Get a cab: how driverless taxis could affect our social lives
Our days of making small talk with the Uber driver could be numbered – but what would the greater impact of driverless taxis be on the way we blow off steam?
Ordering a cab through an app is a pretty standard element of your average night out these days. Waiting at a taxi rank, hailing one from the street or calling a cab firm are quickly becoming things of the past. And, in just a few years' time, so could the taxi drivers themselves.
How far away are the first driverless fleets from hitting the streets? Well, technically, it's already happened.
The brand rankings
In Phoenix, Arizona, Google's well-publicised Waymo mission of bringing fully self-driving cars to the world is fully underway. In fact, they have a permanent driverless ride sharing programme operating as of December 2018. While the vehicles themselves are completely driverless, the rides aren't. At least, not yet. Trained drivers are still sitting at the wheel, ready to take over should the situation call for it. But soon Waymo will decide to remove them from the process entirely, offering completely driver-free rides.
So far, so good. Waymo could well be operating the very first fleet of driverless vehicles within the foreseeable future. And, once it starts, it will have a willing client-list of several hundred volunteers-turned-customers who have experienced it first-hand.
But competition is fierce, and Google isn't the only player in the field. Late in 2018, Toyota and Uber partnered-up to take on Waymo's emerging market-dominance, investing $500million in a venture which could see Uber providing the customers and Toyota providing the vehicles. Other notable partnerships include Volkswagen and Intel and Aptiv and BMW with the latter making serious headway with test-drives in their service Lyft. There are also similar offerings in Russia, and Dubai – all at a similar level of testing, and all keen to commercialise first.
Addison Lee, Europe's largest car hire company, have partnered with Oxbotica in hope of setting up a driverless answer to Uber in London, with hopes that it will be fully operational by 2021 as per a government pilot scheme. There is also testing for a similar scheme in Scotland underway.
Another player in the game, which could rival both Waymo and Uber's dominance, is the French company Navya, who are working to provide an electric and completely eco-friendly driverless solution. Their testing has been going on in Las Vegas since 2017, with autonomous shuttles ferrying up to 11 passengers at a time around a half-mile loop. They also have plans and funding secured for full-sized buses – well ahead of anyone else.
However, so far, none of the major or minor players in this game have reached the 'no safety passenger required' phases of testing. Not even Navya. But it really is only a matter of time before one of them kicks it up a gear.
Once driverless taxi fleets become the norm, what will that mean for the social lives of their passengers?
Let's get a cab
Looking to the US, as an example, the average American person spends 101 minutes per day driving – which equates to 37,935 hours in a lifetime – mostly commuting to and from work. If flexible working could be arranged, working whilst commuting would mean less time in the office and more time out and about. There is also the possibility that less people commuting via car will mean a very different atmosphere in city centres – less cars, and more space for people to walk and even bicycle safely any time in the day.
There could be big cost benefits too. It is widely believed that driverless cars will, over time, completely eradicate the need for car ownership. This will mean the huge costs – including the maintenance, insurance and car itself – will be eradicated too. And so, in theory, will the costly need to learn to drive.
As it stands, using a taxi as the primary mode of transport isn't particularly economically feasible for your average person. But, without a driver's salary to pay, each cab fare could be lowered to a more affordable 'public transport' level. This may mean more money in your pockets, in the long run, and therefore more spare cash for fun.
On the nights out themselves, driverless transportation could mean safer streets for revellers too. Driverless tech will ensure, automatically, that the roads are safe and the highway code is adhered to. The police are then free to turn their attentions to more serious crimes or act as visible deterrents on the street. And, if such legislation is passed and intoxicated people are allowed to make use of driverless technology, drunk driving incidents will be a thing of the past too.
So, city streets could be safer for everyone involved, the personal costs could be reduced and there could be more time available to spend having fun with friends. Sounds like a winner, right?
Of course, most of this is highly speculative, particularly when it comes to the costs, and there will certainly be significant economical downsides. Namely, the effect on jobs involving driving – such as the cabbies – which will undoubtedly have a significant knock-on effect to individuals' social lives. But this is something we will discuss in a future piece.
Will driverless tech really have that much of a positive impact on our social lives – or is this just wishful thinking?
Join the debate and tell us how you see it changing the way we have fun with our friends.