With Uber joining the driverless car race, will autonomous vehicles be the end of public transport?

Tim Worstall and Lucy Pope
Uber has confirmed that it's testing a driverless car (Source: Getty)

Tim Worstall, senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, says Yes.

Whether it’s Uber that perfects the autonomous vehicle is yet to be revealed: but they will be perfected and they will destroy the entire public transport system. Given the sheer number of people that a commuter train system can move, that section of the system will last longer than others. But urban and rural bus systems (where any of the latter still exist) will simply be wiped out. Why would anyone pay several pounds to share a vehicle with 40 others when something faster, for it will not be stopping to load and unload people, and more private can be had for about the same price? High speed rail is also a dead technology: why worry about 30 minutes off the time to Birmingham if you can travel in a wifi equipped solitary vehicle? As the current incarnation of Uber shows, we just love point-to-point on demand transport if it’s cheap enough. Kill off the cost of the driver with an AI and autonomous vehicles will be price comparable with the bus. It’s a complete no brainer: public transport systems will be eviscerated by the driverless car.

Lucy Pope, a spokesperson at RIAS, says No.

While driverless cars may well have an impact on public transport, suggestions of its demise are likely to be exaggerated. What is more likely is a future of integrated and intelligent mobility where a number of different types of driverless vehicles, and providers, would share our road space. These may well include individual “pods” carrying one or two people and providing a first mile/last mile solution through to people-carrier/minibus-sized vehicles effectively offering public transport, on demand. These will be able to interchange with the existing mass transport network. If we look at individuals who have their own automated vehicles, particularly those outside major conurbations, we may find, especially for longer journeys, this form of transport could be used to take them to one of the transport hubs, and they’ll then switch to mass public transport – an updated form of park and ride. However, it is unlikely that autonomous vehicles will replace public transport entirely.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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