Where Can Workers Live and How Will They Get to Work in Driver-less World?

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans   Wow, there’s a lot of hype these days about the coming driver-less world of self-driving cars and trucks. Some say we’re not going to own cars at all. We’ll be sharing them or maybe co-owning them with neighbors or some random somebody.

I wonder who is going to be hailing such a ride, and where they are going to be living?

I guess first we should be clear that all of this must be mainly talking about urban areas, not the vast expanses of the United States. These sharing arrangements depend on having people ready and able to share, which requires density.

Does this spell the end of the suburban cul-de-sac? Is the old two-car garage out there going to be remodeled and rented out as small unit worker housing?

Soaring housing cost and rents in the urban center not just in Washington and New York City, but even in Detroit and New Orleans, mean that families living on service-worker wages are either living only a step above homelessness in crowded and dilapidated housing or are commuting long distances to work from the best available, affordable housing. Will these new forms of transportation be cheap enough to get people to work? Are we talking about robot-bus lanes and driver-less vehicle carpool lanes? Simply eliminating the wages and benefits for a frequently union driver is not going to lower the cost of bus transportation and related transportation that is already ridiculously expensive in many cities.

Are cities that can’t afford to pave streets now able to afford the transitional infrastructure costs? Will states and federal governments, dominated by more sparsely populated rural areas, be willing to finance these technical adaptations? How are two parallel systems of transportation going to work together during what could be a lengthy transition? Heck, cars and bicycles are having trouble living together without blood on the streets. What will road rage look like when a pickup delivering produce from the country gets a fender bender from a driver-less car? I already know what will happen to a robot driven vehicle is such a situation!

We have a society that can’t sort out homelessness or figure out a way to evacuate 50,000 lower income, transportation-less people when a hurricane is bearing down, but somehow our heads are spinning over a Jetsons’ style future knocking on our doors, when we are still working out the questions, much less having answers to them. So getting rid of sprawl and the suburbs sounds good, and stacking people up in cities might work, but people will still need a place to live and work with wages sufficient to make this all possible.

The techies and their promoters better sober up before they stumble in the streets, drunk from their own Kool-Aid, especially while many of us are still driving on them.