Home Traffic Congestion QwikLane Solution Business Case About
Need for an Automobile-Centric Solution

How, then, do we address the core transportation issues of congestion, pollution, carbon emissions and reliance on imported oil? While it is fashionable in some circles to conclude that a drastic reduction in driving is the only solution, that approach ignores the reality wherein, as noted above, 99% of the passenger miles of motorized surface travel are generated in private vehicles. People overwhelmingly prefer this mode of transportation because it serves as a powerful personal productivity tool that permits cost effective, time efficient access to more remunerative job opportunities, education, health care, shopping and entertainment. The public votes constantly with their pocketbooks in such large numbers to choose private vehicle travel because it works better than the alternatives for nearly every trip.

Moreover, the public incurs 90% of the cost of driving directly through the purchase of vehicles, insurance, fuel and maintenance. The other 10% is the cost of highway infrastructure which is paid indirectly through fuel taxes, vehicle registrations and property taxes (for local roads); through the decades the public votes repeatedly in favor of these taxes in fees whenever the use of proceeds is explicitly focused on highway infrastructure. Contrast this with public transit where riders pay an average of just 33% of the operating costs directly; the rest of the operating costs and all of the vehicle and infrastructure capital costs are paid indirectly through various taxes, most of which are paid by taxpayers (including from gasoline taxes) who rarely if ever use the public transit.


Consider that since 2000 the retail price of gasoline - the largest variable cost for operating a vehicle - has risen 200% to 300% and remained stubbornly high, even during the great recession. Yet, in the San Francisco Bay Area as an example, vehicle miles of travel have declined barely 1%. In what other economic area can you name a product where the doubling or tripling of the price over a short time horizon has so little impact on behavior?

This tells us that private vehicle travel is still perceived by consumers as a relative bargain compared to either driving less or switching to a different mode.


This behavior is not exclusive to the U.S. Indeed, this pattern is exhibited around the world. As per capita incomes rise there is a steady shift to an overwhelming preference for private automobile travel in nearly every country (with Hong Kong as a notable exception - largely due to geographical constraints). While public transit in major urban areas in Europe appears appealing to the tourist or urban core dweller, the reality is that the Europeans get around by car almost as much as North Americans.

They exhibit a preference for smaller vehicles, reflecting the long term higher price of fuel. Consider what is happening today in China and India where one of the first purchases of the upwardly mobile is an automobile. If you want to affect congestion, pollution, carbon emissions and reliance on imported oil by changing this preference, you will confront fierce resistance.


An automobile-centered approach to solving these issues appears to be the proven preference of the vast majority of transportation consumers. Therefore, the answer to problems associated with auto-mobility is to leverage technology to accommodate this choice, not combat it. Vehicle automation can address congestion, thereby creating a service for which drivers will gladly pay. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to demonstrate that the vast majority of drivers already have the funds available to pay on a per mile basis to use an automated highway system like QwikLane at a toll rate sufficient to both build and operate very profitably. Yet because we limit the vehicle size to keep the infrastructure cost down, the effect is to reduce fuel consumption and related pollution and carbon emissions 50% or more, all with no new technology at all.

In fact, at these levels our vehicles will outperform public transit modes with regard to fuel, pollution and carbon emissions on a per passenger mile of travel basis. We can tap into this willingness to pay for automated travel to extend the automated network throughout the metropolis and between urban areas to eventually supplant much of today's roadway infrastructure and even reclaim parts of the existing roadways for other purposes. In short, we take a market-based approach designed to fully accommodate the existing preference for private vehicles by enhancing that experience through automation; beneficial impacts on fuel consumption (and related oil dependence), pollution and carbon emissions are an indirect effect. For the longer term, entrepreneurs and VCs are investing billions into alternative energy sources like car batteries with the potential to provide zero emission motoring. To summarize, if we reduce or even eliminate the negative externalities of driving - congestion, pollution and carbon emissions - we are left with the transport mode of choice that permits individuals to make the most productive use of their time in managing their lives.


In 2007 New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote an article decrying the fact that the Tata Group's automotive subsidiary is developing an entry-level automobile for the Indian market at a $2,500 price point. He went on to lament this development because it will lead to congestion, pollution, emissions and more demand for fossil fuels, all the while ignoring the beneficial impact on the Indian economy and welfare. Following his recommendations for better transit instead would effectively impede some of the world's most energetic yet largely poor people of the opportunity to help themselves to more productive lives. T

he Indian people would be far better served if their government built an automated highway infrastructure at far less cost than a traditional highway system and encouraged Tata to design these small cars with clean power. In this way India could leapfrog the outdated highway design of the 20th Century, much as they have skipped over land lines to mobile phones for their telecommunications. The goal must be to retain the manifest benefits of private vehicle mobility while working to eliminate the negative side effects. QwikLane accelerates transportation's advancement along this path.