I recently read this article exploring how autonomous vehicles may lead to the demise of car ownership. I've been following this trend closely over the past few years because it may impact the demand for parking garages.
It's hard to predict what will happen. On one hand, it seems logical that people will ride-share - especially in cities. But I also recall experts speculating in the late 1990s that the Internet was going to kill off personal and office printers. Ten years later we learned that the exact opposite happened, as the internet delivered more content to people who hated reading it on computer screens.
Watch Elon Musk's recent TED talk for an interesting perspective of how autonomous vehicles could lead to an INCREASE in driving. His basic premise is that autonomous driving will make driving so much more pleasurable and safer that more cars will come on the road - not less.
It makes sense. Why should we build expensive, crowded, and uncomfortable mass transit, when people would rather travel in their own private and comfortable car without the traffic caused by dangerous and unpredictable human drivers? Once cars running on electricity or hydrogen fuel cells stop polluting, there will be no reason for people to oppose personal vehicle use.
Vehicle sharing works were there is a balance between supply and demand. Thus, I think car sharing will work well in urban centers, but not out in the suburbs, where it will be far less efficient because everyone will need a car between 7:30 am and 9:00 am and then again between 4:30 pm and 7:00 pm. Most of the cars will still sit idle between 9:00 pm and 4:30 pm.
One oft-cited trend in support of the inevitability of ride-sharing is the steady migration of people to urban centers in recent years. I think it is quite possible that autonomous vehicles may actually reverse the trend of people moving into cities.
I don't hear this talked about anywhere, but it seems obvious that if I can do work and be on conference calls while I'm zipping along on the highway, why not live somewhere more peaceful and affordable? If I want gourmet food from some amazing big city restaurant, I'll just have it delivered by a drone. ;-)
As I think about how I use my car today, I realize it is part transportation, and part luggage. I like the fact that I can store my golf clubs, sunglasses, raincoat, umbrella, winter hat, and gloves in my car and have them at my disposal whenever I need them. If I am ride-sharing, I am going to have to carry those items with me or do without them.
It may seem like a petty convenience, but this is why I think that unless I am traveling far away from home, I will likely to be driven around by my own autonomous vehicle rather than sharing one with strangers. I suspect I am not alone in that sentiment, but only time will tell.