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At Least for Now, People are Weary of Riding in Driverless Cars, Survey Suggests

Posted September 18, 2019

Writing in a new study published on 6 August 2019 in the journal Transportation, a group of researchers from the University of Washington (UW) present their findings that people are – at least for now – somewhat weary of riding in driverless cars, with most preferring ride-hailing services or driving themselves.

Thanks to the survey, the researchers found that people consider ride-hailing services to be at least 13% “less expensive”, in terms of time, than driving on their own, and about 15% more expensive than driving a personal car if the service in question is driverless.

“The idea here is that ‘time is money’, so the overall cost of driving includes both the direct financial costs and the monetary equivalent of time spent traveling,” said senior author Don MacKenzie from UW. “The average person in our sample would find riding in a driverless car to be more burdensome than driving themselves”.

The survey was set up such that all 502 respondents – all from the continental U.S. – were asked to choose between a personal car or a ride-hailing service for a 25-kilometre ride, with half of the participants being instructed that the latter was driverless.

“If someone values their trip time at $15 per hour, that means they dislike an hour spent traveling as much as they dislike giving up $15,” explained co-author Andisheh Ranjbari from UW’s Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Centre. “So a lower number means that the time spent traveling for that trip is less burdensome.”

Despite a great deal of enthusiasm about the safety and other benefits of driverless vehicles, the public isn’t exactly eager to take the plunge themselves. Image: Dllu via, CC BY-SA 4.0

Most respondents slightly preferred ride-hailing services over driving ($21/hour and $25/hour, respectively), with the perceived cost of travel time in case of the former dropping all the way down to $13/hour when researchers told the respondents they were free to use the time in the car for catching up on e-mails or performing other tasks of preference.

While taking a driverless Uber, Lyft or other is largely indistinguishable from having a fellow human behind the wheel in terms of overall experience – at least superficially – driverless ride-hailing services scored higher (about $28) than either of the previous two conditions.

The authors speculate that this might be because of the anticipated stress of taking a ride inside a seemingly empty car which, in turn, could be due to the novelty of the technology and might therefore change in the future.

“This is a reminder that automated vehicles will need to offer benefits to consumers before people will adopt them. To a first approximation, a ride-hailing service with driverless cars would need to offer services at a price at least $7 per hour less than human-driven cars, to make the driverless service more attractive,” MacKenzie said.


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