I wonder if you can guess who wrote the quote below?
Cars are noisy, they’re dangerous, they emit fumes, they take up so much space that our cities seem to be built for cars first and people second, and they are not much fun to sit in on a jammed Auckland motorway.
The price of petrol seems to go higher and higher, and it is true that some of the roads being built which seem like a great idea (e.g. the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension) don’t actually pass muster with some cost-benefit analyses.
If you read the quoted text above you could be forgiven for thinking it is something that we had written but no, this text came from a blog post yesterday on the Act party website. Now after picking yourself up off the floor and thinking that there may be a glimmer of hope the party was finally be starting to understand transport and urban issues, you can think again. The rest of the post is dedicated to enthusing how driverless cars and other technologies mean we should keep investing in roads and only roads. So lets have a look at some of their claims in a bit more detail.
The first claim is that driverless cars will give people some of the benefits of PT by allowing them to do things like read books or do work instead of driving while cars will also be driven better without humans at the wheel. Both claims are probably true but to really see the benefit of these cars we will likely have to wait until a substantial proportion of the existing vehicle fleet is replaced. Last year there were ~145,000 new cars registered and the total car fleet rose to just over 2.8 million vehicles. Even if every single car that came into the country tomorrow was driverless, it would take at least 20 years to replace the current fleet. In reality we are probably looking at more like 30-40 years, perhaps longer as it will take a while for the technology to start being embedded in all new cars made, that’s a long time to wait.
Of course what happens after your driverless car drops you at work. Well Act suggest that the car will take itself away somewhere and park itself. That all sounds nice but when every other person is using a car at the same time it means we either need to spend millions on additional parking buildings to house them all. Alternatively they could just go home and return when you need to be picked up but that brings about its own problems. What happens if you don’t have a set time to leave a certain place, does that mean you need to request your car and wait for perhaps 30 minutes or more for it to arrive? Alternatively perhaps they are suggesting some kind of shared car scheme in which case it would likely require the government/council to purchase huge numbers of these driverless cars, how much would that cost taxpayers.
Act and many driverless car advocates also suggest that these computer controlled cars will be able to run closely together allowing for much more capacity to be achieved out of the existing road network. If that is the case then isn’t it a perfect reason NOT to invest in new roads as we would be better off to wait and see exactly what impact these cars have before spending millions on roads we may not need. I can’t help but think the party still ignores the reality of real live and still has this video on repeat:
Of course one thing all of the driverless car advocates don’t realise is there is a pretty big elephant in the room. As these cars will be so much smarter and also programmed to avoid crashes they will automatically stop (and tell the other vehicles around them to stop) if someone walks out on to the road. It shouldn’t take long for people to realise that they can easily take back the streets but just using them how they want and the cars will be forced let it happen. So perhaps we should welcome driverless cars, we can get shared spaces without it needing to cost ratepayers a thing (bet they didn’t think about this issue).