I'm sure most of you caught the news a few days ago that every Tesla coming off the assembly line now has full self-driving hardware. That was the headline. Almost as interesting was this gem buried in the fine print: you're not allowed to use your Tesla for Uber, Lyft, or any other for-profit ride sharing program. That's right kids, Tesla is going after Uber. We'll save that for a bit later.
There's no doubt that we're on the cusp of autonomous vehicles taking over the roads. Trust me: the insurance companies will insist on it. They'll throw their considerable resources at getting the legislation passed sooner rather than later. Inevitable fatal glitches aside, machines are already better drivers than people could ever be. What I want discuss today are the unintended consequences of this seismic shift in transportation.
Impact on Municipal Budgets
I was driving my kids home from school the other day when a cop pulled up beside me and gave me a shitty look. 25 years ago I would've given it right back to him with a defensive, "What?!". These days it's no longer worth the hassle.
I'm a middle aged white guy with money, so I'm not worried about getting shot. But getting pulled over for any reason these days is going to start the meter around $300 and it goes up from there. Now that cops are in the asset forfeiture and revenue generation business, it's best to avoid them at all costs.
Of course you wonder what you did to draw the attention in the first place. Did I have a taillight out? Did I change lanes without signaling? Was I speeding?
Then I thought about all the ways self-driving cars are going to impact the municipalities who finance their budgets through police extortion. A huge percentage of law enforcement activity (tickets, arrests, convictions, fines and forfeitures) begin with the simple traffic stop. All sorts of convictions, up to and including murder, have come as a result of a cop pulling someone over for a traffic violation.
Now imagine everyone getting from point A to point B in vehicles incapable of committing said traffic violations. The justification for the traffic stop goes out the window, and probable cause along with it. City revenues are going to take a massive hit. How massive? The following chart illustrates how dependent some municipalities have become on fine and forfeiture revenue:
Self-driving cars are going to change the way policing is done. I, for one, can't wait for the day I can sneer at a cop as I drive by chugging a cold one and smoking a fatty. The problem with that fantasy is that there won't be many traffic cops left at that point.
More to the point, how are these municipalities going to replace that revenue? They'll either have to raise taxes or cut spending. It's an unintended consequence of autonomous vehicles, but it's better for everyone in the long run.
The Attack on Uber
The interesting part about the "ban" on using your Tesla on other ride sharing platforms is that Tesla now has their own. It's called the Tesla Network, and details about it are coming next year. I think it's pretty easy to figure out what they're up to right now, though.
Sign up for the Tesla Network and you're hiring a robot employee you never have to pay. In short, your Tesla is going to work while you sleep. When you're stuck at work all day, your Tesla is going to be out hustling rides for money. With no need of a human driver, no need for fuel (courtesy of free Tesla filling stations), and no engine to wear out, there's no reason your Tesla can't be working every idle moment.
Uber's single largest expense is their drivers, and they're pressing hard into the autonomous space for that reason. But Tesla appears poised to beat them there by putting a fleet on the road right now.
Ride sharing isn't the only segment of the economy this will affect, either. I wouldn't want to be in the parking lot business once this happens. Why would you ever pay to park again, when you can just have your car circle the block until you're done in the store? Why not just have your car drop you off in the morning and then drive itself back home until you're off work? I know I'd save a fortune on parking downtown.
And what about deliveries? I started using Uber for pizza delivery years ago in Paris, because it was cheaper to have my driver walk in and pick up my pizzas than it was to have Pizza Hut deliver them. Think about it: your car can now go fetch stuff without you. And not just for you. It can be out delivering boxes all night long while you sleep.
When we think about autonomous vehicles, most of us just think about being able to drive home after having a few. Or how nice it'll be to kick back and read or watch a movie while we're on our way to work. Or maybe how much safer it'll be to drive.
But it's the unintended consequences that I find most interesting. We covered a few of them here, but I know there are more that I'm not thinking about at the moment. What have I missed?
This is going to be one of those things that people look back on 50 years from now and say, "Were you guys insane driving yourselves around? Why did it take so long for you to create autonomous vehicles?" So it's definitely a cool time to be alive and witness this transition. I know there's going to be a lot of pushback from the various industries affected by autonomous vehicles, but at this point they're an inevitability.
Can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned.
Mod Note (Andy): This week we're reposting the top content from 2016, this one ranks #49 for 24 of silver bananas.