Patrick Tuohey
"Futurist" Zack Kanter wrote for Business Insider that the coming autonomous, or self-driving, cars will reshape the U.S. economy. While the whole column is compelling, the main point is here:
A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City—passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile. Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis—the "transportation cloud"—will quickly become dominant form of transportation—displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well. With their $41 billion valuation, replacing all 171,000 taxis in the United States is well within the realm of feasibility—at a cost of $25,000 per car, the rollout would cost a mere $4.3 billion.

Back in November 2013, we observed largely the same thing without the benefit of the Columbia study:
In contrast to light rail, the rapidly progressing leaps in driverless car and cycling technology are allowing people more freedom and choices in how they get from point A to B. Indeed, the future of transportation is in flexibility, not inflexibility. Google driverless cars allow for cheap and easy transit while respecting individual freedom. In several places, state legislatures have altered their traffic laws to allow for such cars.

Sadly, Kansas City is still bent on building what the people do not want, 19th-century fixed rail. Meanwhile, it fights innovation from Uber and Lyft. Our conclusion then remains true today:
The fixed rail they will be installing downtown offers none of that flexibility or popular appeal. Rails do not take passengers where they want to go; rail takes people where city planners want or need them to go (not to mention a car ride to the stations in most cases).

To add insult to injury, the rail system that is being built likely will be abandoned by the hip urbanite core that it is meant to attract as soon as something sexier comes along … like a Google car.


About the Author

Patrick Tuohey
Patrick Tuohey
Director of Municipal Policy

Patrick Tuohey is the Director of Municipal Policy at the Show-Me Institute.