Category Archives: baby boomers

Aging- in-Suburbia Made Better

This is an image of a car-share from Bremen, Germany.
www.eltis.org (car-share in Bremen)

One of the most vexing problems of “Aging in Suburbia”  is the need to drive…even when that puts the driver and bystanders at risk. Seniors in rural America and Canada continue to drive when it is no longer safe to do so because they lack alternatives.

The European Union is encouraging a new way that seniors can continue to be mobile…and participate in the share economy.

The UNECE reports that 33% of the elderly population live in rural areas, and younger generations have been moving further away into urban centers. However, an EU transportation alliance called the Shared North is operating a useful schema that can keep seniors in their homes even when there is no longer a household  car.

Historically- EU and Cars:

Households acquired cars at a slow pace after  WWII. After the devastation, rebuilding European cities and infrastructure took priority, not turning out cars in factories. The Netherlands and other countries came to favor bicycles out of necessity.  With fewer cars per household, train and tram lines were preserved. The station-car, a first-mile last -mile solution for train commuters emerged in the 1970s, possibly earlier. It was a small vehicle first used at Swiss train stations to complete first and last mile travel.  It preceded Zipcar.

A modern version of the station car is now helping seniors to age in place, even when they live away from  dense city centers. A 2018 presentation at the World Collaborative Mobility Congress describes a mobility schema  for the rural population.

Mobility Schema in Belgium:

The schema, currently operating in Belgium,  is a 4 part cooperation between the local government, a car share provider, a social services and a mobility provider  called autodelen.ne. Vehicles are located at a central point but can be reserved through the Internet. Rural residents go online to book the car and drive it themselves. Or, they can reserve the car and a volunteer driver who will come to them with the car.

There is a hint that households that can no longer drive might donate their personal car into  these car-clubs. Autodelen.ne notes that local governments could also share their fleet vehicle in the car-schema when they are parked after hours. However, it appears that is currently outsourced to Partago, a car-share provider.

The Belgium schema is also useful for recruiting more volunteer drivers. The software lets volunteers identify seniors who need rides. It’s only a short trip for a volunteer to  drop off the vehicle at the the home of a licensed senior who is then able to do their errands. On other occasions, the volunteer might pick up the senior in the share car, and complete the trip with them.

Elsewhere:

A more traditional car-share schema operates in Wales, the U.K. Their stated goal  is to reduce the “social exclusion” caused by the cost of car ownership and limited public transportation.

Members of a rural community in Denbighshire pay an annual fee of 50 pounds to join the car-club. It ‘owns’  two electric vehicles that seniors can rent by the hour or by the day. While this program seems to resemble ZipCar in the U.S., note that it is located in a rural area, and is intended for populations that do not own personal vehicles and have little access to public transport.

Learning from Europe:

There are at least three factors that distinguish these schemas from programs in the United States.

  1. The most critical factor  is that these schemas serve  rural populations with no cars, lower density and no public transportation. The rural senior can age-in-place.

Note that the shared car is not new to the U.S and Canada, and there are many different versions operating in the U.S., including this one in Sacramento, Ca., intended to serve disadvantaged communities .But, research on the elderly has tended to focus on places where seniors relocate i.e., retirement homes and age-friendly living communities. Susan Shaheen and her colleagues studied the desirability of carshare among residents of the RossMorr Senior Adult Community. There are applications in the field: e..g, a Kiwanis Society Housing Society collaboration with Modo to provide a single share car at a senior residence in West Vancouver.


2. A culture that favors bicycling and walking is active in Europe. Older people engage in these activities at a much higher rate than in the U.S.  This helps car-share because there is more familiarity with one-vehicle or no-vehicle households. Participants may expect to walk or ride bicycles to the car-share center.

3. The third and final difference is that the shared network, particularly the one in Belgium, seems to be designed from the ground-up to encourage volunteer drivers. In North America, there is a critical shortage of volunteer drivers for the elderly and disabled. The European car-share schema offers a better way to encourage volunteers to drive.

The European system make it easier because it reaches drivers who want to help, but who do not own a car. This opens the door to new volunteers,  such as older seniors with a license and younger Millennials. It’s a win-win for volunteers as they do not have to be concerned with car insurance, maintenance, and extra miles on their personal vehicle.

Summing Up:I

The EU promotes a useful schema for Aging- In-Place  without having a car in the garage. It keeps seniors in their homes, vehicles in the center, and volunteers in the mix. These European seniors engage in the share economy but with entirely new options.

Low density suburbs and rural locations are a problem that will plague Baby Boomers in the U.S. and Canada, as they  choose to age in place. Today, about 22% of those over age 70 do not have driver’s licenses. Yet, they will need to cobble together a means to stay at home and stay mobile.

Parking Lost- Customers Gained

It’s an anomaly but lost parking can find new customers.

It’s painful to tell a small business owner that the City will remove curb parking. It feels like an amputation.

But, a convergence of  factors are unhinging old parking paradigms. Novel travel habits and online shopping require, even demand, open, free-flowing curb space. The old-style metered parking spots are an impediment to modern business.

Here are some of  the factors:

1.It is difficult to drive to shop so we travel differently: There has been an increase in urban congestion-  e.g., One source says NYC experienced a 56% increase in congestion since 2006. It also takes an additional 15 minutes to search there for on-street parking.  Most cities have raised parking rates, making curb-side parking more expensive and also inconvenient for those without a parking app. These factors dial down the appeal of driving and shift some trips towards rideshare.

But, as Uber and Lyft become a more common mode for shopping trips  so grows the need for safe curbside boarding. The merchant who has two-hour parking out-front does not benefit.

2. Storefronts are meeting new needs:  Store-fronts go empty but there has been growth in new business categories. Dog care centers, gyms, child care centers and after-school facilities are new contenders. However, all of these, with the exception of the gym, require pick up and drop off. They accelerate the need for short-term, in-and-out parking spaces.

A conventional one or two hour parking space thwarts the comings and goings of the main customers.

3. There is  a change in buying habits. The Millennial generation outnumbers Baby Boomers, and younger people appear to have more utilitarian  expectations towards local travel. They do not find shopping to be an outing that co-mingles the opportunity to drive and spend. Younger people are more likely to buy their goods online, and say that they enjoy the freedom of home delivery.

The need to find a near-store parking space is less vital when bulky items, say the twenty pound bag of cat litter, is dropped off by a delivery service. While mega-shopping stores like Costco are likely to survive,  even they have found the need to offer same day grocery delivery. On weekdays, Costco aisles are filled with Instacart pickers, a personal home shopping service.

To be a commercial success, Instacart service, like the dog care or child-care center,  requires quick curb dropoffs.


4. Eating Habits are Changing Too: People eat three times a day yet sales at grocery stores, and even some restaurants, are on the decline. However, businesses like DoorDash and UberEats are growing rapidly. People prefer to eat at home or work, but do not cook there.

So, like the dog-care and child-care centers, these new food businesses depend on having end-to-end  curb space; both when they pick up the food and then, when it is dropped off. Restaurant patrons who prefer to drop-in become frustrated by the traffic tie-ups they encounter.

ROAD DIETING:

Businesses are in flux, and so are attitudes towards local transportation. There has been a rethink on two counts: how we transverse first-mile/last-mile trips and how we ration the allocation of public streets. Until recently, the built road system depended on cars for the first/last mile trips, and favored them at the expense of all other travel modes.

Recognizing that 42% of daily trips are 3 miles or less, there is a movement to claw back the amount of  road space dedicated to the car. Road diets narrow or reduce the lanes allocated to cars and trucks, and increase the surface area for  pedestrian, buses, and bicycles.

We noted that younger generations bring new attitudes towards mobility. They expect local trips to be healthier, favoring bikes and walking. When they travel in vehicles, there is a preference for trains, buses, and rideshare; these modes provide an efficiency bonus since riders multi-task en route.

Meanwhile, there is even more disruption on the horizon. Micro-mobility has accelerated the call for “road diets” since neither sidewalks or streets currently provide safe operations.

Micro-mobility  could emerge as  the game-changer for local business. If  the safety issues are satisfied through the road diet,  this mode addresses the requirements for first/last mile trips and make it far easier to navigate local neighborhoods. Micro-mobility could rejuvenate foot traffic for local store-fronts and restaurants. Crucially, it liberates users from the need for curb-space.

IN SUM:

The economy is changing…and so will be the shape of roads we travel. For small local businesses, the evolution might seem too fast. For those that work on travel planning, and want to encourage new bike lanes or rapid bus service, the pace may seem snaillike. But,  as Boomers drive less, and younger generations favor multiple modes and micro-mobility, different types of shopping and businesses will take root.

In the near future,  the metered, urban parking space is likely to go the way of drive-in movie theatre and full-service gas station. They once facilitated vehicle travel, but became functionally obsolete.

Smartphone Travel: Virtual and Veritable

I don’t travel far but my smartphone sends me far afield.”

A recent transportation paper suggests that younger people are wired at birth. The survey study by Boumjahed and Mahmassani, observes that ‘digital natives’ are more likely to engage in virtual activities as a substitute for trips done by private car.  This effect is more pronounced among those who say that they were technologically-engaged as kids.

It is a timely paper that reinforces the popular view that store-fronts and mall traffic are in decline as young people pivot to online activities. “The bottom line is that Americans are shifting from a society that prioritizes products to a society that prioritizes experiences”.  The net result is that spending behaviors, saving strategies, and most importantly, travel trips, are in flux.

Modifying Trends…

To some extent, this evolution of travel behavior was predicted. The earliest papers on transport/telecomm interactions doubted that electronic communication would displace trips Instead, Salomon, Mohktahrian, and others predicted that both the volume of communications and the volume of travel would be complementary and expand. Simply stated, more communications would make for more transport, and more transport would lead to more communications.

However, they also predicted a third interaction: while the entire system grows, technology modifies the type of travel taking. The nature of that travel is just beginning to take shape and form.

We recommend a recent paper in computational  science that used Instagram postings to illustrate the blending of tourist travel, local travel, and internet browsing. And, we cite two survey studies that suggest a new dyamic between long-distance trip taking and virtual communications.

The survey studies  are not academic, but both have fairly robust samples. Both are inspired by the travel industry. They are a worthwhile read because they hint that the demand for travel will continue to grow- but in a different way than previously imagined- Instagram and social media may take on new weight.  Keep in mind the op-cit remark that that, “… Americans are shifting from a society that prioritizes products to a society that prioritizes experience.”

Social Media Before and After Trip Taking

The first study, conducted by the AARP and aptly called “Travel Research: 2018 Travel Trends”  is based on interviews with 714 Baby Boomers, 403 GenXers, and 374 Millenials.

The study found that when compared with Boomers, the Millennials and GenX, were more likely to travel internationally. Why?  The stated reasons for travel were health, trying something new, and adventure. These younger groups were also more likely to say they would combine business travel and side trips.

The next part of the AARP study  is interesting: there is a tipoff that social media fuels the demand for international travel.  Eighty four percent of the Millennials and 67% of Gen X said they wanted to post their vacation pictures. GenX and Millennials were far more likely than Boomers to say that posting vacation pictures would be artistic, make them feel less alone, and provide boast and bragging rights.

Circling back to the original, more solid research by BouMjahed and Mahmassani, are younger people shunning routine and boring everyday travel because they can now travel further afield, and are social media and virtual networks seeding those adventures?

More Social Media and Trip Taking

The second long-distance travel study (op cit) was conducted in 2017 by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Expedia. It is also cohort based, with a total sample of 1,254.  Not surprisingly, given the study sponsors, social media was found to underpin trip making. Twenty seven percent of Millennials said they canvassed opinions on social media before booking a trip. More noteworthy is that thirty-six percent of Gen Z said they selected a destination ‘specifically because of postings they saw.’ Both groups said they were willing to sell furniture, take extra jobs, or do whatever it took to raise funds for their travel adventures.

It will take some time before we know whether these are just young people responding to a survey or actual sign- posts of change. However, as  Boumhahed and Mahmassani suggest digital natives may be wired differently when it comes to travel.

And More to Come…

Summing up, the internet and smartphone reduce the need for local, boring, and increasingly slow and congested everyday travel. Exercise, errands, and socializing are more  easily done from home or from a work place. So, it seems that store fronts will continue to close, and home deliveries will increase…. unless the autonomous vehicle changes preferences.

Meanwhile, more reliance on smartphones and social media could create their own demand for an entirely new category of trip taking. As predicted in the early studies of transportation/communication interaction there are modifications. One of them is the supersized, super-expansive, epic trip adventure generated by social media and posted on social media.



Hotrod Sinners and Phone Beginners

Parents cringe when kids get their first smartphone. They have valid concerns about the hours kids will spend on the phone, as well as the accidental, or deliberate, exposure to the digital perils of cyber-bullying, cyber-porn, and more.

Yet these smartphones also bring parents a peace of mind that an older generation never experienced.  Although there are still far too many vehicle accidents, young people are getting their driver’s licenses later and waiting longer to get behind the wheel. Fewer parents now spend restless evenings waiting up, praying that their kid and the car return safely from a nocturnal adventure.   Continue reading Hotrod Sinners and Phone Beginners

NASCAR To Steer Autonomous Vehicle??

talkicarNASCAR might need to steer the Autonomous Vehicle….

This past year the sport continued to loose sponsors and viewers, despite the crowds at the Driver’s Crown finale in November.  It would be exciting if NASCAR could reinvent itself and recognize the coming rise of autonomous vehicles. Races can serve a vital role in new technology- they showcase advancement, bring teams of like minded engineers together, and educate/entertain the public simultaneously.

In fact, the earliest days of the autonomous car began with a race sponsored by the Department of Defense (DARPA Grand Challenge). For a few years teams came together to race in the Mojave Desert, and then the competition moved on to more urban challenges.  Many pioneers of the autonomous vehicle, like Chris Urmson, began their careers with the DARPA challenge.

Fast forward now to NASCAR races, where attendance and viewership is said to be slacking off. One explanation is that NASCAR is synonymous with sport for Baby Boomers. Boomers are a car-centric generation, and nearly 1 in 10 Boomers have worked in a job associated, at some level, with automotives. But currently, their children and grandchildren drive less and are less sentimental about it. Younger people are not motorheads- it has moved on to an internet centric generation.  

But, there are changes for NASCAR that might help bridge this gap. And, it is beginning with with challenges for electric Formula One type cars, aptly called Formula-E!  But, NASCAR is the better suited race to showcase future vehicles, because “it’s not necessarily the best car that wins. It’s the car that has done best with speed, maneuvering, fuel mileage, pit stops, and restarts after cautions.”

Imagine a future race where the vehicle that “wins” is still the first one that can cross the finish line, but does so by avoiding hazards in the road, say mattresses and sandbags. The racing autos might need to differentiate between “real” versus fake red/yellow/green signals. And, a winning car might be equipped with a backup plan, when its LIDAR bearings are purposively scrambled by the race committee. The “most winning” vehicle  will cross the finish line by neither sideswiping its neighbors, nor causing rear-end collisions. Along the way, it might be come in for a (human enabled) software pitstop or two. It is reminiscent of the DARPA challenge.

For an autonomous NASCAR race, the primary change may be recognition that auto accidents, aka “crashes” are no longer a prime-time draw. Fiery crashes against the wall, spin-outs that cause chain reactions, and crumpled metal should be reevaluated for their entertainment value- in a new era charting sports-induced concussions and injuries.  The autonomous car  is a “red flag” for this traditional type of  racing. These new vehicles are programmed to avert accidents, steer away from hazards, and cooperate with other vehicles on the roadway.

A second difference for a future NASCAR/ autonomous race is the environmental impact. Currently, NASCAR teams may use between nine and 14 sets of tires per race, which amounts to between 36 and 56 recapped tires. A single NASCAR vehicle is said to get about 5 miles per gallon. The smell of petro permeates the stands and engines roar. The autonomous car, once again, is a “red flag” to NASCAR conventions. These  future vehicles will be designed to control emissions and be silent in busy, congested and densely populated cities.

This is not to say that NASCAR and the autonomous car cannot find common ground. Even prior to DARPA, there were solar and electric powered car races, and speed was the winning criteria, as in NASCAR. The question today is how can an autonomous car bring excitement to the track, particularly if it is programmed to obey the speed limit, avoid collisions, and travel in harmony with nearby vehicles? That is to be worked out, off the course. The good news is that the result will educate/entertain people about the autonomous car, particularly if it begins, like its NASCAR roots, with vehicle models that are familiar names and nearly showroom ready.

The Collectible Car As Endangered Species

Hagerty Group- Car and Driver 2014
classic cars

The collectible car may become an endangered species. It is not for lack of Bugattis, gullwing Mercedes, and air-cooled Porsches. The reason is that there will not be enough ready buyers who want to hold on to these legacies.

There are two complementary forces at work: The first one is generational. The Baby Boomers were the first generation to fully embrace the two-car, and sometimes three and four car household.  Boomers are estimated to own 58 percent of the estimated 5 million classic cars, says a Car and Driver interview with the Hagerty Group (see image too). But, only about 3 percent of vintage cars sell at auction and these cars are “the best of the best”.  Cites the Car and Driver article, “Boomers are beginning to age out of this hobby.”

A GENERATIONAL CHANGE

But, as we note in Chapter Seven in Aging in Suburbia, the times and tastes of the next generation are not so accommodating. A front page story in the Wall St. Journal notes that the next generation, kids of the Baby Boomers, do not have the same attachment to accumulated treasures. Millennials do not want ownership of their parents’ household, and many family heirlooms are stacked up in garages.  Ironically, these heirlooms share the space with the collectible car(s), and, for the more upscale, a garage/storage off-site.

Millennials don’t seems to want the cars, and, they probably won’t have a place to store these collectible cars either. In real estate markets, they continue to shun large suburban homes in favor of smaller, more urban/close in properties. And, newer Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) properties, are typically built with parking maximums- no extra spaces for antique cars that stay stationary.

A TECHNOLOGY CHANGE

There is a second force, a complementary one, that exerts downward pressure on the market for collectible cars. Although there must have been tens of thousands of buggies and horse-drawn carriages in circulation before the 1900’s, few of them are preserved for posterity. First, they are downright unsuited for modern roads and travel- think of  how treacherous carriages seem in the Amish areas of Pennsylvania, alongside modern vehicles. Horses, who have to accommodate the hard pavements, might also wish for earlier times and trails.

As autonomous cars begin to enter the market, our roads and infrastructure must update to accommodate them and make journeys safer. For awhile, roadways may be suited for both the conventional cars and self-driving ones, but investment will tip towards newer technology.

NO FUN, NO COLLECT

Older cars will also seem less safe, and simply less fun to drive.  A vintage vehicle may have been adapted to run on unleaded gasoline (post 1990’s) but it will still tend to have white tailpipe exhaust and smell  like a petro can when the engine turns over.  If the vehicle preceded the mandatory seatbelt laws of 1969, and there is no headrest, then the front seats are likely to feel slippery and unprotected. The brakes and steering will not be as responsive as today’s vehicles, making the driving experience clunky, if not downright dangerous. With all these constraints it is not surprising that Millenials will not be celebrating the possession of their family’s old Corvette Stingray. Datsun 280Z, and even the ’57 Thunderbird.

When mobility changed from bicycles and horse-driven carriages to the gas and electric powered vehicle, there seems to have been little angst about keeping the old carriages around. And, even cars that were built pre WWII became less collectible when the Silent Generation aged and lost interest.


Perhaps TV shows and movies with wild car chase scenes will keep vintage gas powered vehicles in the forefront for a while longer, but Herbie, Hollywood’s first autonomous car, is moving in.

Autonomous Cars & Sprawl??

sprawlThe Baby Boomers are the first generation to “sprawl”- that includes the size of their homes, their travel distances to work, their car ownership, and even their waistlines!

Now there is concern that autonomous cars (self driving) will make sprawl even worse. A recent story in the WSJ, for example, speculates whether the savings from not owning a personal car will benefit Millennials will want to escape their cramped urban apartments for “bigger spreads, further away.” (Note: the full article presents both pros and cons).

There are several reasons to challenge the future relationship between driverless cars and urban sprawl. A simplistic answer is that if  “hands-free”  was the key factor, then millions of American commuters would already be taking the bus or train to reach their far-away homes. But, generally they don’t. It is estimated that ‘only’ about 600,000 Americans have extreme commutes of at least 90 minutes each way. 

CITIES AND SPRAWL

There are vital reasons why the “extreme commute” may not happen, even when autonomous cars come to market:

The first reason is that cities are going to be better places to live and they will offer a better lifestyle than today. They will be less car-centric and there will be fewer reasons to own private cars. Cities will also become safer for other transport modes, like walking and biking, since autonomous cars are programmed to obey the speed limit and stop signs. Most importantly, they bring new opportunities to repurpose parking spaces and parking lots. This transformation might be a boon to real estate developers and should increase the green-space, as well as the supply of urban housing.

The Baby Boomers are a cohort that enjoy car-travel, and they have matured  along with an auto industry that has became more reliable and affordable over time. This contrasts with younger generations, who have been weaned on computers, and lean towards life styles that are less car-centric. No one has quite nailed what this means to a cohort of Digital Natives, but there seem to be agglomeration effects. Instead of spending a leisurely afternoon driving to the out-of-town outlet mall or golf course like Boomers, Digital Natives might be more inclined to meet up at a local dive and then take short trips together around the neighborhood. So, while autonomous cars could take them “further” their choices might be closer.

COMMUTE  BUDGETS, TIME BUDGETS

The second reason to question the wisdom of long commutes via autonomous cars is more technical. It is associated with “commute budgets”.  As the term implies, people have fixed resources or  “budgets”; they generally do not exceed one hour of commute travel time per day. This axiom is associated with a transportation researcher called Yacov Zahavi. Athough Zahavi’s work was done in the 1970s and 1980s,  he discovered  across different cultures, and different geographic zones, people did not generally exceed the commute budget. It was something like a law of nature.

(Note: Zahavi observed, before Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), that commuters were unlikely to switch from cars to public transit because of the time-tradeoffs.)

In the future, long distance commuters could exceed the one hour “commute budget”, if travel was done with autonomous luxury and autonomous speed. That is the fear. But, one of the main deterrents is that this travel budget then bumps up into the daily “time budget” which is still fixed at 24 hours.  When commuters spend more minutes per day traveling to and from a distant suburb, they forfeit time spent on other activities.  Instead of sitting in a vehicle, people might prefer to do things such as coach their kid’s soccer game, go to the gym or get on  a bicycle for exercise, and even participate in person at civic activities (think bowling alone). So, while the autonomous car may let people continue to text or work while they travel and perhaps even be VR at the soccer game, it will not substitute for participating in real activities.

Beyond the travel time budget and the 24 hours activity-time budget, there is a third resource constraint: Almost all households maintain a transportation budget. In the U.S. today, the average household spends about 29 percent of its income on travel expenses. While the marketplace has yet to set a rate of “cost per mile” for autonomous travel, longer travel will cost more and potentially tip the economic balance between housing and transportation expense. It will also be subject to state and federal taxes, akin to the tax on gasoline today.

TRAVEL AND HAPPINESS

The third factor that will suppress excessive travel has to do with “happiness”. Even if autonomous cars could bring longer commute trips to more distant homes, travel is a derived activity-it is what “we do” to do something else. There is an interesting subset of research correlating wellness, happiness, and travel time.  Joe Cortright at City Commentary  reports on the literature between quality of life and daily commute time. Behavioral economists find that time spent commuting has the lowest positive rating of all daily activities. Longer commutes are also associated with a high incidence of obesity, back pain, and other health impacts. Even if your autonomous vehicle was super comfortable, these human impacts might continue to plague the trip.

SPRAWL NOT?

Note that the behavioral impacts come from the time spent in the vehicle, not necessarily the traffic. Time budgets are complicated. So, one of the unusual findings from the behavioral research is that more traffic congestion is NOT negatively related to people’s sense of well being and satisfaction.  While this needs further investigation, it is a clue to the future. Perhaps autonomous cars will not help people flee the city.

People generally see some benefits to being in a place congested with traffic- think getting to/from a sporting event, rock concert, school travel, or airport. It is all about being social- not about trekking long distances to reach a greener pasture. The Digital Natives may have already discovered that, and are far ahead of other generations.

Meanwhile, urban settings of the future will appear very different when residents can be comfortable and safe transversing on foot or bicycle, but also be able to seamlessly summon a vehicle on demand. Since the future cost for this transportation has not been established, we do not know the economic constraints (think transportation and time budgets). But, we do know, that people  contemplating long commutes still have to wrestle with a 24 hour time budget, at least for now.

 

Autonomous Cars for Boomers- Model 2016

Baby Boomers will be surprised to learn that their personal autonomous car has been invented…and it’s called the “TNC, Model 2016.”

Lest the picture deceive, TNC, stands for Transportation Network Company, an acronym for services like Uber, Lyft, Lift Hero and other ride share firms. Ironically, both Uber and Lyft are investing in the technology for autonomous cars. While that technology is under beta testing….more conventional TNC service will suffice for the coming years.

A SPRAWLING DEMAND :

The demand for autonomous cars, via TNC, has to do with the geographic sprawl of Baby Boomers. This is the first generation to settle far from urban areas, and develop homes without spatial links to transit or rail. Because of sprawl and low density, it has been uneconomical to provide transit service, vis a vis road building. Only 17 percent of Boomers live in dense cities with mass transportation. An estimated 70 percent live in areas served by limited or no public transportation (see references, Chapter One, Aging in Suburbia). The remainder have settled in semi-urban areas, where it has been difficult, until now, to solve “first mile/last mile” transportation issues so most Boomers drive.

Meanwhile, cabs/taxi service has been scarce and expensive; spotting a taxi driving on these suburban roads is like encountering an endangered species in the wild. Currently, the popularity of the TNCs has made taxis even less accessible there. Taxi drivers are said to be circulating less and congregating more in places where there is reduced TNC competition like airports. It would be unlikely that a suburban resident could ever “hail” a taxi- that is flag down a vehicle just passing by through the neighborhood. Yet, essentially, that is what a TNC app, enabled by a smart-phone, makes possible. The TNC may be the leveler between urban and suburban transportation.

OLDER TNC DRIVERS:

Meanwhile, a TNC presence is growing in suburbia… in many cases because Boomers are signing up as occasional drivers. It is estimated that a quarter of Uber drivers are age 50 and older.  Boomers approaching retirement age find that the gig economy provides them with a spare source of income (next avenue). It also helps them get out and meet other people. And, since Boomers are a generation that generally likes cars, and favors time on the road, driving for Uber or Lyft is an agreeable choice.

Meanwhile, Boomers have a growing demand for an “autonomous car” service. Uber even made a promotional video to explain the benefits.

SEEKING A RIDE:

An essential reason has to do with the age of the Boomer population. Today, the youngest Boomers are age 52 and the oldest are 72. A difficulty driving safely at night is one of the first onsets of advancing age.  Yet it is in the evening that people throw parties, patronize the arts and concerts, and go out to eat. One only has to visit the matinee performance of a Broadway show to understand the demographics of those who do not drive after-dark.

So, having a “designated driver” at night is likely to keep Boomers active and engaged…throughout the evening. Although they will not be taking an autonomous car, the TNCs can meet the Boomer’s current need to keep busy and engaged after dark. Over time, the Boomers will seek their “designated driver” for more occasions, expanding from service at night to more daytime trips.

Medical trips are a second arena where the “autonomous car”, via TNC, is making inroads among Boomers. As they age, Boomers need a way to get to and from doctor’s visits, medical centers, and hospitals and these trips are the fastest growing source of their travel demand.  Driving your personal car from suburbia, often to a large medical complex in a more urban area, is not fun. There’s the anxiety about the visit, the set-aside time to park the vehicle, and, of course, and the for-profit, per/hour hourly parking charge levied by most medical centers. But the real crunch, and need for the autonomous vehicle comes during the ride home. The driver, in this case the patient, is probably tired, and may be somewhat impaired by a prescription drug or pain reliever. It would be useful if someone, or something else, bore the responsibility for a safe trip back to suburbia.

MORE RIDES, MORE BENEFITS:

The future autonomous car brings other benefits for aging Boomers who settled in aging suburbs. The autonomous vehicle can be regulated to reduce traffic congestion, obey speed limits, and make the streetscape safer for pedestrians and bicyclists too. That can only bode well for Boomers who need to stay healthy and fit outdoors, without driving to exercise and spending hours at the gym.

It will seem odd to Boomers, who have spent so many years of their lives in their car, that they can now liberate themselves from it. But, as they gain years, they will need to shed old habits. Keeping fit, healthy, and socially engaged will take priority for them over almost anything else.