The developing opinion in some quarters that personal car ownership will disappear in the driverless universe, mentioned in last week’s Road Rules, is based on a number of trends. One is the growing indifference in the status quo universe of ‘millennials’—the demographic cohort with birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s—to obtaining a driver’s license and to car ownership.
A new report by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute states that three out of four people who were 20 to 24 years old in 2014 had a driver’s license. The exact figure—76.7%—represents a “sharp decline” from 79.7% in 2011, 82% in 2008 and 91.8% in 1983. Teens are also showing a declining interest in embarking on the now almost universal graduated licensing programs: in 2014, 24.5% of 16-year-olds down from 27.5% in 2011, 31.1% in 2008 and 46.2% in 1983, according to the same University of Michigan report.
The order of the many reasons for this trend – based on the percentage of responses to the question, “What is the main reason you do not currently have a driver’s license?” – is somewhat surprising. Environmental concerns are closer to the bottom— not the top — of the list. In fact being too busy to get a license, and cost, and the availability of and preference for alternatives like biking, walking and public transit are the main, more humdrum, reasons.
The notion that the need to drive for face-to-face interaction for both personal and business purposes has been wholly supplanted by the Internet is also not at the top of the list, although it ranks ahead of environmental concerns. Some young adults are reported as saying they do not like to drive and are afraid of it.
Of course whether or not use of or ownership of a driverless car would still require a driver’s license of some sort remains to be discussed. Enthusiasm for driverless car ownership might skyrocket without the bother of a driver’s license, and the expense of car insurance. Likewise, the comparative cost of driverless cars is not yet known. Reduction or elimination of safety features and expected greater fuel efficiency could possibly reduce ownership and maintenance costs.
A second trend is the steadily growing popularity of ride-sharing services as a reasonable alternative, especially in dense urban centres. Skepticism about this trend is now belied by new statistics from expense management company Certify which, after analyzing more than 30 million transactions in 2015, found that 41% of rides taken by corporate travelers in the US were with Uber. This compared with 39% of rides in rental cars and 20% of rides in taxis during the same three-month period and is the first time Uber rides exceeded car rental rides as the top mode of choice for business travelers.
Reports on the ride-sharing trend also note that, “Uber rides were up more than 400% last year vs. 2014 while …Lyft saw its percentage of rides jump 700% last year compared with 2014.” Price, convenience, reliability, quality of the ride, overall ‘less hassle’ are all cited as reasons for this growing preference.