Will Driverless Cars Eliminate Passenger Trains?

By Noel T. Braymer

This is the assumption being made by some promoters for the future of automated driverless cars. The thinking behind this is when people no longer drive their cars, all traffic congestion will disappear and road travel will be much faster and easier. This will happen because there will be no accidents and no traffic congestion when computers drive cars instead of people. Then it will be possible to run many more cars per hour on traffic lanes than with people driven cars. There is even talk of “trains” of driverless cars inches apart flying down the road.

What will be possible in the near future is people will be able to jump into an automated car, give it an address and away they will go with no steering wheel or pedals. This could end the “Mom Taxis” so parents could feel secure putting their children in an automated car to go to school or other trips leaving parents free to do other things. What will likely be a popular use of automated cars will be the use as a taxi service costing less than taxis with driver. Why would people want to buy a taxi?

In the future with automated cars we will see fewer people owning cars than today and often using them as automated taxis. The trend today is fewer people are buying cars and most are driving less. People are increasingly moving back into urban areas where cars are less needed to save money on travel. With the use of automated taxis it will be easier to get around without the hassle of finding parking or of owning for a car that usually sits idle parked for over 20 hours a day.With fewer cars, cities won’t require using as much land for parking. Automated taxis will be useful for trips to and from transportation centers such as trains stations and airports.

People are driving less today because of the cost of driving from the cost of fuel and the general costs of car ownership. Cars will continue to become safer as they have since the 1960’s. Today some cars can override drivers by automatically braking to prevent accidents, while others can park themselves which some people have trouble doing in tight places. In the future we will see more advanced features even without full automation which will make cars safer.

It will be 2020 or so before we see automated cars for sale. Even after that it will take years before enough are bought and on the roads to make a meaningful difference on the roads of this country. Existing cars will remain on the roads for years to come as well as trucks and motorcycles. Plus people will still buy people driven cars after automated cars reach the market.

The simple reality is there are people who love to drive. These people are also some of the worse drivers who often have accidents and create traffic congestion with their bad driving. Some people insist on racing on public roads which also creates problems. There is also the problem of years of deferred maintenance on the roads and freeways in this country. Congestion and road closures will continue due to accidents, bad driving and emergency repairs to roads for years to come.

For many trips it will continue to be faster, safer, more comfortable, convenient and cheaper to take trains than to ride in any car with drivers or without. This includes transit, regional and intercity service. Owning an automated car won’t be cheaper (expect maybe for car insurance) than a human driven one. Economics is a major factor for many people when choosing how they will travel.

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