In the age of peak oil and climate change, the gasoline powered automobile may become too costly to continue to dominate our transportation system. But Americans have become spoiled by the mobility and convenience provided by the car. So what can we do? Part of the answer may come from a surprising source.
Electric cars are suddenly becoming available from multiple auto makers. But the big problem with electric cars is the relatively short range, and the long time it takes to recharge. Various forms of rail travel can move you long distances, but you have to travel to a train stop or station, and then travel from your stop to your final destination.
The solution is to combine the electric car and rail travel. But what really makes it work efficiently is a new technology, the self driving car. This is where Google comes in.
Self driving cars seem like a science fiction concept. But they are coming faster than I or most other people thought. Google is doing a major project developing self driving cars.
Our self-driving cars have now traveled nearly 200,000 miles on public highways in California and Nevada, 100 percent safely. They have driven from San Francisco to Los Angeles and around Lake Tahoe, and have even descended crooked Lombard Street in San Francisco. They drive anywhere a car can legally drive.
I would guess that these tests have a standby driver ready to take control if anything went wrong. But still this is impressive. Self driving cars might be able to greatly reduce the huge death toll on our highways. Right now, you are far more likely to be killed driving than by terrorism. Such cars would allow new ways of transporting ourselves.
Let's say you want to take a trip that is too long for most electric car, say 200 miles. If you own a self driving electric car, you can drive it to the train stop. Instead of having to park the car, it drives itself home, where it automatically attaches itself to a recharger while you are gone. If you do not own a car, you summon a self driving electric taxi to take you to the train. Once you get to your destination train stop, you again summon a self driving electric taxi to take you to your final destination.
The self driving cars are just as useful for shorter trips. A family might not need multiple cars, since after one person completed a trip, the car could drive home to be available to other family members.
Self driving taxis should have a big cost advantage, since it does not need a driver. It might make it much easier to live without owning a car.
Right now, most cars are sitting idle most of the time. With self driving electric cars or taxis, any number of people can use it throughout the day. Parking is not a problem. You keep door to door mobility. It makes it easier to live without owning a car. You can read the newspaper or DKos on you way to work. So that might be one way transportation will look in the future.