Picture this: no car payment, no car insurance, no circling the block looking for parking and no depreciation. Foregoing car ownership sounds pretty great. Why is it then that so many Americans insist on having a car? Simply stated: freedom.
Somewhere after the years of public transit, biking many miles or begging your parents for a ride, most of us got our own set of wheels. For some of us, it came in the form of a $900 death trap of a car that shook violently above 55 miles per hour. For others, an uncool but reliable toaster of a car. The car world as we have known it has always meant that unless you live and work in a major city with great public transportation, a personally owned vehicle is about the only convenient way to travel from point A to point B on a regular basis. This is especially true for families. If you’ve never been on a bus or subway with a baby in a stroller, spare yourself the circus. It’s also true depending on exactly which neighborhood you live in, even if you are in a major city. Taxicabs, where available, are far more convenient than public transportation, but certainly aren’t widely available outside of the most densely populated metro areas and at least to me, have always been cost prohibitive to use for any more than a special occasion. To reiterate the point, we all like freedom. And convenience. We like to go where we want to when we want to, without standing on a bus or watching a train timetable.
Ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber have upended the traditional taxicab model and, in many markets, undercut the price while providing a superior service. I certainly enjoyed riding in a flawlessly clean Kia Optima Hybrid Saturday night with a chatty and friendly driver far more than the high mileage, stale smelling, yellow Crown Vics that pass as taxis in Philly. The before and after experience are far better as well. Smart phone apps tell you who will be picking you up, in which kind of car, and exactly how far away they are. Cabs still require being flagged down and the joke’s on you when the 5th one passes you by with the “vacant” indicator light in use but passengers in the rear. Afterwards, you get notified that your credit card was charged in some amount that you had already been prepared for. In a taxi, you either pull out cash when you see the ever-surprising sum due or watch the driver give you an attitude for using their in-car credit card machine.
Trends are already developing among young adults to move into thriving urban areas, work nearby and pass up owning their own wheels. A lot of reasons contribute but the ease of using ride-sharing services is certainly one of them. What I’d like to explore here is whether or not this trend will grow – both among young adults as well as others – as autonomous vehicles come to market and bring with them the possibility that ride-sharing services will be even more common and affordable. I offer below a few categories of people and my assessment on whether or not they may give up a car in favor of autonomous vehicle ride-sharing.
TARGET: YOUNG, SINGLE, URBAN DWELLER. ANSWER: YES.
These folks are already the group that are giving up cars today, so surely they’ll continue to do so when that option becomes cheaper and even more widely available.
TARGET: YOUNG, SINGLE, ANYWHERE ELSE DWELLER; ANSWER: PROBABLY.
These folks will share many of attributes of those who forego car ownership today. They will, on average, have student loan debt to tackle and plenty of familiarity with smart phones.
TARGET: TWO ADULT HOUSEHOLD WITH NO KIDS. ANSWER: MAYBE.
This group of folks may be willing to forego one car in the household. Depending on their age and familiarity with today’s ride-sharing offerings, they could be the perfect target to give up one car. This demographic is the one I belong to. Having jobs in opposite directions makes owning two cars the most convenient option, but outside of the work commute, the second car never moves.
TARGET: TWO PARENT FAMILY. ANSWER: PROBABLY NOT.
Children are required to ride in car seats for quite a few years these days. For that reason alone, I would imagine ride-sharing to be more trouble than it’s worth. If, like the two-adult household with no kids one car is solely used as a commuter, that one could probably be given up. But the way I understand today’s modern family to work, either parent has to be ready to spring into action with little notice if daycare gets shut down due to snow or Junior gets sick in school.
TARGET: MATURE ADULTS. ANSWER: HOPEFULLY.
This is where I’d really like to see ride-sharing take off. If you are fortunate enough to make it to old age, your eyes or reflexes may not join you in their youthful form. The mature adults I’ve been close with have all wanted to continue driving beyond the point that in their individual circumstances, was probably wise. I get it. Freedom. When you’re a feisty octogenarian with an old habit of going to the grocery store daily (a holdover for the decades when you hid your smoking habit from everyone) it must be impossible to imagine yourself sans keys. If we can invent these cars, surely we can also invent easy ways of calling one up for a customer who isn’t particularly interested in owning or operating a smart device. (A telephone dialing service, perhaps – especially helpful for those with vision problems.)
AS FOR ME?
I just got done telling my better half that due to his short commute and our never using our second car outside of the work day, we could easily ditch car number two and have him Uber to work. The conversation was short-lived, as I have the longer commute and he has no interest in handing over the Model S fob to me on a permanent basis. In theory though, might it work? Yes. Would I end up doing it? Probably no. I’d be more inclined to owning an autonomous Tesla and letting it work for me such that the overall cost of owning and operating it was comparable to using a ride-sharing service in place of owning one.
The why is simple: freedom.