Are We Reaching the End of the Single-Occupancy Vehicle?

How do we fix this?

How do we fix this?

The way we drive in cities can’t be sustained during the years to come.

As our population grows, so do the number of vehicles in our large metropolitan areas. In 2012, over 76 percent of vehicles in the United States were occupied by one person during the average commute. There were 256 million vehicles registered in the United States in 2013, which explains the massive congestion encountered in cities across the country every day.

Although we can’t easily increase the capacity of our roads, ever more people will need access to American cities.

What’s the solution?

Well, for now, there isn’t one. But some prominent people think the end of the single-occupancy vehicle is in our future.

Gabe Klein was Vice President at ZipCar and is now a partner in a company founded by Ford’s executive chairman that invests in transportation-related startups. Klein told the LA Times,

The single-occupancy car is not good. Do we want to keep buying the cow, when what we really want is the milk? We need to develop a car-light lifestyle. Uber, Lyft, driverless vehicles, robo taxis are steps in that direction. Even Bill Ford Jr. will tell you that the single-occupancy car is not the future.

I think we can all agree that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for one person to drive a car with at least four empty seats into a city when a million other people are doing the same thing. Using that simple math, there would be one million people and four million empty seats traveling into a city each day. That’s just insane.

Klein believes that combining self-driving cars with car-sharing programs will vastly reduce the number of vehicles on American highways. That sounds good in theory, but getting people to change their habits will be a different beast entirely.

Klein says that heavy taxes on new car sales, more expensive parking, car bans in downtown areas, and higher registration fees will deter people from car ownership and funnel them into carpool programs that have self-driving cars.

That might work, but would also make a lot of people very angry.

Another option, rather than filling up cars with more people, is to make cars smaller. Why not remove those four extra seats, make a car narrow enough to fit two in each lane, and continue to allow people to drive? Even better, make it electric, or even self-driving, to reduce pollution and increase traffic flow.

There are companies working on such vehicles, but influencing change in an entrenched car culture is a monumental task.

One thing is for sure:

We can’t continue our large-vehicle single-occupancy ways for much longer. The solution might lie in larger, self-guided cars with more people in each, or in smaller electric cars with one person in each. Either way, it looks like the days of driving whatever car we choose, wherever we choose, are limited.

If you live in a big city, are you willing to give up driving your own car in order to ease congestion? 


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  1. Self-driving cars are a diversion from a root cause. It’s the low-occupancy vehicle that is the problem, not the method of steering.

    America had the problem addressed decades ago, when many communities had mass transit in the form of trolleys and buses. This is not an insurmountable problem.

  2. I really think that self driving cars will do a lot to help traffic in general. When everyone is linked like that, the computer can just find the best route for everyone on the street. It will be great for everyone.

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