The speed of technological innovation has been incredible in the last ten years. This has impacted the world and all of its consumers in many ways and changed the way they live. One of the newest and potentially most impactful innovations is the self-driving car. The decisions made now around self-driving cars will dictate the future of the entire auto industry.
In order to begin shaping the industry, some of the biggest players in self-driving cars are beginning to layout their ideas. A consortium of companies, including Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, and Didi, have joined together to produce their “Shared Mobility Principles.” Even though they are slightly imprecise and vague, the majority of the principles are well-intentioned. This starts to fade when they get to the 10th principle which states, “We support that autonomous vehicles (AVs) in dense urban areas should be operated only in shared fleets.”
In a nutshell, the 10th principle means they recommend individuals not be allowed to drive their self-owned autonomous cars in densely populated cities. Instead of giving people the opportunity to take their own self-driving car into the city, these companies would prefer if the only option was commercially managed fleets. Such an obvious play at monopolizing the control of autonomous vehicles in cities might surprise some, but industry experts aren’t shocked.
“Of course, companies like Uber would want to limit personal use of self-driving cars,” said Alex Lauderdale, Transportation Analyst at EducatedDriver.org. “It obviously protects their interests. However, some would argue that what really needs to be limited in urban areas is the number of Uber and Lyft cars on the road.”
Lauderdale went on to recount his recent experience at the CES 2018 conference in Las Vegas. “The traffic was horrendous. I’d argue that the sheer amount of Uber and Lyft drivers coming in to work the convention created way more traffic than necessary.”
The intention of the principle is clear as it would lead to the only option for car transportation in a city being provided by the companies owning these shared fleets. The companies claim several reasons for having shared fleets of self-driving cars, including maximized public safety and to “ensure that maintenance and software upgrades are managed by professionals.” Unfortunately, these tend to read like the typical corporate statement of we can’t trust people to safely maintain and operate their cars, so we should take the power of ownership out of their hands.
The most unusual part of this proposal is by limiting who can operate a self-driving car in certain locations you are removing some of the promised benefits of the technology. Many people love the idea of having a self-driving car to make their commute into the city more manageable. This benefit would obviously be reduced if only shared fleets could operate within the city.
There’s already a widespread interest in reducing the impact cars have on the environment or eliminate road congestion. However, the reduction should be done in a more benevolent manner. There’s no sense in trying to make these changes in a way that benefits corporations more than individuals. Instead of giving people the freedom of choice, it would force them to rely on shared fleets managed by corporations as their only source of autonomous vehicle transport. That sounds more like monopolization than innovation.