Previously I’ve written about how I don’ t think Transportation as a Service (TaaS), the rideshare model of electric self-driving cars will become as universal as soon as some optimists have predicted. Loss of the pride of ownership, privacy, and the “yuck” factor of shared vehicles are some factors working against it. Yet the economics and convenience of TaaS are such that it will be adopted by many people (just not virtually everyone nor as soon as postulated). Here’s a look at what I think our TaaS vehicle fleet will look like. Since one thing I can’t do is draw, I’ve used public domain photos of existing vehicles as I think TaaS will be adopted from existing form factors. Just pretend you’re looking at these vehicles without the steering wheel.
The Micro-Car: “TaaS Personal”
This is the standard TaaS vehicle, It sits one person in front, and maybe a few bags of groceries to the side and in the back. Cars today typically carry only one person, but can hold a lot more. True single person cars don’t really exist due to the cost and difficulty of obtaining a larger vehicle should the need arise, which is no longer an issue with TaaS. Even if you only need a larger vehicle once a week, today the difficulty and expense of renting one makes that option impractical. Future factors encouraging adoption of TaaS Personal: there’s 8 foot lanes on many highways that can be used exclusively by the smaller vehicles. Automatic driving is now so safe that being in a small car in a crash is no longer something people fear. In fact, motoring is so safe that seat belts, airbags, and child seats are a thing of the past.
The Sedan: “TaaS Black Elite Premiere”
Right now sedans are still one of the most common form factors. Like the the crossover, they fit the needs of most users most of the time and offer secure trunk storage (at the cost of larger overall storage, upright seating, and better winter capabilities of crossovers). In the TaaS world they’ve mostly been replaced by larger and smaller vehicles since it’s rare that you need something the exact size and form of a sedan. But some sedans had an air of luxury about them, and that’s carried over into TaaS Black Elite Premiere.
Since their beginning, transportation companies have found people will pay a lot more for features that cost little more to provide. In the early days of railroad travel, it would have cost little to put a roof on an open railroad car. But by leaving it off, those that would pay a lot more for having a roof bought 1st class. Price discrimination didn’t end with railroads, however the differences are more subtle in today’s cars. The “Limited” trim level of cars doesn’t cost auto manufacturers anywhere close to what they charge for it compared to the “Base” or “Sport.” But you like the leather seats, better stereo, and frankly you like everyone seeing the “Limited” badge on your car. You feel you’re worth it.
So with TaaS, there’s still an air of “artificial luxury” available for people willing to pay several times the rate of TaaS Personal. TaaS Black Elite Premieres are painted black, with no advertising and very subtle branding, instead of white and bright colors like every other vehicle. They have fake leather instead of vinyl seats (cloth being dropped as un-hygienic and hard to clean in a shared vehicle). They have much better entertainment systems. And they come with built in espresso machines and minibars- since no drives you can of course have alcohol in TaaS vehicles although there’s a stiff fine for smoking. The disappearance of non-luxury sedans further cements the elite status of them.
The Minivan: “TaaS Standard”
Next to to the micro-car, the minivan is by far the most common form factor. This is the standard shared TaaS vehicle- Up to 9 people in your neighborhood going to work, 9 kids in your neighborhood going to school. But you can also charter it as a private vehicle for double the price of a TaaS Standard. As such it’s ideal for making the weekly shopping run to the grocery store, bringing home IKEA furniture, taking the kids to their swimming lessons or going anywhere else as a family. With four or more people the cost to privately charter a Taas Standard is about the same as four seats in a shared vehicle. With the seats folded down flat into the floor you can easily haul things as big as standard drywall without stepping up to chartering next size vehicle, the “Taas Hauler”. Or you can flip down two beds from the side for two people on longer trips.
The Pickup Truck: “TaaS Hauler”
The old standard the pickup, branded the “TaaS Hauler” is still around, because there’s still some things you just can’t do in any other TaaS vehicle. There are definitely a lot fewer pickups though. Today quite a few people commute with them to work because they need the capabilities on the weekends and can’t afford or store multiple vehicles. Capabilities like hauling plywood and drywall home from Menards, hauling wood chips home to the garden, hauling dirty bulk stuff where you don’t want to get hit with a cleanup charge for putting it in a nice TaaS Standard, towing the boat up to the cabin. But with TaaS it’s just as easy to summon a TaaS Hauler on the weekend as it is a TaaS Personal for the drive to work, the same TaaS Haulers that are hauling construction supplies for contractors around during the week.
Uniquely Taas Haulers still come with manual controls. Using manual controls in normal weather conditions is illegal on the interstates or within the city limits of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and there’s talk about banning their use on all public roads. Not many people are even licensed to operate them. But manual controls still come in handy for certain scenarios. For off-roading for fun or working around a construction site using the computerized interface is cumbersome compared to an old fashioned pedal and steering wheel, and the high torque provided by electric motors makes them ideal for these purposes.
Since TaaS Haulers have a high ground clearance, big tires, and four wheel drive, these are also used for people that just have to go out no matter what the weather, where snow is so bad that it exceeds the capability of regular TaaS vehicles. When that happens most schools and businesses shut down. But the police, newscasters, and hospital workers absolutely must get to work, so they will summon a TaaS Hauler to drive to their place the night before and then control it manually if the weather exceeds the capabilities of the self-drive the next day.
The Van: TaaS Full Size
Topping the scales is the TaaS Full Size. Fitting 15 people, these are used when a large group of people needs go go someplace. Like a group of people from a large apartment complex to their jobs at Amazon or downtown, or their kids to the local school. Or the school swimming team to a meet. There’s nothing resembling a full sized bus anymore, since the economics of TaaS makes door to door service possible. Who would want to walk in the cold and snow and wait for a school or transit bus when a TaaS vehicle will show up at your door? To move large groups of people like the 4th grade class field trip to the box factory, multiple TaaS Full Sizes are chartered.
Flip down the seats and have an incredible amount of space for small moves or hauling plywood or Ikea furniture. Or four bunks flip down from the sides to take the family on an overnight road trip (If you have more than four people in your family you can fit a mattress or two in the aisle in the middle, or else charter a second vehicle).
Something I’ve touched on before is how the lack of new affordable single family detached houses is going to drive people to live further and further out of the city, and the cheapness of electric cars and the lack of the need to drive is going to enable this. Pretty soon single family detached homes in the metro will be in the exclusive realm of upper class professionals, as well as those in the middle class still lucky enough to have jobs, bought their house a long time ago, and not been forced out by skyrocketing property taxes. Since garage space is no longer needed, some people will buy a townhouse and renovate the former garage into additional bedrooms so their kids aren’t forced to share.
But there’s still a demand for the space, privacy, sense of ownership, and your own yard that only detached homes can provider. Increasingly people are some are buying detached houses in places like Byron and Milica and getting together with a few other families to charter a TaaS Full Sized each day to commute to the cities. Their kids go to charter schools in the cities so the kids can ride along, the commutes are filled with family time playing games or watching movies or doing homework. With the distances involved chartering a private vehicle individually would be prohibitively expensive.
Effect on Travel
I can see a boom in travel opportunities with TaaS. Rates are assuredly going to be lower outside of peak commuting times, so chartering one for travel in off-peak times becomes attractive. Here’s travel demand by time of day in Tampa Bay, I don’t see this being much different in the TaaS world in the Twin Cities.
A leisure drive around the Grand Rounds on a nice Sunday afternoon becomes a lot more leisurely when the car does the driving for you. And a airplane trip to Orlando becomes less aggravating when there’s a TaaS vehicle waiting to pick you up outside the airport instead of facing the rental counter gauntlet. But it’s the intermediate distances that I see the most opportunity for, say 500 miles. Right now you can drive your car to the airport, pay to park it, go through our security theater, and then arrive an hour later in Chicago with no car. Maybe that’s fine if you just want to take the train to downtown, but I tend to stay in Hampton Inn / Holiday Inn Express type places in the suburbs that are much cheaper but not rail accessible, and go to places like Six Flags that are not rail accessible either. Or you can spend eight hours driving your car with as much stuff as you want, but arrive weary and frazzled.
But what about chartering a TaaS Standard or Full Sized with bunks? Pack up the family on a Friday night, go to bed for the night, and wake up in Chicago or the Black Hills, in your own vehicle that carries your own stuff and can take you anywhere in the city of the forest. There’s going to have to be secured places around the periphery of the city to store and charge TaaS vehicles, I can foresee adding showers and restrooms there so you could spend the night in your car rather than renting a hotel room.