Have you ever imagined how much it costs to upgrade and maintain the world’s roadways? Politicians do on a regular basis, at a local and international level. They have to map out the future too and earmark spending, like in Edmonton Canada, where a proposal for the next 50 years of road usage suggests that as many as 60 new interchange roadways would need to be created in the city over the next five decades, to cater to the expected giant influx of traffic. The cost to the tax payer? Some $7 billion (£4 billion).
However, some people disagree with that figure, suggesting that with the introduction of new technologies, increased usage (as the cost comes down) of private car firms like Uber and specifically the growth of automated vehicles, much of that cost could be waived. Paul Godsmark, an authority on the current state and future developments of driverless cars, believes that the local government is misinterpreting the future and not considering what an impact the above technological and societal trends could have.
“My concern is there is a gross error in the methods used to forecast and model the future traffic requirements,” said Godsmark. “Once automated vehicles are deployed, it is very possible that the numbers of vehicles on the roads quickly start to fall.”
This is something big companies that are pushing driverless technology, like Google and Chinese firm Baidu – which recently teamed up with BMW to co-develop automated car technology – have been saying for a while now. With the introduction of cars that can drive themselves, people won’t spend ages trying to park them, the vehicles themselves can be more efficient drivers, so less space is wasted on motorways and because they’ll be more convenient and cheaper, people will car share or just use taxi-like services.
This all means that there’s less cars on the road and with the cars that remain using the space more efficiently, all of these extra roadways and expenditure ideas aren’t entirely necessary. At least in theory.
It would certainly make for a great election campaign for a local politician. With a forward thinking, technological focused outlook, they could talk up big savings for the community, as roadway maintenance and construction costing billions, even over so many years, is unlikely to be welcomed by citizens of the area, since it will be their taxes that will be required too fund it.
If your platform as a politician was to push for driverless technology and once it was introduced, give tax breaks to everyone, it might just get you elected.
But that’s not going too be possible for at least another five years, as while automated technology is coming on apace, it still has a long way to go. Trials are expected to begin in the UK and elsewhere in the world next year, but we won’t be looking at getting large numbers of driverless vehicles on our roads until the mid 2020s and at that point, the amount of roadways they can actually drive on will still be severely limited.