A few days ago I shocked two friends when I told them I’d never used Uber. I have nothing against the service and will use it should the need ever arise – so far, it hasn’t. I also shun cabs, limos, buses, trains, and commercial flights (Grayhounds in the air). As much as I hate driving down the river of American clover incompetence, I still prefer to use my vehicle. I like to be in control of where and how I go. I like being free.
All this I explained to the gentlemen. If they listened, they didn’t show it, instead competing with each other to show me apps of how many available Uber rides were in the vicinity.
The app showing I remembered when I read this post by Eric Peters on the coming end of automotive freedom in America:
Car ownership will soon be a thing of the past, some say.
Instead of buying a car every so often and driving that car for a period of years – and owning the car – people will simply tap an app and rent a car by the hour or day; whatever their need at the moment happens to be.
It sounds breezy – and oh-so-easy!
This may indeed be our metrosexualized future . . . god help us. But not for those reasons. There are always other reasons. The real reasons.
There is money to be made, naturally. Great huge stacks of it. Someone with a calculator and the instinct of a Don King or Colonel Parker did a little math and figured out that it would be orders of magnitude more profitable to rent people cars than sell people cars.
You can only sell a car to one person at a time, after all.
But rent? By the hour?
Theoretically – and probably, actually – you could keep a given car working like a Filipino Lady Boy, almost 24-7. Pimping the ride to one “John” after the next. With carpet vacuuming and Febreze in between.
Almost no down time.
The car that brings in say $400/month as a sale brings in that much – or more – in a week – as a rental. No wonder the stampede toward “transportation as a service.” GM especially – which is already implementing this via its Maven app in the New York City area.
It is the equivalent of discovering a new Ghawar oil field under Brooklyn. The price of real estate just went up.
It also gives the manufacturers – the GM corporate – direct access to your wallet (via revolving credit) which must be giving multiple orgasms to the people in GM’s accounting department. Dealers will be cut out of the picture – at best, reduced to parking lot attendants and service depots, the business side of that between them and the manufacturers, all costs of course folded into the rental fee charged to you.
In ten to twenty years – as I hear it from more people than just Peters – those app taxis will all be self-driving models. No need to waste profits paying drivers. In ten years, most (all?) cars, owned, rented, whatever, will have autopilot features. In twenty years, they will likely lack any manual controls, period. No need as actually driving yourself will be illegal.
This will have some upsides, merely riding in a self-driving auto, owned by someone else. No need for a driver’s license (look for mandated ID cards [or chip implants] instead). No need to auto insurance – someone else’s liability. You will, conceivably, be able to drink and ride to your drunk’s content – no harm if you cannot operate the car. Tort suits and obnoxious TV lawyer ads will dry up – no fault for any mishaps as all the cars will be controlled by the same computer system (likely operated by or for the government, with included immunity).
The downsides? Most people won’t see any. They’ll be happy as cattle in the hauler, off to wherever the state decides they need to go. The free won’t be so fortunate. Some of us actually hate the idea of being at someone else’s mercy. The thought that a far-away robot decides when, where, and how fast we travel, rubs some the wrong way. Then there’s the costs. The lack of ownership. The joy of checking the oil. The privacy deficit. The loss of freedom itself.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I have a soft spot for the heretofore mythical flying car. Want one badly. Not too long ago I read that some tech billionaire was intent on ruining those too by making them self-flying. Is there no escape? Probably not.
More laws to break, I suppose. The good news, if there is any, is that after a few years of everyone riding along like compliant, complacent fools, the police will begin to abandon traffic patrols. That should make it easier to circumvent the cattle drive.
Kubrick / MGM.
So, in the near future, having tapped the app and comfortably drunk texting while HAL 9000 takes you to the chutes, just be mindful that we are out there too. We may be in a 1975 F250 or an old M923 zipping past you and HAL (pray HAL stays out of the way). We may be in the sky above (if or when we look down, we’ll laugh). We may just be on foot or horseback, slowly meandering through the woods.
You probably won’t notice and that’s a good thing.