Where has all the Parking Gone?

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Benedict Evans on the Future o... Rob Reich on Foundations and P...

garage.jpg What will the cars of the future look like? Will they resemble the teacups at Disneyland? How long will it take us to stop referring to "driving" when humans no longer do? (Think about how seldom you use your phone to "phone" someone...) And what will be the fate of all the parking lots and garages of today? Will they be used for other purposes or replaced entirely?

These are just some of the questions that come up in this week's EconTalk episode with Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz. Evans suggests that we have a difficult time making predictions about the future when we extrapolate from that with which we're familiar today. But let's give it a shot...We always love to hear your thoughts.

1. As we move from the cars of today to autonomous (Evans dislikes the term "driverless") vehicles, which elements will become more expensive and which less expensive? Which complementary industries will be most affected, and why?

2. What does Russ mean when he says, "A Prius is really a coal-powered car?"

3. To what extent will the autonomous vehicle future be accident-free? Explain.

4. Both Roberts and Evans note that the incidence of drinking and driving has declined since the advent of on-demand transportation, such as Uber. But Russ goes further and asks whether autonomous vehicles might lead to more drinking. What do you think?

5. What sort of privacy concerns are raised by autonomous vehicles? Would livestream vehicle cameras, for example, be a net gain or loss for individual liberty?

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Kevin Ryan writes:

A thought-provoking podcast, albeit not as valuable as I had hoped - in my opinion largely due to Benedict Evans' reluctance to take on board Russ's points where they differed from his own view of the world.

A few specific points:-

On electric cars, it was argued that their short range is no big deal because many people drive 300 miles once a year. However the current position is that many people want cars that are hugely over-specified for their normal driving needs. If they were economically rational they would not do this. Many people love their cars (and love driving). Of course this may change in the future (and has, I am sure, already changed for some people). But some, and maybe many, car lovers will remain until and unless car driving is made illegal.

On driverless cars, it seems to me that the world that Benedict envisages is one in which everyone travels by taxi(or ride hailing for people who prefer that label), supported by the much lower fares envisaged.
I can see how that can work in some/many places. However I live in London, which is increasingly choked by existing levels of driving, heavily reliant on its public transit systems to prevent complete gridlock, and with relatively few roads in which multi-lane driving is feasible but for the presence of parked cars (which would disappear in this world). I am extremely sceptical that a city like London could possibly cope with a material increase in taxi-like traffic.

I am also sceptical that the type of ride-sharing described in the Palo Alto Public Transit example would thrive. These would be competing with taxis that are much cheaper than now. My own experience of such services derives from journeys between airports and hotels. It is clear that these shared trips are cheaper but take much longer than "taxis". There would be less reason to choose the shared service if the cost of the taxi ride falls substantially.

john h penfold writes:

As always very interesting exchange. It’s important to try to think about the enormous implications of these kinds of changes. They will be transformative and painful. However, it may not be good to be over confident of which of those technologies is going to dominate in what order or over what time frame. It’s in the future, we can’t know. We do know that powerful political forces will try to capture the regulatory and subsiding infrastructure. They usually do and not to the benefit of the economy or its broader population. Look what we’ve done because of weak global warming models and political hype, cars for clunkers to subsidize auto workers, ethanol to subsidize farmers, light bulbs to subsidize new patent holders, wind mills to subsidize a whole stable of interests, and solar to subsidize cronies and other organized interests. And electric cars to subsidize a billionaire but we’re calling it subsidizing the future. We always do. More subsidies will almost certainly negatively affect technologies that might emerge. We can’t know but we do know that subsidies wont go to some guy tinkering in his garage, or a small company taking a risk but they may crush them. Without subsidies it will emerge and as thousands of big variables and millions of lessor ones give rise to all kinds of unforeseen circumstance things will in fact change radically throughout our and the world’s economy. We have to have a flexible economy requiring a regulatory, finance, educational and price systems that foster adjustment. This is what is important not our ability to predict technologies and interrelations. As oil prices fall, the costs of electricity generating, transmission use and externalities will increase, so we’re predicting straight line substitutions? We simply can't know what those prices will be and how we adjust to them. Battery costs may fall a lot more still, but will not approach zero marginal costs like software products and chips which always head toward zero. They don't use sand and spirit. Let’s develop the habit of training our population soundly and not picking winners or losers. We can do the former we can’t do the latter. It’s hard enough to subsidize basic science without distorting the system, but most of us support that, if for no other reason than we want to train the scientists who do the research and employ them. The technologies development and application will happen but exactly what and in what mix we do not know and cannot know. Even those few who may have the best handles on these things, can’t be sure and will never add up to the lobbying power and policy that could actually do something positive about it.

john Henry writes:

Great podcast, Russ, as always. I had not heard of Benedict Evans before but I hope you have him back again soon. Very interesting ideas and I have bookmarked his blog.

I do a lot of writing and my big problem is finding article ideas. This podcast gave me one. I am in packaging and had never thought of what would happen to salty snack manufacturers when battery cars did away with the gas station and C store.

That's a huge business. About 20% or $5bn dollars a year of salty snacks are sold through C stores. A lot of that is impulse purchase. What is going to happen to it? Will Frito-Lay et al find substitute sales channels? They need to start looking now.

I got one nice article out of it, I'm going to pitch the idea to my editor at Packaging Digest www.packagingdigest.com Maybe I'll get another article out of it.

Do I need to send you a commission?

John Henry

John Henry writes:

I suggest that we should speak of battery cars rather than electric cars.

The main technological hurdle to battery cars is the battery. We need to focus on that rather than the "electrical" aspects. Everything else is well proven and widely used technology.

John Henry

S. P. writes:

Unless these cars are driven by Lt.Cmdr. Data from the Enterprise or Sonny, Will Smith's friend from iRobot, it just isn't going to happen in thousands of small towns across the US.
Sure, we have what city folk might call streets. Turn off of one of those streets to where most people actually live and work the processing power required to navigate will kill the batteries like climbing Pikes Peak.
For example, pick any town between Pittsburgh and Uniontown PA if you want to see what really pissed off Skynet.

Amy Willis writes:

John Henry- Do you have a link to your article you can share? We'd love to see it!

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