I really hope autonomous cars have taken off by the time I reach my parents’ age. My Dad had to give up his car after driving into the kitchen via the garage, propelling the washing machine ahead of him. When they were younger, he needed his car to get to work, there was no question of my Mum getting her hands on it, so she never learned to drive.
They now rely on the Little Green Bus, run by volunteers to get them to town or the nearest big red bus. Taxis charge around £7 each way for the distance I could walk in 10 minutes.
I love driving, but I recognise that before I get to accelerating through walls, I will have to hand over my driving licence. At that point, I want the car to do the driving, but I probably won’t want to be bothered with all the tax, insurance and servicing. The ideal solution is a cheap, autonomous pod to be ordered Uber-style via an app.
I will want different pods depending on the length of the journey, or how flush I’m feeling: plush seats and a great entertainment system for long journeys, a pick-up for the recycling centre, or a basic model for shopping. Mums could get a minivan with scrub-down seats to take their kids and all their friends to football – and they’d be able to keep an eye on them all rather than watching the road. Lads and ladettes might want an auto-limo for a night on the lash.
More seriously, people with disabilities – including the blind - would have true independence, if the pods were voice-activated.
Of course, issues of the legal framework and insurance need to be sorted. I hope the politicians get on with that a bit quicker than the Brexit negotiations.
I’m not sure how the pods would be fuelled. Electricity sounds nice and clean, but we are already being forced to build nuclear power stations just to keep the lights on. If all cars are electric, we may have to get fracking. Maybe hydrogen or fuel cells at last? Or just tiny, hyper-efficient internal combustions engines.
Another issue is where the pods would live. Pod-hire firms would need large yards to park them all up, and maybe recharge them. A by-product, however, might be fewer giant car parks in towns and a reduction in neighbourly irritation about cars parked outside the wrong house.
Young people now don’t clutter their living rooms with shelves full of vinyl, videos, CDs and DVDs as my generation did, they don’t miss owning the ‘thing’ as I do. Perhaps they won’t choose to clutter the streets with cars either, happy to order transport just as they order a pizza or stream a song or film.
Of course, there’s the issue of unemployment for taxi and minicab drivers, traffic wardens and producers of paint for yellow lines, but perhaps new jobs could be created. Older or disable people might appreciate being able to order an assistant to help them get in and out or to load heavy items. (Some taxi drivers will do this, but plenty don’t). My mum is not the only passenger to sometimes take the Little Green Bus just to have a chat. Pods could have the option of a ride-along companion to talk about the weather, the traffic, and how there’s nothing funny on TV any more. Maybe they could even argue about the navigation, just for old time’s sake.