Thinking about driverless vehicles


With the NBA All-Star game weekend behind us in Toronto (and that unusual anthem brouhaha), the battle between Uber and Taxis in the city will go quite until the next flare up.  Cities around the world are wrestling with the policy question of how they manage ride sharing and taxi services.  While debate about how to smooth the introduction of ridesharing in an existing (yet broken) taxi marketplace is required, policy makers need to look to incredibly close future where there is no longer a driver behind the wheel.

We are already seeing trials of driverless taxis in Japan, seen long-haul trucks of the future, Local delivery vehicles and even air mules.  Disruptions in transportation technologies are palpably close, but the policy foundation seems to be lagging a little behind.  Some of the considerations are longer term, such as “What new jobs will replace those professional driver jobs?”  Others are more immediate, “Do we create special lanes for driverless cars?”  Let’s make sure our policy/rule makers are beginning to think about these things so that we can avoid as many unintended consequences as possible.

In exploring this question, my friend Darrell O’Donnell asked what governments I thought would be the first to ban human drivers.   After some thought, here’s what I came up with:

  1. Singapore:  While the members of the Singapore Ferrari Owners’ Club won’t be happy, I would expect Singapore to be top of the list.  Given its history of intelligent transportation systems and ability to execute, they would be a geo to watch.
  2. Tokyo – I’m thinking that the smart taxis and the social acceptance of new technologies would place this city at the top of the list as well.
  3. Amsterdam – This city is perhaps a bit of an outlier, but my thinking here is all about environmental sustainability and their success in moving people out of their cars by being one of the most cycle friendly cities in the world.
  4. London, UK – Say what you will about the Congestion Charge Zone, there is a certain willingness to try new things to reduce high traffic flows (and raise investment)

Of course that doesn’t mean other cities aren’t going to see connected vehicles and driverless cars (see Ann Arbor and even Stratford) It just means that other cities will probably need to take a less dramatic approach and set aside lanes or routes in place of outright prohibitions.

The conversation for commercial transportation is a little different.  I see Australia leading the way for long-haul trucks in place of their road-trains.  When you think of these road trains, it also helps to remember the Clay Christensen  “job” of the driver.  The driver not only drives the vehicle, they also provide security for the load, making sure to avoid bandits along the route.  Good thing MB still has an office up front in their driverless truck 🙂

What do you think the biggest policy question for driverless cars will be?

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