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Mighty Things

For the Connected World

NYC Self-Driving Cabs

New York City and the yellow cab are so inextricably linked that it’s hard to imagine one without thinking of the other. For decades, massive sedans sporting that iconic canary paint job have flooded the streets, transporting New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Convenience But Excruciating Experiences

While I appreciate their convenience, I have never been a big fan of yellow taxis. Why? More often than not, they are dirty and smelly. I cannot even count the times where I sat in the back of a cab, in horror and frustration, as my so-called drivers take phone calls or text, while switching lanes recklessly and running yellow lights? Once, I even had one cabbie video chatting with his family abroad. Too much for me…Thanks to bikeshare programs like Citi Bike, I don’t take cabs anymore. And when the horrific winter comes to the city, I just revert to Uber, like many other New Yorkers.

Toward The End Of NYC Taxi Services

In just four years, Uber has already overtaken the city’s iconic cabs in terms of number of cars. According to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, New York now has 13,587 registered yellow taxis, and 14,088 Uber cars. I actually believe that the yellow cabs, as symbolic of the Big Apple as black cabs are of London, may soon be extinct. And not just because of Uber.

Beyond Uber

Self-driving cars are inevitable. They’re already here. Google announced this week that its self-driving car project crossed the 1 million mile mark last week, the equivalent of 75 years of typical U.S adult driving. Google self-driving cars have now seen 180 million vehicles, and navigated 600,000 traffic lights and more than 200,000 stop signs. All those impressive figures are just proof that autonomous driving is already a reality.


Time To Bring Autonomous Driving Experiments in NYC

If Google’s self-driving prototypes are finally ready to hit real roads this summer, why can’t we see some of them in New York City too? Maybe not this summer, but soon enough. I believe New York City could be the perfect platform to test and launch driverless vehicles.

  1. New York City is a window to the world.
  2. The density of New York would ensure high utilization of those vehicles.
  3. The five boroughs have some serious congestions problems that driverless cars could solve.
  4. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

Convincing people that driverless technology is safe is one of the hurdles Google (or any other players to that matter) must overcome. Bringing Google’s patented driverless cars into the New York Taxi fleet could be a great way to educate people about self-driving technology beyond the streets of Silicon Valley. I’m curious to see the impact of autonomous electric-bio-fuel hybrids on city traffic. Sadly, New York City is also known for its congested tunnels.

It is expected that fewer vehicles will be needed on the streets than the existing yellow cabs or Uber cars prowling the city streets now. Driverless cars are indeed more efficient than vehicles with drivers, servicing clients significantly faster. According a Columbia University study, Uber could replace every cab in New York City with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars. On average, passengers would wait 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile. With such convenience and low cost, NYC self-driving and on-demand cab would become the dominant form of transportation. Goodbye car ownership. Goodbye crowded subway.

“Drivers are to Uber what DVDs are to Netflix”

Goodbye cabbies too. Driverless cars will cause unprecedented job loss. In New York alone, thousands of cabbies and Uber drivers will loose their jobs, but none of this is a surprise. After all, drivers are to Uber what DVDs are to Netflix: transitional and rapidly going extinct. Of course, this is scary but more compelling is the creation of entire new industries (and jobs) that we cannot yet imagine.

I believe self-driving cabs can make NYC smarter, cleaner, safer, quieter (no more random honking), and more efficient. I hope you do too.

And let’s hope that Google, Apple or Uber in the future will keep the yellow paint.

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