The benefits of driverless cars

The Herald reports:

The car barrelling down a Japanese freeway with New Zealand’s transport minister on board lacked a driver. Instead of drifting into a side barrier, the state-of-the-art ­Nissan seamlessly changed lanes to overtake other cars.

Simon Bridges was joined by long-serving Ministry of Transport chief executive Martin ­Matthews for the ride in one of Nissan’s ­autonomous vehicle prototypes, during a visit to Japan last July.

“There was a person in the driver’s seat but not doing anything, and we were on a motorway and this vehicle was changing lanes and passing ­other vehicles,” Matthews recalled.

“The manufacturer said that ­vehicle will be on showroom floors in five years.”

The hype around driverless ­vehicles and the revolutionary effect they could have has produced sceptics, and much remains unknown, including how the vehicles might operate in normal traffic.

But the Nissan ride impressed our top transport official, and his ­ministry is working out how radically the country’s transport system could change as technologies arrive.
In the US this week, the Obama administration proposed spending nearly $4 billion on driverless car ­development over the next decade.

Car-makers and safety regulators hope self-driving cars could eventually eliminate the 94 per cent of fatal crashes that involve human error. They also believe the technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and loosen gridlock.

Just as most planes operate on auto-pilot, one day are cars will also.

If one could order a driverless car to pick you up from where you want, and deliver you to your destination, I’d not need to have a vehicle for myself.

An OECD think-tank has ­modelled what a large move to ride-­sharing would mean for a mid-sized ­European city, Matthews told the ­select committee. It found Lisbon would need only about 30 per cent of ­today’s vehicle fleet.

Great.

“At the moment we tend to think of a binary choice between private ­vehicles and public transport,” he said. “Mobility as a service may well lead to a third choice.”

Public transport is great for some stuff but it is on fixed routes. A transport provider that can pick you up from anywhere and deliver you anywhere, at a much cheaper rate than taxis, will fill a niche.

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