehicle (AV) revolution that is taking hold around the world.

When I was growing up, my father had a tiny grocery store in Brooklyn that served our immediate community. Around 1960, something relatively uncommon in Bensonhurst at the time opened about 100 feet away: a supermarket. In our densely populated neighborhood of multifamily houses and apartment buildings, it was the equivalent of Walmart opening in the middle of Main Street in a small town: disruptive, unusual, looming, but still somewhat enticing.

Because of the chain supermarket’s buying power and financial backing, it could undersell my father on some (but not all) products and absorb losing money on these items in order to entice customers into the store to buy other higher-priced products.

Uber and similar ride-hailing services are doing exactly what supermarkets did regarding pricing. These companies are willing to lose money in exchange for market share. They will charge less than a taxi to be competitive and gain riders. (Amazon did the same thing to become a leading e-tailer.) For instance, Uber lost $4.5 billion in 2017; it had lost $2.8 billion in 2016. One analysis suggests that Uber may be covering as little as 41 percent of the cost of its fares. However, Uber stated that in the first three months of 2018, it made $2.45 billion because it sold some assets.

Uber also spends big on lobbying efforts. It employs 250 lobbyists at 49 lobbying firms — a lobbying troop that is larger than Walmart’s. Financing this effort doesn’t come cheap. In Texas, Uber spent upward of $945,000 on lobbying costs in 2015. In 2014, the company spent $684,000 in California, $600,000 in Seattle and $314,000 in Washington, DC; and these figures don’t include the cost of advertising and public relations campaigns. In the first half of 2017, the company spent $1.2 million on lobbying the New York legislature, making it one of the most aggressive lobbyists right as the state was considering legislation to allow ride-hailing companies to operate in upstate New York and on Long Island. The legislation passed.

29. November 2018

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