At Man School they teach you that it’s your job to get the car in the pouring rain so that she doesn’t have to get wet. It’s also your job to drop her off at the restaurant and go find parking in the dark city center. Then make the long walk back. And I don’t mind this so much. But even so, I’ll be happy to hand this work over to my robotic smarty-car. Think about it… from your point of view, every destination will have valet parking. It really doesn’t matter how far away the parking lot is. Mr. Smarty-Car will take himself there while you’re ordering appetizers.
Driverless cars are back in the news following recent legislation in California. Somewhere in the links related to that news item, I came across Brad Templeton’s list of ways that driverless cars can be different from driverful cars. Among his observations are these: range, speed, and acceleration become much less important.
Why is that? I had to scratch my head.
It’s because being a rider is vastly different from being a driver. A rider, particularly one who is reading or writing, wants smooth, predictable comfort. This has a big environmental payoff. A driver, on the other hand, wants… what? Speed. Acceleration. Tight suspension. The sleek lines of a gazelle. A taut, muscular, candy-apple red machine, belching fire, pawing impatiently at the starting line, ready to roar into the waiting darkness.
This is not so good for the environment.
Why the big difference? The big difference is that my ride is just another way to get to work, but my car is a projection of my ego. It’s ME. So if I buy a car, if it’s my car, then it can’t be too wimpy or too pokey or too dull. What would people think of me? But if I can just think of it as my ride, if I can break the link of personal identification, then maybe I don’t need a guzzling muscle car or a tricked-out SUV. Maybe I can buy a share of something more reasonable and think of it as just a ride instead of me. Buying a share of a car sounds like a pain until you consider that the car can ferry itself between destinations. Instead of saying “I need to use the car on Friday night, so you can’t,” you can just arrange drop off and pick up times that fit together. The car doesn’t mind the extra driving.
I think it’s a winning scenario. It’s an example of the hard-to-predict secondary effects of a dramatic shift like a driverless car. Technology is the easy part. What about the culture? To turn the Volkswagen ad campaign on its head: “Riders wanted.”