Future of Road Trips in Question?


During one of my legs of driving, I was listening to NPR (I can’t recall the show, unfortunately) for a bit as is customary for me. The topic of conversation was the future of transportation, most notably personal transportation with cars.

The conversation was regarding the shift towards autonomous driving and a shake-up of how we as Americans own cars. There was a suggestion that by 2021 (only 4 years!) there would be a stronger shift away from car ownership and more towards car services. Notably in cities, but also towards rural areas as well which surprised some of the callers. This isn’t something that would happen overnight, rather gradually with varying rates.

There have been people looking at the cost of car ownership and something along the lines of a car subscription. The subscription would mean paying a flatly monthly rate and being able to hail a car, or perhaps it would be based on miles, the number of rides, time or other factors. It seems likely there will be a few different business models once it is more of a reality. When looking at such ideas compared to typical car ownership with insurance, maintenance, repairs and so forth, there are estimates that costs would be 10 times higher for normal car ownership. Over our history when such a rate of cost difference was experienced, there has been a shift towards the new technology.

I’m far from an expert on the topic and so I’m unsure of how things are really progressing with the technology, whether ethical considerations (if an accident is unavoidable, how will the software determine who will get most of the trauma? And so forth) are being ironed out. My main thought, which is directly related to my context at the time was for road trips. Would one autonomous car be able to take someone or a family on a road trip? The technology is being developed for semi-trucks, which makes it logical for long trips, but perhaps with subscription services, it would be inconvenient. Maybe it would take one car to a city, and then shift cars to another.

Clearly, I don’t know, but it seems like the era of people driving on long road trips may not last too many years longer -beyond the outliers, the car enthusiasts and those wishing to purposeful go old school. Then again, maybe this was just my way of making myself enjoy the long drive a little more than perhaps I normally would have!

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