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How Driverless Cars Could Work for Good Instead of Evil

Auto Bus (Credit: EasyMile) Click to Enlarge.

Our gas-guzzling car culture is about to change forever, but not necessarily for good.

The shift from gasoline-power to electric, the rise of ridesharing, and the invention of self-driving vehicles will soon overhaul transportation.  A new report, just published by the Greenlining Institute, a racial equity nonprofit, says these three revolutions will speed us into a gridlocked and polluted future unless we put the right policies in place.

Leave the future of transportation to the free market, and we’d find ourselves in a world where current problems just get worse, said Hana Creger, a program manager at Greenlining.  Under this scenario, the roads jam with cars serving as mobile offices to oligarchs and their lackeys typing away on smartphones.

“Meanwhile, the less well-off struggle to get around in cities that are more congested and polluted than ever with deteriorating public transit that is defunded due to ridership loss,” Creger said. “Millions of transportation workers lose their jobs while companies double their profits.”

It’s a grim vision.  But if governments take action, advances in technology could help the poor, elderly and disabled get around.  There are roughly 700,000 households in America without a car or access to public transit, and some 500,000 people with disabilities who never leave their homes.  The status quo isn’t exactly great for those who can afford their own car:  As the report points out, “the average commuter in America spends 42 hours a year stuck in traffic, and spends 17 hours a year looking for parking.”

Creger imagines fleets of autonomous electric vehicles opening the roads to everyone, especially those poorly served by the current private-car system.  Small, driverless buses running on electricity would help knock fossil-fueled cars off the road.  With transportation the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, that would go along way toward ushering in a clean-energy future,

Previous analyses (like this 2014 report from RAND), have argued that the merits of autonomous vehicles hinge on putting good regulations in place.  Greenlining’s report take it a step further by looking at the way that changes in the transportation system could affect people of color and disadvantaged communities.

Greenlining suggests that cities and states pass regulations to discourage single-occupancy driverless cars, and employ driverless shuttles to cut pollution and expand the mobility of those who often struggle to get around.

Read more at How Driverless Cars Could Work for Good Instead of Evil