writes about how cost may be the only real factor that would allow autonomous vehicles to improve the traffic jams in American cities.
“Maybe autonomous cars will be different from other capacity expansions,” says Matthew Turner, an economist from Brown University. “But of the things we have observed so far, the only thing that really drives down travel times is pricing.”
The average person prefers the privacy and convenience of riding in a car. Only when the drive is far enough or the traffic is bad enough — or a taxi costs enough — will more people choose to bike, carpool, hop on a train or postpone a trip. This same pattern shows up in all kinds of places. You can see it in car-centric cities like Los Angeles and Houston, where years long, multibillion dollar lane-widening projects did little to speed commutes.
But you can also see it in New York — by far the most transit-friendly city in the United States. Ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber have led to increased auto traffic, according to a February study from Schaller Consulting in Brooklyn, while subway trips dipped slightly in 2016 because of a fall in weekend usage.
Ride-hailing apps have taught consumers to accept surge pricing, and people are generally less resistant to paying for something new. The result would be something like variably priced lanes dedicated to fleets of robot vehicles.
If that happens, one of the hidden benefits of this revolutionary new technology will be that it got people to accept an idea that economists started talking about at least a century ago. And you get home a half-hour earlier.