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Self-Driving Cars: Will Autonomous Taxis Eliminate Subways, Buses and Other Mass Transit?

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author photo by Russ Heaps January 2017

Mass transit as we know it may be another victim of self-driving cars. At least that's what the 68-page report released jointly last October by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Company concluded. There is no question that the face of urban mass transit will change dramatically over the next couple of decades due in no small part to a shift to electric vehicles (EVs), ride sharing and autonomous vehicles (AVs).

If the report's view of urban mobility in 2030 is accurate, manned taxi services will be the big loser in the coming transportation upheaval, but buses and subways will probably also take a hit.

Further Urbanization

Many larger cities like Chicago, London and Amsterdam are already densely packed. Predictions place the percentage of all people living within metropolitan areas by 2030 at about 60 percent. If so, this will represent about a 30-percent increase in urban density. What's that mean? Thirty percent more people and vehicles crammed into the same-size area.

It makes sense that as metropolitan areas become more congested, encouraging EVs and ride sharing will be key in how cities cope with traffic-density issues. Traditional mass transit should then be part of the solution, right? To a point, yes, but throw AVs into the equation and the dynamic changes radically.

The AV Effect

Within the next 10 years, carmakers and their technology partners will have self-driving cars capable of operating without a human behind the wheel. They will even be able to be sent off on their own to pick up little Margie from cello practice or meet Uncle Bill at the airport. There will be other holdups to total autonomy, such as updating street mapping and safely integrating AVs into traffic dominated by manned vehicles, as well as the nightmare of insurance and government regulations; but fully capable AVs themselves will be a reality.

Much of the cost of taking a taxi goes to pay the human behind the wheel. Although the taxi services don't appear to be working toward shifting to driverless vehicles, ride-hailing services like Uber certainly are.

According to the Bloomberg/McKinsey report, a human-driven, individual-use electric taxi will cost approximately $2.76 per mile in 2025. Compare that to the $0.67 per mile a driverless taxi will cost. That's a 75-percent savings. The per-mile cost drops even more, to as low as $0.17, when multiple passengers share the ride. Why ride a bus or squeeze into a subway when you can ride in a car for less than 20 cents per mile?

What it means to you: If you dwell in the country or a suburb, the evolution from manned taxicabs to self-driving ones won't mean much. Downtown, however, being able to summon a ride in a driverless car will save money and time, as well as increase safety.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Self-Driving Cars: Will Autonomous Taxis Eliminate Subways, Buses and Other Mass Transit? - Autotrader