Autonomous Big City Travel

A week in Paris has opened my eyes on how inevitable the autonomous driving future really is. I live in the South of Holland and try to live a Practice What You Preach live because I am very concerned by the prospect of what our continued Western lifestyle will mean for the future of planet Earth. So I took the train to Paris for a week long holiday. 
Traveling by public transportation means planning ahead so days before my trip I looked the departure times of the trains and I got the scare of my life: In order to be in time for my 12:00 pm Thalys from Rotterdam to Paris I had to leave my house at 8 AM because half way my journey a bridge was being repaired. It meant I had to leave 2,5 hours earlier than if trains ran regularly. Just to get to the starting point of my journey.

I decided that starting the day with the delay risk of 4 train switches was not going to increase my relaxation I decided to drive my hybrid to Rotterdam, create some unnecessary CO₂ and park there. Practice what you preach goes a long way but I don’t go so far as to ridicule myself.
The Thalys was right on time although I don’t understand why I had to be at the platform half an hour early. The coffee in the station was great and I got on my first High Speed Train ever!
Within minutes of departure the train was comfortably blasting with 300 km/h in the direction of Paris, first stop Antwerp. There the train had to wait for a full hour because between Antwerp and Bruxelles an accident had happened. 

This was when I realized how highly inflexible the railway infrastructure really is: hundreds or thousands of people are stranded because somewhere in the system somebody didn’t look out and got run over by a train. All Trains on both sides of the accident have to wait till the track is made available again. On a highway you get a traffic jam but at least 2 of the 3 lanes are usually available shortly after something happens and you can take an exit to drive around a problem.
Anyways, we arrived fossil free in Paris an hour late. No big deal because I was in holiday mode. The total travelling time (6:40) from my house to Paris was substantially longer than had I driven point to point. How would this travel scenario roll out in a not so distance future autonomous EV world? Would I order a vehicle to bring me from Weert to Paris in 4,5 hours while I was enjoying blogging in the back seat? Absolutely!

I walked to my hotel with my roller suitcase, enjoying the Big City sound, smell and buzz. My eye immediately caught the numerous Toyota Hybrid cabs (mostly Prius), busses, botched cars and triple wheel motorcycles. My hotel was just ten minutes walking from Gare du Nord, in the middle of a busy neighborhood.
The next morning I got myself a public transportation chipcard (valid for ten years, 5€) and ordered a 1 week unlimited travel fee for just €23 and was ready to go. Paris had an amazing subway network and you can get from anywhere to anywhere and the frequency of the trains is amazing, can’t remember having to wait more that 3 minutes.

I really enjoyed the rides to get around town. But once you get back out in the streets you notice that there is an even denser network of buses overlaying the subway network. The sound of the buses is everywhere and the (tourist) buses are followed by at least ten taxis and 50 personal transportation devices (including occasional public bikes). In numerous streets you see really dirty shared public EV’s charging and occasionally you actually see one moving. The idea is cool but who wants to drive such a dirty not looked after piece of shit?

Paris is a pandemonium of people moving around all the time and I sat down at one cafe to think out this blog….
Just close your eyes and fast forward 10 years:

  • all the taxis are replaced by autonomous Uber/Tesla EV’s. Not Model S, not model 3, but more something like a Smart. Taking up no space and moving 2 people at a time over empty boulevards
  • All the dirty public EV’s are gone, because they are charged and maintained outside the city 
  • Nobody uses buses because point to point travel with an app is way easier and cheaper
  • No cars parked anywhere
  • Air quality improves big time
  • Noise level improves big time 
  • I think metro will survive because it is already fully electric, quiet, fast and really cheap

I am sure this city is absolutely ready for this autonomous EV revolution. They have done many experiments with public and shared services and paying for taxis. Autonomous EV’s will revolutionize the Paris experience, in a very good way.
If you want to enjoy the diesel noise and smoke and a million dented cars, you better hurry, they won’t last.

PS. For the major Paris : immidiatly forbid new fuel powered two/three wheelers and mandatory replacement by 2020, quickest win for cleaner air and less noise,


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