Commercial self-driving cars will permeate urban ride-sharing services and public transportation, with fueling up in the air
When it comes to AVs, cities already have a head start. “So much of the development [of AVs] has really been focused on urban centers, and I would expect that to reflect where the technology will be deployed initially as well,” says Jeremy Carlson, principal automotive analyst for Southfield, Mich.-based IHS Markit.
“In the United States, we would expect [AVs] to more closely resemble a ride-hailing business model, like an Uber or a Lyft, centered around a dense urban area where there’s going to be ... pretty high and pretty consistent demand for it,” says Carlson. He also anticipates every market will be different, and that markets with strong existing public transportation (Europe, for example) would likely see more mass-transit vehicles slowly transition from human to computer control.
Deploying a fleet of potentially thousands of self-driving vehicles through a city brings up the next logical question: Where would all of these vehicles go to recharge or refuel?
“I’ll be honest: No one has figured that out,” says Carlson. His best guess is that the AV service provider would build their own service centers for their vehicles, but he admits this would be a huge investment. And that’s not factoring in the cost of the vehicles, something today’s ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft do not have to contend with, because the companies don’t own the vehicles their contractors drive.
On the fuel side, electric-powered public transportation is already growing in urban areas today. In Chicago, for example, employees who work in the Prudential Plaza and Aon Center offices have had access to all-electric buses traveling between a train station and the business park every weekday since late 2016.
On the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles, General Motors has hundreds of all-electric Chevy Bolts as part of a car-sharing network for rideshare drivers, known as Maven Gig. Waymo, Google’s AV car division, has more than 5 million self-driven miles behind it. And last year, Waymo’s cars began test-driving on public roads without anyone in the driver’s seat.
As autonomous transportation grows in cities, Carlson says, the services will eventually extend to the suburbs. It’s beyond the suburbs, in rural markets, where the outlook starts to change.