How Self-Driving Cars Could Help the Underprivileged

Autonomous tech could be an affordable transportation alternative to low-income populations.

If you search for images of the self-driving future, it's filled with lots of good-looking professional types—and large turtlenecks. I get that upscale automakers like Mercedes-Benz and Volvo want to show aspirational images, but as Jalopnik asked this week, what about those who can't afford a luxury vehicle?

Low-income populations already spend an inordinate amount on transportation compared to the middle and upper class. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, "lower-income households spent nearly 16 percent of their income on transportation in 2014, up from 9 percent four years earlier. In contrast, households in the middle spent about 11 percent of their income on transportation in 2014, while those at the top spent 8 percent."

Public transportation is, of course, a low-cost alternative to car ownership. But as Harvard professor and author Rosabeth Moss Kanter tells The Atlantic, there are challenges. Public-transit riders in low-income areas "reported that bus drivers sometimes didn't complete routes late at night because there were very few passengers and the neighborhoods were considered dangerous," she said. "Or bus drivers would sometimes pass people by standing at bus stops."

A 2015 study from Harvard found that access to efficient and affordable transportation is associated with aspects of upward mobility such as employment, education, healthcare, quality food, and goods at reasonable prices. And the longer the commute time, the less chance someone has of moving up the economic ladder.

"Without really good public transportation, it's very difficult to deal with inequality," Kanter said. But contrary to Jalopnik's take, autonomous technology could provide solutions for the underprivileged.

22. November 2017

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