The operational costs for the Atlanta street car rose 52% to $4.8 million per year. People opposed to public transportation and mass transit will likely use this as evidence of another government boondoggle. Advocates in favor of expanded government spending in transportation will explain this away. It’s possible that both sides are wrong.
Self-driving cars are coming. It’s not just Google anymore. Apple, GM, Ford, Tesla, Renault, and virtually any other major automobile company is currently working on the technology. The societal implications for widespread adoption of self driving cars are almost too much to imagine. Car accidents will plummet. Car insurance will be a negligible cost for individuals. Jobs for truckers and cab drivers will fade away. It’s easy to imagine a company like Uber investing in fleets of self driving cars to keep down costs.
Cars may become shared assets where we order a car for a few minutes to take us about our day. Or perhaps we invest in self driving cars that make traveling from rural areas into town much easier. If you can sit in your car on a 45 minute commute to work and start working on your emails before arriving at the office, long travel times become an easy sell.
What does this have to do with street cars? Well, focusing on public transportation with traditional solutions may be fighting out last war. Public transit made a lot of sense for a long time. It’s never performed well in Georgia for a variety of reasons. Current predictions estimate that autonomous cars will be on the market en masse sometime around 2025. Autonomous cars will naturally reduce traffic, allow faster transportation on existing infrastructure, and provide a cheap solution to our traffic problem without the need for massive investments of public funds.
The only downside is that these cars are a decade away. A lot can happen in 10 years. In the meantime, Georgia politics need to focus on clearing the way for ride share companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to operate in our cities. These services will naturally reduce the need for additional cars on the road without having to invest in expensive public works projects. The reality is that people are unlikely to pay $5 per ride in a street car if Uber can take you just as far for the same price. Don’t forget that Uber also comes to your door and drops you off where you want to be.
Technology is rapidly changing transportation in our cities. Smart minded politicians need to be aware that our public transportation needs are going to be revolutionized in a very short period of time. Atlanta should prepare to adapt to and embrace the coming autonomous car revolution. That’s the future of transportation.