Cities Begin to Worry About the Consequences of Self-Driving Cars

Cities Begin to Worry About the Consequences of Self-Driving Cars Credit: Car Canyon

Earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed publicly for the first time that the company is working on self-driving cars, which he described as “the mother of all” artificial intelligence projects. While he specified that the project is currently limited to the technology that underpins autonomous cars, Cook did not deny that Apple had greater ambitions to build its own cars at some point.

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” said Cook to Bloomberg TV. “Clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars. There are others. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects.” Cook noted that “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.”

The public revelation came after Apple’s self-driving Lexus SUVs were spotted leaving the iPhone maker’s Silicon Valley building for trial runs. The test drives were approved by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which has granted similar licenses to more than 30 other companies, ranging from ride-hailing companies to car manufacturers.

Issues Caused By Autonomous Vehicles

As the race to create self-driving cars ramps up, municipal legislators working to pave the way for them have found themselves confronted with a host of aggravating issues. For instance, the fact that parking and speeding tickets may become a thing of the past is one major realization that cities are beginning to grapple with.

“It struck me,” said Austin transportation director Robert Spillar to Governing. “Half my revenue for transportation capacity and operations improvements is based on a parking model that may be obsolete in a dozen years.

Governing has conducted the first national study of the impact of self-driving cars on municipal budgets of America’s 25 largest cities. It found that the 25 cities earned $5 billion in “auto-related revenues” (i.e. parking-related collections, traffic citations, gas taxes, vehicle registration, etc.) in fiscal 2016. Beyond these, the advent of self-driving vehicles will deprive cities of revenues from taxis, car rentals, and other auto-related businesses.

This could spell trouble for certain cities that draw large amounts of auto-related revenues per fiscal year. For example, New York alone drew $1.2 billion in 2016. Other major cities like San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Chicago derived hundreds of dollars on a per capita basis last year.

Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles

On the upside, the proliferation of self-driving cars will also end up saving the city money allocated for traffic enforcement. Other potential benefits include easing congestion and freeing up valuable plots of land currently used for parking lots, street parking, and garages. It’s also important to mention the number of lives saved from irresponsible driving. The National Transportation Safety Board reports that 33,000 lives are lost each year to traffic fatalities in the US alone. It predicts that self-driving cars will do a lot to reduce this number, which will in turn reduce health-care costs and emergency room visits.

“We’re going to start to rethink how we make use of our public facilities,” said Ken Husting of Los Angeles’ parking management division to Governing. Husting noted that street parking spaces could be converted into wider sidewalks or bike lanes, whereas large parking garages may be converted to valuable commercial real estate.

So, it’s possible that the largest cities will take a hit to their finances, while other cities will be largely unaffected due to the cost-savings associated with the advent of autonomous vehicles. And it’s worth remembering that this reality is still a number of years away. Even after fully autonomous cars are developed and commercially viable, it will take some time for them to be adopted by people to the extent that parking revenues wither away completely.

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