I woke up this morning, as I do every weekend morning: before everyone else, fed the cat & dog, grabbed my computer and headed down the street to the local coffee shop. As I was strolling along, I decided to pull up my blog reel to see which of my favorite authors had posted an update. (This may be a nervous tick or a bad habit, but to me its like being a kid on Christmas. Opening the packages and peeling back the paper to see what gifts had been bestowed upon me).
Well, in the personal finance blogs that I follow, one caught me by surprise. Although it is a surprising – to some who do not lead a “Mustacian life” – blog, I was very intrigued by Mr. Money Mustache’s (MMM) latest post. In it, he talks about his experience in a Tesla and the potential this small car company has on changing the world.
I guess I should have seen this coming as he also did an interview with Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn. In it, he talks about the impact of leading a “Spartan lifestyle,” and how the collective impact of being Mustachian would change how towns would be planned/operated/lived-in. I’ll let you listen to the full episode.
I agree whole-heartedly with what MMM has stated here. Less consumption and less reliance on the SFR-model, while utilizing less harmful resources ultimately leads to a utopia. Having the ability to message a car service (like Lyft, not the “other one”)* and have a car pick you up is fantastic. Oh the things we could do. After reading through the comments on his post, it seems that most people get it.
The topics and themes these avid MMM fans portray are fairly consistent with what the “experts” are spatting all over the media. Therefore, I would like to take this a step further, which is why I titled this post “Automated Vehicles Impact v2.0.” I think that most people have been talking about the low-hanging fruit. Let me sum them up for you, as best as I can recall with my Cafe con Leche in front of me:
- Drivers no longer need to be coherent (sober, awake)
- Mobility as a Service [MaaS] (car-sharing services control all the cars)
- No parking lots, as vehicles can just circle around the city all day
- Share-economy for garages
- No more road signs, traffic lights, thinner road lanes, etc.
- Lowered deaths & injuries
- Computerized equipment has the problem of recognizing ethics-based dilemmas (do I kill the driver or a crowd of people?)
- No more transit or fixed-rail
In order to think about what the next steps are, it is important to determine which decisions & impacts are based on the availability or unavailability of transportation. Note that these are just some initial thoughts, and I plan on expanding this post into subsequent posts as future caffeine & information/data are injected.
My assumptions for this are:
- Autonomous and connected vehicles are made a reality
- Power (either electric or hydrogen fuel cells or another) is virtually limitless
- MaaS is accomplished via a regulated monopoly, similar to a utility
The impact on housing choices, schools, & children:
One common theme I keep hearing is about the travel for W-2 employees and their commute. “Wow, if a car can drive me to work, I can check my emails and be more productive. Wow, what a great tool.” However, now that a commute is no longer a factor in a housing choice, what will happen to our housing location, size, and type?
People have been debating whether or not this would be a pro or con for density. The argument is that autonomous vehicles will increase sprawl due to the scenario above. Note that I do tend to agree with them, but I think it will be a different type of sprawl. Not a suburban wasteland with cul-de-sacs, but rather a patchwork of small, close-knit towns and small downtowns. So, we will follow this scenario of sprawl.
This then begs the question: do our housing choices need to be smaller, as a good part of our living could be done in a car. A person could theoretically live in Tampa/Orlando and commute to Miami or Atlanta as part of their work schedule. Why do they need the extra 5 bedrooms in their McMansion? The car would be an extension of the house, removing maybe a den and a spare bedroom. Cars could then theoretically become bigger, reducing the projected congestion & space-savings that folks have discussed.
To take it a step further, why couldn’t we just live in a car, which would then start to more resemble a RV? It has infinite energy and no land impact and can take us anywhere. Would we become pod people?
Okay, let me take a less radical approach to the next topic: schools. Let’s assume that the RV-roving future does not happen. Assume that autonomous vehicles are ran like a utility. How does the idea of school districts play into this?
I ask this as I am getting to an age where most of my peers are starting to buy houses. “Oh, it is in a good school district,” they say. “We don’t want to live near downtown because the schools are bad.” With autonomous vehicles and people living more freely in more open space (which, I firmly believe people want, counter to the notion that “all millennials want to live downtown”), this broken-record response becomes null & void.
I surmise that the notion of school district will go one of two ways as a commute no longer fits into someone’s housing choice: the first is that school districts will be dissolved, as residential housing becomes more spread out, OR school districts become even more segregated then they are today. I believe the first scenario is fairly self explanatory (not to mention this is a subject I am extremely amateurish on), so I will selfishly focus on the second theory: that autonomous vehicles can spur school segregation.
I’ll be perfectly honest: my selfish nature would want me to be associated with only like-minded people. I think this is human nature, which is evident in America’s and Europe’s handling of the Refugee Crisis. I do think that this is a poor mindset to have, and that integration is key to human progress. Hearing new ideas and experiencing new cultures only makes someone a more aware and educated citizen. By having autonomous vehicles, we can now choose the schools & neighborhoods more selectively, thereby exposing our children to more homogeneity. This, in turn, reduces the ability of these young minds, as the infamous impact of America’s “melting pot” has been greatly reduced.
I think this is a reality as there is a culture shift in reducing the locality part of the equation in a school. Private schools, which offer a great service at a premium, have always been around. These options for more well-off families do not require the. In the past few decades, charter schools have been offering this choice to lower and middle class families (watch “Waiting for Superman” for a heart-wrenching 90 minutes on this subject). I was fortunate to attend a very good charter school in my schooling. These schools have the potential to offer a great service and have started to tear down the institution of school districts. Children no longer are stuck with their local school that they are zoned for and have.
By keeping an echo chamber in education, this greatly reduces children’s ability – as they grow up – to deal with real life issues. What happens when I fail? How do I overcome adversity? What if there is a disagreement: do I cry foul or do I learn? A microcosm of this is starting to pop up at our higher institutions, and I hope this is not a omen for things to come.
So what do you think? Am I completely off-base with my assessments or is there some merit to these?
*The reason I didn’t mention Uber was that I vehemently oppose their chauvinistic executive management, their strategy of bullying cities, and their treatment of drivers. Lyft, to the best of my knowledge, has been willing to work with cities and allows for the tipping of drivers, which I think is a great incentive for drivers to give good service.