Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Planes, Trains and (self-driving) Automobiles

A dive into transportation wonkitude with Ms Iz as our tour guide.
From FT Alphaville:

The autoignition temperature of manual cars is much higher than Fahrenheit 451

According to Bloomberg’s Chris Martin and Joe Ryan
Mass transit, the lifeblood of cities worldwide, is under threat from the biggest innovation in automotive technology since Henry Ford’s assembly line first flooded streets with cars.
They also note:
The self-driving vehicles being pioneered by Tesla Motors Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and others are poised to dramatically lower the cost of taxis, potentially making them cheaper than buses or subways, according to a joint report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Co. Having no driver to pay could reduce taxi prices to 67 cents a mile by 2025, less than a quarter of the cost in Manhattan today, the report found.
Which, quite frankly, is amazing stuff from the likes of McKinsey — since at some point in their illustrious history they must have done some public transport consulting work, no?
We’ll spare you the exhaustive repetition of what actual public transport experts have repeatedly told us on that front. Suffice to say they don’t believe SD cars will pose much of a threat to public transport because costs in this space are determined by geometrical constraints, not human labour availability. As to the idea they’ll be cheaper than human-driven cars, we’ve covered the reasons why that might not be the case at all here and here.
What we will note is that the above is typical of the poor quality research coming out in this space — focussed as it is on fanning enthusiasm for the new tech (and related consulting contracts no doubt) rather than alerting investors to the practical realities and challenges.
As a rule, we’ve found most of the reports that grab the headlines are sparse on figures and big on assumptions, while those that cite actual figures and facts get crowded out entirely.
Many of these assumptions ignore basic facts such as that operating a SD network in the near future will clearly demand more labour hours not fewer (not least because autopilot cars will need to be supervised for a long while yet, but also because SD car networks will need a small army of specialist coders, administrators, lawyers and lobbyists, not to mention maintenance and cleaning staff, to be added to the cost structure). Nor do the assumptions appreciate the tragedy of the commons effect in operating unsupervised transport systems. Think of the average cleanliness of a night bus at the end of its cycle, then double the squalor. Without supervisory drivers onboard it is undoubtedly the case that cars will be exposed to everything from small child mess and late-night takeaway cast offs to doggy disasters and all sorts of other disgustingness....

Also at FT Alphaville:

SD cars and productivity