The driver-less future has arrived!

The driver-less future age has dawned. At college campuses and metro grids, the revolution is in full swing.

Uber launched it service in July 2010. It didn’t take long for the company to captivate the imagination of the public, media and investment community. Ride-sharing is now part of the lexicon. Uber and Lyft deliver reliable, convenient and affordable transportation. No question that we Americans love our cars, but we also greatly protect and value our time. For the road-warrior business executive and young urban professional, tapping a few screens on their smartphone provides a massive time and convenience over driving concentric circles around a metro grid in search of an open and costly parking spot. But alas, the cost of that human who has to furnish their car, pay for the gas and maintenance of said vehicle, and take the time to drive your lazy ass around is not inconsequential. Uber and Lyft has sided with the passenger. 1099 earnings for these free-lance gig workers have drifted down, down, down. All the while, Lyft and Uber continues to subsidize the user experience, also known as generating net loses. Even so, car ownership will not fade until ride-sharing costs drop further. The reason to be excited about the potential of Lyft and Uber is not on today’s gig-working driving model, but one in which autonomous driving technology pilots their fleet.

…and an e-scooter shall lead them

Self-driving adoption is hindered more from public perception and regulatory oversight than technology readiness. A bolt of lightening in the form of a tiny electrical scooter is serving as a shining example of what happens when the driver is removed from the transportation equation. Bird and Lime are paving the way for an automated ride-sharing future.

E-scooters micro-rentals are succeeding where bike shares have failed. The control, ease-of-use, small form factor, enjoyment, low cost, and perceived safety have led to the massive growth of this alternative transportation form. Just like Uber and Lyft, Lime and Bird provide reliable transportation, low cost, and convenience. In fact, if you are needing to travel crosstown for two mile or less, a Bird or Lime can get you to your destination in less time and half the cost of a Lyft or Uber. The benefits of Lime and Bird are many:

  • no 3rd party driver required,
  • no vehicles added to the roads,
  • ultra attractive price point,
  • low environmental impact, and
  • minimal burden on the transportation infrastructure.

The main complaint for these services are reckless riders and that the scooters clutter city sidewalks. Despite these issues, the benefits far exceed the drawbacks.

Humans are expensive…and volatile

There are amazing things technology can deliver once we move from gig-workers to self-service in the case of Bird and Lime and autonomous driving technology in the case of ride-sharing services. Uber and Lyft have promised local officials that their services will remove cars from the streets and augment the public transportation infrastructures for metro cities. Although Lyft and Uber are helping with the transportation efficiency, the promise of taking cars off the roads have yet to be realized. In studies, Lyft and Uber are shown to increase cars on the roads. There are many Lyft and Uber drivers who do not log hours regularly, but hold onto their cars in order to moonlight for these services. Many Lyft and Uber drivers, when on duty, spend much of their time roaming the streets passenger-less while waiting for a fare.

As Bird and Lime continue their incredible adoption and growth, their impact will be felt and measured. The promises that Uber and Lyft have partially delivered are being realized by Bird and Lime. Uber and Lyft can point to these e-scooter providers as what happens when a transportation service offers convenience and efficiency without the overhead of a human operator.

Using autonomous vehicle technology, Uber and Lyft will reduce their fleets radically and increase the yield and passenger hours per vehicle. The cost of the ride to the consumer will also drop, making the decision to live a car-less existence more viable. Autonomous vehicle self-driving will take cars off the road, where gig-economy ride sharing has not.

Bird and Lime are the Trojan horses that will lead automated vehicle ride-sharing into our cities. Bus ridership and short-distance Uber and Lyft requests will fall due to the transfer of customers to Bird and Lime. Metros in turn can reduce bus route frequency and fleets. Roaming Uber and Lyft drivers will also fall. Metro dwellers will forgo car ownership at higher rates. These customers will use Lime and Bird to tool around on short jaunts and Lyft and Uber for mid-range trips. For the longer out-of-town excursions, they can rent cars, use public transportation and book flights. All these results should be a boon to metro cities.

Hub-and-spoke

The future is calling for a hub and spoke transportation architecture. In fact, a set of two nested hub-and-spoke systems are ideal. One for sub-metro to sub-metro, and one for metro-to-metro. The sub-metro hub would be serviced by Bird and Lime for short excursions, and Lyft and Uber to connect the sub-metro centers. In San Francisco, a tourist could take a Lyft to Haight-Asbury and Bird around that neighborhood. When they are done exploring that section of town, they can take a Lyft to AT&T Park, take in a Giants game, and explore the South Beach region. Uber and Lyft rides can be used for transportation over two miles including office commuting.

For metro to metro transportation, high-speed rail, Hyperloop and air travel can connect the greater metro hubs. For country and rural residents, automobile ownership and transportation will still make the most logical and economic sense. That is fine. There is no issue with having traditional car ownership where it makes sense. There need not be one-size-fits-all transportation system in as complex and large a country as the US.

The value of autonomous vehicles is not in simply handling the driving chores that are currently being handled by car owners. Most car owners enjoy driving. The value proposition in ceding control to a robot rather than being in the driver seat is not compelling in the traditional use case. The value of autonomous vehicles is the ride-share experience. When a passenger does not own a car, or at a minimum worry about where the car goes or parks after her ride is complete, autonomous ride-sharing vehicles provide enormous benefits. These vehicles will frequently be shared with other riders on similar routes, in turn improving efficiency. The vehicles will also have a high utility rate, reducing the total number or cars on the road and in parking lots. This is good for our infrastructure and good for our environment. Most importantly, the reduced operational cost of autonomous vehicle ride-sharing service will approach a cost-per-trip price point where car owners will consider selling their cars or at least use them less.

San Francisco to Los Angeles

When people travel, they often drive. Why?

Scenario A

  1. The Lyft cost to get to the departure airport.
  2. The cost of the airfare.
  3. The extra time to arrive at the airport before the flight.
  4. The cost to take a Lyft from the destination airport to the hotel.
  5. The cost of the 7 Lyfts a day to go to visit the various sight-seeing locations, restaurants and nightlife destinations.

Instead they do this:

Scenario B

  1. Take their own vehicle and slog the 5 hour trip to their destination.
  2. Fill up the tank 2–3 times.
  3. Pay $15 a day for overnight parking at the hotel.
  4. Hunt for parking at each destination spot.
  5. Pay additional parking as necessary.
  6. Travel 5 hours home.

In a hub and spoke system, this happens:

Scenario C*

  1. Take an autonomous vehicle Lyft to the Hyperloop center.
  2. Since the Hyperloop will run at regular intervals, no major advance scheduling or arrival time booking will be required. Jump into the next available Hyperloop shuttle pod just like a Disneyland ride. Arrive in Los Angles in 1 hour.
  3. Autonomous Lyft to the hotel.
  4. Lyft to various hotspots.
  5. Lime around the neighborhoods.
  6. Lyft back to the Hyperloop center.
  7. Hyperloop home.
  8. Lyft home.

The benefits in cost, convenience, and time provide a traveler with an unparalleled solution.

*It may appear that scenarios A and C are the same, but in the scenario C, it is implied that autonomous ride-sharing vehicles will have a significant cost savings over the current gig-worker ride-sharing costs in scenario A.

Sub-metro hub-and-spoke solution almost complete

San Francisco is 7 miles by 7 miles. It is easy to tour the city with a few Lyft hops and then renting an e-scooter from the drop-off location.

The sub-metro solution is operational now. Bird and Lime have solved the first layer of the hub-and-spoke system. Uber and Lyft are getting close to providing a clear economic and convenience solution for connecting the sub-metro centers. Millennials are cutting the cord with their cable company. Once Uber and Lyft can reduce the cost per rider to a critical price point, these same folks will be listing their Camrys on Craigslist. Autonomous driving ride-sharing is where this price threshold can be reached.

The metro-to-metro hub may take longer to build out. Once we do have more convenient and cost-effective long distance transportation solutions, the days of the long distance road trip may go the way of getting kicks on Route 66. Still, having an attractive and convenient sub-metro hub-and-spoke system in place at the destination city does make air travel more attractive. Eliminating the time, hassle and cost of a car rental helps to justify leaving the minivan in the garage and hoping on a Southwest fun fare.

Metro-first autonomous vehicles

The highest value for autonomous vehicle adoption is in high density cities like New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, Chicago and Boston. Although unpredictable and aggressive pedestrians fill these high-density metros, self-driving vehicles handle these metro challenges well. Auto-to-pedestrian accidents will be lower with autonomous vehicles than human-operated vehicles. Replacing gig-working ride-sharing vehicles roaming in circles with automated vehicle technology ride-sharing will reduce fleet sizes and traffic in these cities.

Augmentation to self-driving

In towns and cities that have plenty of free parking and minimal traffic, the need for autonomous driving ride-sharing is lower. There are still use cases to warrant an overlay of automated driving technology ride-sharing services. For patrons heading out to the bars, these vehicles can put an end to drunk driving. For elderly citizens who should no longer be driving, these vehicles can provide them with continued mobility and a level of independence that that they would otherwise lose. The same goes for those with disabilities preventing them from driving.

Sleep or work on your commute

An autonomous vehicle is a massively connected device on wheels. LIDAR, cameras, GPS are necessary to provide the sensors and connectivity to navigate and manage the driving experience. This means that providing wifi in these vehicles should not be an issue. Driving to work, especially for long, traffic-congested commutes will eventually give way to ride-sharing. Driving in traffic is not the Sunday driving joy that we visualize when we purchase our shiny new toy. For those who could use a few extra z’s or get some emails done during the 53 minute slog to and from work, ride sharing is a good alternative to our twice daily road rage challenge.

Women only autonomous ride-sharing

The many articles regarding women being hassled, or worse assaulted, by gig-workers driving for Uber and Lyft are all too common. This is a sad commentary on our society but is the reality that our mothers, sisters and daughters face. Getting a safe and hassle-free ride is something autonomous vehicles can provide to women everywhere.

Bike shares are toast

I love bikes, but the maintenance, storage space and operation are far less compelling than that of e-scooters. Put a fork in that one. Bike shares failed to achieve lift velocity. Bike sharing is the Zune to e-scooters’ iPod.

What were we talking about?

Sorry, I got lost on a couple of tangents there. Welcome to my nonsequitory writing style. If you are still reading, which is probably 33% of you based on Medium past metrics, I’ll try and return to the original point. Bird and Lime have nailed it. They have shown how a gig-worker-less transportation system can use technology to deliver a significant positive impact on our lives. The solutions are cost-effective, reliable and convenient. They provide a superior solution and cost over driving, ride-sharing, and public transportation alternatives for many sub-metro transportation use cases. That being said, the e-scooter has limited range and is not ideal in inclement weather and in situations where a larger package or hauling is called for.

The cost of $1 to unlock and $.15 per minute is ideal. The predictability of this pricing model is far more comforting that the volatile and opaque pricing that Lyft and Uber use. As Lyft and Uber start offering autonomous vehicle ride-sharing trips, they too can offer a too-good-to-pass-up price that also has full transparency. Bird and Lime are showing that the right price model, much in part due to the low cost of their fleet cost and maintenance, can shift customer behavior even faster than Uber has done with ride-sharing.

When the transition to autonomous vehicle technology ride-sharing takes hold, the growth of ride-sharing and the reduction of car ownership will radically reshape our transportation patterns. Here’s to seeing this happen sooner than later. When this finally does happen, we will have two four letter words to partially credit for this, Bird and Lime.

CEO & Founder. Gogocater.