Flying Cars
17 July 2014

¶ We don’t spend a lot of time on gee-whiz prognostications of the wonders of tomorrow, but we are nonetheless very impressed by the quality of Dan McLaughlin’s thoughtfulness on the subject of driverless cars. We don’t expect to see driverless cars on mainstream roads anytime soon, but, hey, we were surprised by the first same-sex marriage wave, and automated vehicles do seem, somehow, inevitable. McLaughlin sees upsides, for the most part, but there are a few downsides, too: army recruits could not be counted on for driving skills; today’s “used car” will probably never find a correlative among more complicated machines; and driving will be much less private and solitary. One item stuck out for us:

11. Destroying Taxi and Driving Jobs: Driving provides a lot of jobs, mostly jobs held by men, and in the case of urban taxi and limo drivers, many of them immigrants—cab drivers, truck drivers, delivery drivers. Those jobs can be hazardous: one Labor Department study in the 1990s, examining the nation’s population of 3 million truck drivers and 200,000 cab drivers at the time, concluded:

From 1992-95, truckdriving had the most fatalities of all occupations, accounting for 12 percent of all worker deaths. About two-thirds of the fatally injured truckers were involved in highway crashes. Truckdrivers also had more nonfatal injuries (over 151,000) than workers in any other occupation in 1995…Cabdrivers had the highest homicide rate—32 homicides per 100,000—among the occupations most affected by deadly violence. This rate is four times more than that of police officers (emphasis added).

Driverless cars and trucks won’t eliminate these jobs entirely, particularly jobs of deliverymen who will still need to bring groceries, the U.S. mail, and UPS and FedEx packages to your doorstep. But they will undoubtedly reduce employment, especially among cab drivers, and reduce the hazards of those jobs (and the higher pay that comes with taking those risks). Along those lines, eliminating the need to constrain trucking by the limits of human endurance promises the potential for a faster network of distribution of goods.

That provides both a risk and an opportunity for a business like Uber, which is already trying to disrupt the taxi paradigm. The risk is that driverless cabs, like the Zipcar and CitiBike programs, will become widely available (and no longer constrained by the taxi-medallion monopoly), while Uber’s potential pool of on-demand drivers shrinks. The opportunity is that someone still needs to provide the supply of on-demand vehicles.

Both of these issues — trucks and taxis — remind us of the special case presented by Manhattan Island, unmatched by any other American city. For the time being, we’ll keep our two cents to ourselves. (The Federalist; via The Morning News)