Self-driving fantasies

Piece of data #1: the average car is parked for an average of 95% of its lifetime.

Piece of data #2: 57.5% of the UK population drive to work.

Piece of data #3: the average Brit sleeps something of the order of 7 hours in any 24 hour period. Including time either end for going to bed and getting up, let’s call it 8.

Let’s also assume that most people sleep or want to sleep at roughly the same period (11pm-7am). That’s 33% of a car’s lifetime accounted for.

So let’s then assume that 57.5% of the population want to travel by car in the periods 7-9am and 5-7pm. A rough assumption, but go with it. That’s not necessarily 57.5% of cars, but a rough proxy as multiple occupancy of commuter cars seems terribly low. 57.5% of people wanting to drive wanting to do so at the same 16.7% of the day.

This is the reason why wherever I hear people talking about how self-driving cars will dramatically increase car utilisation I get remarkably suspicious. The factors involved in changing work patterns, living patterns and our urban and suburban environment just seem too great. 

In the UK it took 91 years between the invention of the internal combustion engine-powered car (1885) and the opening of our first out of town shopping centre (Brent Cross in 1976). Societal change is slow, far slower than the technology that appears to be driving it.

I’ve no doubt that autonomous vehicles are already changing the way in which we travel. But I’ll be very surprised if we see significant change to the way private transportation works in my lifetime. It’s not just about the tech.

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