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Greg Worden

Entrepreneur and Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Business, Worden Associates

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What impact will driverless cars have on America's transportation infrastructure? Will passenger trains be obsolete?

Google, Volvo and many others are experimenting with driverless cars. If we can enter the car, tell the computer our destination, and then sleep, watch a movie, eat lunch, or even work while the car does the driving then this could dramatically impact the way we make decisions about flying vs driving vs taking a train.

California is considering developing a high-speed rail line connecting the major cities. The East Coast is perpetually discussing its own high-speed rail line. In each case the cost is potentially staggering. We already have a great road network plus a good air travel network. If we take it as a given that air travel is best for long-distance travel considering time and cost and cars are best for short distances, then the question becomes what if we need to travel middle distances such as 500-1,000 miles? Trains are good for this now, where they are connected, because one can get up, walk around, eat, sleep and travel while someone else does the work. What happens if driverless cars are available?

Should we give up on high-speed rail discussions in the US and simply wait until the future arrives? What will happen to short-haul commuter flights?


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    Nov 29 2012: Greg, It would really depend on the affordability and safety of the driverless cars. If the driverless cars are not very affordable, the vast majority may still prefer high-speed rail/commuter flights. It may also be a personal choice ...using a public versus private transportation.
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      Nov 30 2012: Good point. My expectation is that they'll follow the same model we're seeing now with electric cars. There will be some driver aids at the low end but the fully driverless cars will be very expensive just as the all-electric Tesla Model S is nearing US$100,000.

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