Real-estate developers and urban planners eyeing the disruption ride-sharing and ride-sourcing services, combined with autonomous vehicles (AVs), will cause are pondering what will become of the garage, the driveway and the parking lot once our transportation expectations change.
For instance, will we still need garages and driveways if we don’t own cars but instead ride in fleets of taxi-like, self-driving vehicles that take us wherever we want to go? Why build parking lots if AVs, after dropping off their passengers, return to a central charging location in a specially designed and zoned area far away and out of sight when they run low on electricity or fuel?
Clearly, tech-driven, ride-sharing business models such as Uber and Lyft have dramatically altered the way many of us get around. Now, hailing a ride is as simple as a few taps on a smartphone, upending the traditional rules that taxi drivers have followed for generations.
But more radical changes may be in store, depending on how rapidly our acceptance of AVs spreads. Right now, three out of four Americans are leery of riding in one, although engineers increasingly are making the case for their safe and reliable operation. (This tendency isn’t unknown. Airlines decades ago began serving alcoholic drinks on flights to soothe the nerves of passengers unaccustomed to the then-new mode of travel.)
Google and other tech leaders are testing driverless cars in Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and San Francisco. Someday these could be turned into shared-ride autonomous vehicles that drop riders off at the office and move on their own to a resting spot – or another passenger. Could this in time send the three-car garage the way of the horse stall, hitching post or carriage house?
If so, what will happen to our existing homes? Will our garages be readapted en masse for use as man caves, workshops or some other purpose? Will we cover our driveways in sod and expand our yard space? Will these homes be more or less difficult to sell than new houses built without these dated, car-centric design features?
As for parking lots, think about how places besides dense urban cores – including stadiums, theaters, amusement parks, shopping areas and airports – will change once acres of open space no longer need to be set aside for the storage of idle cars. Suburban strips of car dealerships and gas stations might disappear altogether, freeing up additional new space for other uses.
When the electric-vehicle charging lots move from high-value settings to more remote areas, development costs may decline but so, perhaps, will revenue to owners and local governments. Will this lead to new regulations and infrastructure to serve this fleet of shared-use vehicles?
Whatever happens, the transportation models of the future are sure to shift from what we are experiencing today. With some 500 million parking spaces in the nation, the redevelopment of parking garages is likely to be “one of the great changes in the next 20 years,” Christopher Leinberger, head of the Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis at George Washington University, told the Los Angeles Times recently.
Given these potential changes, the responsibility now is on automakers and OEMs to create the vehicles that will enable this future. Manufacturers need to be thinking about autonomous driving as the starting point, incorporating features that will work for users across many different use cases, without overlooking comfort, convenience and everything else today’s drivers expect from their cars.
Only then will the true potential of automated mobility be realized.
Daron Gifford (above) is the automotive industry consulting leader at the accounting firm and consultancy Plante Moran in Detroit.