back to article Robo-taxis, what are they good for? Er, the environment and traffic

Taxi firms that move from human drivers of gas-powered cabs to automated electric taxis could cut vehicle emissions by over 90 per cent, according to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Most of these emission cuts come from shifting from oil power to electric, but the study found that autonomous taxi services …

  1. Thorne

    Street lamp lighters are also unemployed. Technology has replaced a lot of jobs.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      not just taxis

      The driver is the single most expensive part of any taxi.

      That figure isn't 250k drivers. It's more like 40 million worldwide facing unemployment in the long term.

      Some (hauliers) will likely still have some form of job as loadmasters but the change will be profound.

      It's also worth bearing in mind that more convenient (and cheap to use) taxis are likely to reduce the number of cars in cities by about 2/3 if a Barcelona study is accurate.

  2. Nuno

    "those who freelance on services like Lyft and Uber, would be out of a job"

    They can buy a robo-taxi, add it to a fleet and go do something else. Or just spend that robo-taxi income...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "those who freelance on services like Lyft and Uber, would be out of a job"

      I for one would use taxis a lot more if they didn't need human drivers. The things I detest about taxis are not being sure if they are going to bother to turn up to get me to the airport for an early morning flight, having to be in the same car as a the driver who hasn't had anyone to talk to for 10 hours, the driver not actually being that good at driving or knowing where they are going, and the driver only having had 3 hours sleep the night before and falling asleep in the fast lane of the M25 (unlike my other gripes that only happened to me one once), and finally there just aren't enough taxis serving rural areas. All of these issues go away with robot taxis. In 20 years time I'm going to be too old to drive safely so cheap and available robot taxis are going to enhance my standard of living.

      1. zazoo

        Re: "those who freelance on services like Lyft and Uber, would be out of a job"

        Why do you assume that robot taxis will mean enough taxis start serving rural areas.

        The couldn't care less attitude isn't limited to taxis drivers its usually throughout the company, owners and dispatchers too.

  3. Charles Manning

    Screw the jobs

    Technology has been displacing jobs forever. It is part of what we do as people.

    Without that, we'd still be using our bare fingers to dig for roots to chew on (a digging stick is technology). Most of us would die before the age or 3 and many would die every winter from starvation.

    Creating jobs is easy. Creating value is hard. We could create billions of jobs by getting rid of all construction machinery. Roads are to be built like in the good old days: by hand.

    Every technology displaces jobs, but does create some new ones. Consider street lighting:

    In the 1500s there were men with lamps who would light your way home from the pub. They made a meagre income from that. There were many of these people and only the richest could afford the service.

    Then came street lamps. That put the lamp carriers out of a job, The first lamps burned candles, then oil, so we had some people to refill the oil, replace wicks and light the lamps and put them out. Perhaps 60% of the jobs gone.

    Then came gas lamps. Far less maintenance since the gas was piped and there was no wick to trim. Perhaps 70% of the lamp workers went out of business.

    Then came leccy lights. No need to light them, but there were still 10% of the jobs to replace the incandescent bulbs.

    Then long-life florescent lighting cut the maintenance by 90% again.

    Now LED has reduced that by 90% yet again.

    Now all the street lighting in a city can be maintained by one bloke and a van - down from tens of thousands of street light providers. However society is better off because the value of the lighting has increased dramatically since everyone now gets high quality lighting.

    The same happens everywhere. That is just part of progress. If we constrain progress to preserve jobs we only constrain value and we're all worse off for it.

    1. User McUser

      Re: Screw the jobs

      In the 1500s there were men with lamps who would light your way home from the pub. They made a meagre income from that. There were many of these people and only the richest could afford the service.

      Hang on a tick - if there were lots of lamp carriers who were paid next to nothing then why is it that only the richest could afford it?

      1. Bumpy Cat

        Re: Screw the jobs

        @McUser

        The disparity in wealth in a feudal society was very high. The number of people who could afford any kind of discretionary expenditure - eg, a lamp carrier - was very small.

        1. User McUser

          Re: Screw the jobs

          @Bumpy Cat

          Exactly, that's the problem. If only the wealthy can afford it then there will NOT be a lot of lamp carriers because there won't be enough demand for the service to create the jobs.

          If there ARE a lot of lamp carriers then the competition between them will drive down the price allowing less affluent people to afford the service.

  4. big_D Silver badge

    Petrol taxi?

    I haven't seen a petrol based taxi, ever.

    All the ones I've used and seen have been diesel, since I was a nipper in the 70s.

    1. IvyKing

      Re: Petrol taxi?

      Note that LBL is in California - CARB rules tend to discourage diesel autos, so most taxi's here are gasoline powered.

      While 7 million barrels of oil may seem to be a lot, that's about one day's worth of motor vehicle fuel for the US.

      1. Robert Grant Silver badge

        Re: Petrol taxi?

        It still seems to be a lot. That the US consumes it in a day doesn't change that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Petrol taxi?

      Never seen a Prius taxi?

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Petrol taxi?

      "I haven't seen a petrol based taxi, ever."

      I only started seeing diesel ones when I moved to europe. Mind you most of the petrol ones when I was a nipper in the 70s were CNG conversions - apart from the fuel being cheaper, engines tended to last a lot longer and go further between major servicing when running on the stuff, for various reasons.

  5. graeme leggett

    questionable thinking

    "reduce congestion and increase efficiency, by allowing cars to slipstream each other."

    I'd have thought most of a taxi's journey was urban at speeds where the slipstream effect was minimal.

    And even allowing for a robotaxi have lightning fast reflexes, is the slipstream useful while still maintaining a safe braking distance. (2 second rule for fleshy drivers at speed).

    1. Geoff Campbell
      Terminator

      Re: questionable thinking

      There's a steady stream of taxis along the M4 from Heathrow into London, to give just one example.

      Your two second separation is mostly reaction time. Without the meatbag, there is no reaction time, it's pretty much instantaneous. Add intelligent signalling between vehicles, and the reaction time can be negative, with cars further back slowing before they are required to. There's no reason why such intelligent cars couldn't drive a few inches apart, ignoring of course the rather boring requirement to maintain the sanity of the passengers.

      GJC

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        "Maintain the sanity of the passengers"

        Easy... just paint the windows black.

        1. WraithCadmus
          Happy

          Re: "Maintain the sanity of the passengers"

          What about variable opacity for privacy, that way in the case that they have to bunch up they can turn completely black, thus preventing you from seeing anything which might alarm you?

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: questionable thinking

      "And even allowing for a robotaxi have lightning fast reflexes, is the slipstream useful while still maintaining a safe braking distance."

      Volkswagon have been demonstrating "trains" with 3-4 metre spacing at 80mph for nearly 2 decades. A robodriver can react fast enough for this to be safe but it scares the bejesus out of meatsacks when it's demonstrated.

  6. Esme

    I've been wondering when an article would appear about the effects of driverless cars on taxi drivers. Can't say I'm expecting much compassion from the UK Government for them. They''ve shown zero awareness of the fact that increasing computerisation and mechanisation means less work for us meatbags to do, which really ought to mean that we're all working fewer hours so we have plenty of time to spend our hard-earned on leisure pursuits. Instead of which we've increasing numbers of unemployed and those of us in work working ever longer and at ever greater fear of losing our jobs.

    Oh, and I'd just like to point out something to Mr Cameron and his ilk; the definition of a recession to the average person has a lot to do with how easily they can find a suitable job. Now, back when I was 18 or 19, and looking for my first job, the Conservative Party put up many posters across the country saying 'One million unemployed - Labour isn't working''. If you'd care to check current unemployment figures, heavily jerrymandered though they are compared to the methods used back then, I think you'll find that there's rather more people out of work, so clearly, Conservatism isn't working either, as we still aren't out of the recession that started about forty years ago. So if you wouldn't mind, please get your snouts out of your investment protfolios for ten minutes, and try thinking of what might be done to get a bit of sanity into the situation so that we can ALL enjoy the benefits of work, reasonable job security and the benefits of greater leisure time.

  7. M7S

    Autonomous energy efficient vehicles won't change some things....

    ...and with reference to the picture for the article (at the time of writing), in the late hours of a Friday/Saturday night (or the following morning) you will probably still have a good chance of finding a Johnny in a cab

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We can re-employ the drivers

    to clean the vomit and used condoms from the robo taxis

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gets boring after a while, but look at history ...

    Even as recent as 100 years ago, the entire local transport infrastructure was based on horse power. Imagine what an industry that must have been ...

    breeders

    trainers

    stables

    foodstuffs

    vets

    saddlers

    blacksmiths

    farriers

    carriage makers

    and where are those massed numbers now ? And has civilisation ended ?

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      You forgot the important one

      People to shovel all that horseshit away. And sadly that's not a joke.

      1. zazoo

        Re: You forgot the important one

        You missed out another. Knackers.

    2. Charles Manning

      Re: Gets boring after a while, but look at history ...

      Some of those kept their trades by changing the industry they're in.

      Shoes were originally part of the transport industry. People walked so much they wore shoes not. Then came public transport and shoes became fashion.

      Makers of buggy whip's mainly went out of business, except a few that still sold to adult stores.

  10. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Re Questionable thinking

    " Without the meatbag, there is no reaction time, it's pretty much instantaneous. Add intelligent signalling between vehicles, and the reaction time can be negative, with cars further back slowing before they are required to. There's no reason why such intelligent cars couldn't drive a few inches apart, ignoring of course the rather boring requirement to maintain the sanity of the passenger"

    All well and good until a deer runs out in front of the 'train' of vehicles and the whole lot pile up, or a tree falls or a vehicle skids or the automatic brakes fail 'on' ... Although I suppose with 'negative' reaction times the vehicles can decide that these things are going to happen before they actually happen thus take avoiding action before the inevitable collision ... thus causing a accident by taking actions that couldn't be predicted? Or perhaps the predictive nature means that only the front fifteen passengers get killed because of the close proximity of the traveling vehicles instead of two if they were sensibly spaced?

    In addition the report suggests 'sending a suitably sized vehicle' but that is only suitable for pre-booked minicabs, standard taxis that do the short hops the report is really talking about cannot work like that unless the passenger is willing to wait on the pavement in the rain for the cab to arrive ...

    1. dotdavid

      Re: Re Questionable thinking

      "All well and good until a deer runs out in front of the 'train' of vehicles and the whole lot pile up, or a tree falls or a vehicle skids or the automatic brakes fail 'on'"

      I suspect the first couple of cars would collide but the subsequent ones, alerted by the sudden braking/distress of the cars in front and having a much smaller reaction time than a meatbag driver would, might stop or at least reduce the damage inflicted on their meatbag passengers. Despite the road being more heavily utilised with trains of vehicles the death and injury rate might be similar, which is an improvement in my book.

    2. Geoff Campbell
      Boffin

      Re: Re Questionable thinking

      Nah, that's trivially easy to program for. If the "visibility" to the forward sides is restricted due to undergrowth, walls, whatever, then don't bunch up. On motorways, go for it.

      GJC

  11. jzl

    Gas?

    Gas powered cabs? Which gas is that?

    *ahem* .co.UK *ahem*

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Gas?

      We have an Australian and a US newsdesk who use their own spellings during their hours. Bite us.

      1. Duffy Moon

        Re: Gas?

        We also spell "gas" as g-a-s ;-)

      2. jzl

        Re: Gas?

        Consider yourselves bitten.

      3. Charles Manning

        Re: Gas?

        The Reg is a UK-based corporation and therefore it, and all its international subsidiaries, are subject to, or at least morally compelled to abide by, UK workplace laws.

        By not providing Left Pondians sufficient training in spelling, El Reg is exposing its LP workers to ridicule and harassment. This constitutes a cruel and worker-hostile work environment in contravention of worker safety law.

        El Reg is thus formally notified it needs to address this shortcoming within two months or face the wrath of HM.gov.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gas?

      Possibly LPG as that appears to be catching on at the moment.

  12. arrbee

    I'm impressed by these automated vehicles that can assist customers with their luggage, etc

    1. dotdavid

      So some might have an employee riding in them to provide that service for passengers who require it. Don't see why that means we need them all to be human-driven.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I suspect we'll end up with driver and non-driver taxi firms.

        If so, I predict the latter will hit the supermarket "self-checkout" effect.

        At which point there will be a campaign for a law to ban manually-driven taxis.

        1. zazoo

          "Unexpected item in taxi area".

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "So some might have an employee riding in them to provide that service for passengers who require it."

        The bus concierge will load your cases for you.

        They might even pretend to drive it, like DLR cabin attendants do.

  13. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "shifting to electric, autonomous taxis in 2030 would cut vehicle emissions by 90 per cent"

    Yup, and will also impose the doubling of nuclear power plants in the country.

    Because you think wind power will be good to recharge all those vehicles ?

    Nuclear is the future. We have to make it work.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: "shifting to electric, autonomous taxis in 2030 would cut vehicle emissions by 90 per cent"

      "impose the doubling of nuclear power plants"

      Nuclear currently produces around 5-8% of the UK's power. In order to reduce/mostly eliminate carbon emissions we not only have to replace coal/gas plants with nukes, but also produce enough extra electricity to replace gas/oil heating systems (roughly as much electricity capacity as currently exists) AND provide transportation energy (Double that again).

      (It's that 4-6 times current generation capacity requirement which precludes wind/solar/tidal "renewables" as a viable source as they simply can't provide that much no matter how whizzy the technology in use and no, you can't go carpeting the Sahara in windmills then shipping the energy to europe because the distribution infrastructure isn't technically feasible and even if it was, there's more than enough demand south of the Sahara to take that entire output - which would mean that Africans might get pretty pissed off about 21st century colonialism)

      Nukes might be safe and I'm fully in favour of them but if we're going to increase the size of the nuclear fleet by a factor of 100 then I'd strongly prefer they aren't the kind that have highly pressurised, superheated water in direct contact with the radioactive stuff. MSRs _need_ to be commercialised.

    2. david 136

      Re: "shifting to electric, autonomous taxis in 2030 would cut vehicle emissions by 90 per cent"

      Nuclear is only the future if it is affordable compared to alternatives, and Hinkley Point isn't giving any indications of being cheap.

      Making fission cheaper may involve taking some risks, mitigation of which is a big part of the current cost structure.

      What we really need are economical storage mechanisms that can be used to capture excess renewably generated power.

  14. DropBear

    Murphy sends his regards

    He's been recovering from a serious diaphragm injury lately (caused by a savage ROFLOL fit at the suggestion of cars travelling inches apart safely regardless of who or what drives them) but he's much better now.

  15. dotdavid

    Ever since Google announced their self-driving car project I've wondered whether it would follow the gmail model of being free with ads. I can just imagine hailing a free self-driving taxi and being forced to watch ads on a TV inside while being driven to where I want to go.

    Don't know whether the economics would stack up, and some people would find it awful, but hey - free taxi after a pub session!

  16. Keven E.

    Can you spare some change?

    breeders - auto manufacturers

    trainers - designers/safety inspectors

    stables - car parking lots

    foodstuffs - gas stations

    vets - repair shops

    saddlers - customizers/car washes/detailers

    blacksmiths - aftermarket accessories

    farriers - tire makers

    carriage makers - trailer makers/RV attaching homes

    *******

    Multiple auto's driving in close proximity for any length of time sounds like "mass transportation"... perhaps it's time for detachable little cubicles on each train/bus... because I really don't want to interact until you are paying me my hourly wage for it.

    Either way, isn't it about time that we wasteful wankers just stop traveling so far to "be productive"?

    1. Queasy Rider

      Re: Can you spare some change?

      Agreed. Why can't a series of cabs just link up instead of traveling inches apart? Maybe travel in packs of threes or fours so they don't cause any more congestion than your typical long haul truckers. The railroad companies have been making and breaking trains of rolling stock for ever. I imagine we could even adapt their relevant software programs to be used on taxi trains quite easily.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Can you spare some change?

        "The railroad companies have been making and breaking trains of rolling stock for ever."

        1: they're on rails - no lateral movement.

        2: They don't do it when the train is moving.

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