Is the mass sharing of driverless cars about to reshape our suburbs?
Sidewalk Labs believes personal car ownership is about to become history, making suburbs more accessible and better for walking and cycling. But what if it simply means people shove each child into a different car to get to school
Monday 26 September 2016 07.08 BST
A few months ago I interviewed Klaus Bondam, head of the Danish cycling union and formerly Copenhagen’s mayor for roads and infrastructure, and asked him how he saw his city changing in the coming years. The answer was something of a surprise.
“Look at something like car parking,” Bondam told me. “It’s so old fashioned in my eyes. The private ownership of a car – that will end in the next 10 to 15 years. I think it’s going to be a combination of shared cars, of city cars, of public transport, bicycles, electric bicycles, of freight distribution by electric cargo bikes.”
This sounded like a rapid timeframe, I told him. Bondam was adamant: “I’m totally convinced about that. Why on earth would you make a big investment that you just leave outside 95% of the time and don’t use?”
Rachel Aldred, a transport expert at the University of Westminster, argues that various visions are feasible. “There’s an alternative and scary future where people become more individualised – they shove each of their children into a driverless car to go to school,” she says. “And people could spend a lot of time in driverless cars. I’m not saying that is going to happen, but there are different trends, potentially, that you might see.”
Aldred continues: “We need to do more thinking about what exactly we want driverless cars used for, and who will use them. The trade-offs are not always recognised.
“On the one hand people say they’ll be much more efficient, which would spare road capacity, which is great if that is the case. But on the other hand it will open up the benefits of car mobility to many more people, who currently have limited access. You can’t have it both ways.”
Which way will it go? What does seem very possible is that the hegemony of the private car, seen for so many decades as immutable and permanent, could end sooner than many people think, maybe even within Bondam’s predicted timeframe.