Tonight, reflecting on the issues that plague my home city of Austin, Texas, I considered a possible solution that utilizes already existing technology. However, some of the technology is still under patent protection and owned by different organizations, so piecing this all together would not be feasible right now.
One of the issues that Austin faces is a lack of reliable, 24/7 mass transit. We have a bus system and a single passenger rail system that only connects the downtown area with northbound highway zones. Much of the city is underserved by the rail, and those which are served, during busy times like South by Southwest, have difficulty meeting demand. Buses are regularly sluggish and many are a burden on the roads and air.
Lobbying has kept non-taxi services such as Lyft out of the city as well, so ride shares are unavailable. Those taxis which already exist are notorious for either refusing fares due to short distances or only serving specific areas. Pedicabs and other non-automobile cabs are insanely expensive. Services like ZipCar and Car2Go are available, but they take up room and require one to try to locate where an available one is nearby.
My idea can rid a city of many of these issues, while hopefully minimizing new issues that arise.
What if there were a service consisting of small- and medium-sized vehicles, depending on the need of the person who requires a ride, that was available 24/7? These vehicles would be available by the request of an app, or at several designated businesses such as bars, gas stations and convenience stores, that are open long hours and spread out through the city. Once requested, the person hailing the vehicle would need to include a destination, and the app or remote station would state the total cost of the use of the ride. If the person accepts, he or she is billed and the vehicle heads to pick him or her up.
Herein are the proposals for saving room, traffic, time, etc. These vehicles would be autonomous, like Google’s street cars. When requested, they go to pick up the person without the need of a driver. If the person picked up wishes to drive, the price negotiated only becomes an estimate, and time and distance are factored into the final new cost for the ride. If the person wishes to sit back and enjoy the trip, even if the autonomous vehicle must change routes or takes longer, the cost never goes above the agreed-upon price. If it takes less time and/or less distance, the person requesting the ride gets the difference refunded.
if a person needs a vehicle to go shopping, for instance, the car will pick up the person at a spot and drop him or her off at the door of the place of business. It will then travel to its next destination. However, once the person shopping reaches the registers, another vehicle is dispatched to pick up the shopper at the door again and take him or her to the next destination, or back home.
If a person is too drunk to drive, he or she may request a bar hail. This would be done at the bar, by communicating with a terminal at the bar. An employee at the bar can approve of the bar hail if the person is not safe to drive, and a car is hailed to pick up the person and take him or her to his or her home, at a reduced rate. The person may not take the vehicle off autonomous drive nor make any other stops along the way.
When cars are awaiting a hail, they drive themselves to special lots throughout the city. Here they will have stations to recharge the electric cars, etc. Any service or general care, such as washing and detailing, can also be done at select stations. A minimal number of employees are required to staff these stations, mostly to refill the fuel of the vehicles, untether the vehicles when they need to leave, and inspect any vehicles for damage and such.
These vehicles can also be in constant contact with a traffic monitoring server that readjusts where these vehicles go, and better estimates cost of travel.
And, finally, since none of the vehicles ever needs to stay parked anywhere, or needs to be in easily-accessible sections of town to be utilized, parking is better available to those who use their own cars.
This idea needs some refining and some research on any and all patents that would be required for this to work. However, it seems like a better approach to relieving traffic, rides and parking issues that plague cities such as Austin, which has no great mass transit system in place, but is growing rapidly.