The end of the year is traditionally a time for reflection on the past 12 months, but also for looking ahead at what’s to come. While it’s not necessarily around the corner, the impending rise of autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles has the potential to bring transformative change and disruption to the status quo in a major way. Since transportation touches everyone in so many aspects of life, it’s crucial that we start planning for autonomous vehicles today so that we are ready for the eventual adoption in what could be a matter of a few years. Here are a few key areas that merit advanced preparation to help make for a smooth transition to the autonomous future.
Residential developers / property owners
Boston’s unprecedented building boom has given rise to a number of residential buildings, the vast majority of which tout parking as a service or amenity. In a matter of years, that feature will be obsolete as the autonomous revolution results in a transition to ride sharing over vehicle ownership. For owners of existing residential properties, this presents an opportunity to repurpose space to enhance building features, adding fuel to the already rampant amenities arms race, or potentially even add more units, helping to meet our regional housing demands. Developers planning new buildings, on the other hand, will have to consider the trade-off between building a garage that will have a short lifespan or, forgoing it altogether, which will bring the risk of a slow lease-up. Eventually, parking-less buildings will be the norm.
Parking garage owners
Another group to watch is stand-alone parking garage owners who will soon find themselves in possession of large, underutilized properties. Without the demand for parking or the steady stream of revenue from cars, owners of parking garages will have to find a new use for their asset. In some locations these garages would present huge redevelopment possibilities and could command a handsome fee if put up for sale. Assuming the real estate market remains healthy, these former parking garages could end up spurring huge mixed-use projects. The potential for these structures to be replaced with housing and retail is certainly an exciting thought.
Municipalities / Massachusetts
Perhaps no group has more planning for autonomous vehicles than Massachusetts and its 351 cities and towns. Of course, there is the logistical and regulatory planning to help people adjust to a new normal, but public coffers will face adjustments of their own. Autonomous vehicles promise a future with vehicles uninhibited by human decision making and, more importantly, human error. Generally speaking, that will be a huge boost to safety and efficient navigation of roads. It is not without downsides, though. Without the human error of speeding or illegal parking, ticket generated revenue is bound to plummet. Answering how much money is projected to be lost and how we can replace it needs to be done before it harms our schools or other public services.
The era of self-driving vehicles will soon be upon us and as with any transformation of this magnitude, there’s bound to be growing pains. We can mitigate those by thinking critically about how these vehicles will impact our behavior, interests and resources.