Self-driving cars offer huge benefits—but have a dark side


  1. If all this sounds implausible, recall that Robert Moses notoriously designed the Southern State Parkway, linking New York City to Long Island’s beaches, with low bridges to favour access by rich whites in cars, while discriminating against poor blacks in buses.
  2. Some cities already have congestion-charging regimes, subsidise ride-hailing in poor areas ill-served by public transport, or impose per-ride taxes on Uber, Lyft and their kind.
  3. Experiments with different pricing schemes, decisions about whether to ban private vehicles from city centres, and license auctions for competing private robotaxi operators sound harmless enough.
  4. Yet the same tolling schemes that will let city planners minimise congestion or subsidise robotaxi services in underserved “transport deserts” have a darker side—and one to which too little attention has been paid.
  5. Economists and urban planners should rejoice because AVs mean that, for the first time, the unwelcome externalities associated with cars can be fully priced in.
  6. So as robotaxi services roll out this year, and expand to cover wider areas in more cities in the years to come, there is more to think about than technology and transport policy.
  7. Today’s cars sit unused 95% of the time, so a widespread switch to robotaxis would let urban land wasted on parking be reallocated.
  8. Autonomous vehicles offer passengers freedom from accidents, pollution, congestion and the bother of trying to find a parking space.
  9. AVs will offer an extraordinarily subtle policy tool which can, in theory, be used to transform cities; but in the hands of authoritarian governments could also become a powerful means of social control.


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