Can I let you in on an embarrassing secret?
I am a horrible driver.
This isn’t me being humble. This is me giving you a head start to find anew ride or preferably, clear the roads. You may think I’m kidding but if you ever catch me driving, you’ll hear me muttering to myself, repeating the words of my helpful (albeit a little crazy) driving instructor.
“Signal, shoulder, glide on over,” I say as I change lanes.
“Left, centre, right. Whose turn? Our turn. Go!” is dutifully repeated when I approach every four-way stop. Sadly, none of these tricks have helped me get my full license. My most recent driving test resulted in one speeding violation and two dangerous actions – Just one of these means you instantly fail.
I have many strengths but clearly driving isn’t one of them. While I wish I was better, I’m not going to let it drive me crazy. Instead, as the responsible citizen that I strive to be and for the safety of myself and those around me, I’ve opted to use other forms of transportation. With ride-sharing, good old fashion public transport and a healthy amount of walking, I can get anywhere I need to go.
I’m not alone. There has been a societal shift in our attitudes towards driving. Getting your driver’s license or buying your first car has become a less significant milestone. According to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, only 44% of American teens get their license within their first eligible year. Meanwhile, a UK study found that 44% of drivers hitting the road for the first time are over the age of 25. In regards to car ownership, the percentage of people ages 18 to 34 registering for a new car in the US has fallen from 24% in 2001 to 13% in 2017.
What can I say? We’re young and carless.
A driver’s license and a car once symbolized teenage freedom. Today, owning a car may feel more like an expensive burden. It’s now smartphones that evoke strong feelings of independence.
“The percentage of teens with smartphones now exceeds the percentage with a license, and the smartphone – not the car – is the defining gadget of teenage life,” says Mark Penn, CIO of Microsoft. After all, a smartphone connects you with friends, and through various apps, can get you anywhere you need to go with or without a driver’s license.
Companies like Uber and Lyft have used smartphones to disrupt the taxi industry by removing some of the previous pain points such as ease of payment, uncertainty about arrival times and safety concerns. In 2017, Uber and Lyft offered 4 billion and 375.5 million rides respectively.
With these apps, we can have mobility without needing a driver’s license. But for those of us who can and love to drive, other apps like Zipcar mean it’s possible to do so without the hassle of car ownership.
Car sharing services like Zipcar are becoming increasingly popular in Canada and around the world. Vancouver is leading the way and has been dubbed the “car-sharing capital of North America” with more shared vehicles per capita than any other city. Vancouver has roughly 3,000 shared cars between four companies: Car2Go, Evo, Modo, and Zipcar. In some Vancouver neighbourhoods, up to five percent of all cars on the road are shared vehicles. Other popular car-sharing cities include Toronto (1,650 cars), Montreal (2,080), Seattle (1,900), Portland (1,060) and San Francisco (1,500).
Car sharing is not just cost effective and convenient for consumers, but it’s also good for the environment. Studies suggest that each shared vehicle has the environmental impact of removing the equivalent of 6 to 20 privately owned cars off the road.
Car sharing allows vehicles to be better utilized. For people who own their cars, they’ll drive somewhere and likely leave it parked all day. However, if you use a sharing service, rather than sitting idle, the car can be used by a number of people instead. Car sharing helps reduce traffic congestion and wear and tear on roads. After a certain tipping point, cities will likely need less parking infrastructure and road expansions thanks to vehicle sharing. This saved space could converted into public parks. Also, people who use a car sharing service begin driving less frequently and often opt to walk or use public transport instead.
Due to these environmental benefits, many experts predict that governments will soon implement policies that disincentivize traditional car ownership. This might include higher parking fees and taxes. According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 74% of urban policymakers believe that by 2030, at least one city will have banned traditional car ownership. My money’s on Oslo and their recently announced plan to ban private cars by 2020 in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half .
When talking about the future of transportation, we often think of autonomous or self-driving vehicles (SDVs) rather than car sharing. However, SDVs are unlikely to succeed without an elaborate car sharing network.
Experts say that “it’s no longer a question of if but when SDVs will hit the road”. The public has yet to rally around the idea of SDVs. The Boston Consulting Group found that half of all consumers “do not feel safe if the car is driving itself”. However, if there is the option to override the system in a partially self-driving car, then 69% of those interviewed said they would gladly take a ride. This study found that more than 4 in 10 consumers said that the number one reason for using an SDV is that “it drops me off, finds a parking spot, and parks on its own.”. Given the average American spends 17 hours per year looking for parking, it’s easy to see the value of SDVs.
However, SDVs would not just save time parking, they could revolutionize the standard commute. The average American spends 51 minutes driving alone to and from work every day. Long commutes have a huge impact on our overall happiness. A UK study found that adding a 20 extra minutes per day to our commute had the same effect on our happiness as receiving a 19% pay cut. SDVs could theoretically change all this. Rather than sitting in traffic, we could use our commutes as work periods by converting cars into mini offices or as an opportunity to catch up on some much-needed sleep in mini mobile bedrooms. SDVs would make longer commutes more bearable and could allow for increased productivity.
While these seem like appealing features, unless SDVs are safer than our current driving options, people likely won’t want to use them. In March of 2018, an autonomous Uber SUV hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. This sparked lots of discussion surrounding the safety and ethicality of SDVs.
At the moment, there is still a long way to go in regards to SDV safety. However, we are flawed drivers. 90% of drivers think they are above average, and yet, 45% have driven during extreme exhaustion (at the point of almost falling asleep at the wheel) and 15% have driven while intoxicated . Even when we are fully functioning and completely focused, we have a reaction time of roughly 215 milliseconds. This means that if we’re driving at 100 km/hr, we’ll travel 6 metres before we can even respond to the situation. However, in a network of autonomous vehicles connected by radio waves, the reaction times are almost instantaneous .
The issue that arises is not whether SDVs can react fast enough but instead how they should react. We must program life or death decisions into the cars. These decisions are far from black and white. To overcome this, thought leaders at MIT have decided to crowdsource ethics and morality on their website, Moral Machine (hyperlink: http://moralmachine.mit.edu/). Through a series of scenarios, users choose what reaction would be the most ethical. For example, which do you value more: the safety of several innocent pedestrians or your own life?
Another significant concern surrounding SDVs is the loss of jobs. According to Lawrence Katz, a labour economist at Harvard, roughly 3% of the workforce consists of professional drivers. Fully adopting SDVs in our society would have a detrimental impact on employment rates.
This is an incredibly complex topic. On one hand, the use of car sharing and SDVs can make driving safer, more convenient and environmentally friendly. On the other hand, we must ask ourselves if we are equipped to deal with the moral choices involved in programming cars and how we will manage the severe spike in unemployment rates.
Although we still have time to figure it out. SDVs will likely not arrive on the market in full force until 2027. In the meantime, we should embrace the car and ride sharing movements. I for one will happily toss my keys to the side and hail the next available autonomous chauffeur.