Infrastructure

Self-Driving Cars: The Answer to California’s High Housing Costs?

Some speculate that AVs would eventually reduce individual car ownership and decrease the demand for parking spots at residential developments.

by Phillip Molnar, The San Diego Union-Tribune / October 10, 2017

(TNS) -- California lawmakers have thrown a lot at the wall in recent months to get the state’s housing costs to go down, but some analysts predict it may be self-driving cars that are the answer.

Self-driving cars, controlled by GPS, radar and sensory software, could make housing construction cheaper by limiting the need for parking, says a newly released report from San Diego real estate analyst Gary London.

There is a major push to get self-driving cars on the road throughout the nation. On Monday, the biggest U.S. automaker General Motors bought a company called Strobe that developed technology to help self-driving cars identify objects in the distance. Most automakers are in a rush to have cars out on the road in the next four to five years.

Last week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that will allow automakers to sell up to 80,000 self-driving cars within three years, provided they provide data about safety.

While it isn’t clear when or if widespread use will take place, London has some ideas of what it could do to ease some difficulty associated with high housing costs.

London says the cost of construction would be reduced by 20 to 25 percent if parking is eliminated. This assumes San Diegans would not need to own a car if they could just use a mobile phone to hail a car for wherever they are going.

Some lawmakers have considered easing parking spot requirements for new apartments or homes built. Yet London said builders would still likely build spots for marketing purposes, even if it wasn’t required.

A September report from the San Diego Housing Commission, that relied heavily on industry experts, estimated the cost of one parking spot in a new apartment in San Diego is $10,000 for a ground level spot, $30,000 for above ground and $70,000 for underground.

Fewer parking spots could also mean more space on streets, making self-driving car traffic light and giving more space for bicycles and pedestrians.

But, are Californians actually willing to give up their cars?

London admits that many Americans still view the car as a status symbol and would probably not want to trade it in for an autonomous system. However, he said that might not always be the case.

“Younger people, on an overall percentage basis, are less married to their cars than older generations,” he said.

Even if people still keep their vehicles, self-driving cars could make commutes easier. London said longer commute times — to, for instance, cheaper housing in East County — would be much easier if workers could sleep in a car on the way to work or do another low stress activity.

“Think of a (self-driving car) as a train without tracks,” he said.

A policy brief from the UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies predicted living farther away could accelerate urban sprawl because people will be more willing to accept long commutes with self-driving cars.

The brief predicted widespread autonomous vehicles may require cities to repurpose areas for street level pick-up and drop-off areas, as well as space for more electric vehicle charging stations.

One form of transportation that may be affected by all the changes may be the San Diego Trolley. London wrote that the light-rail system, now in the middle of an expansion to University City, will become obsolete.

“Slow intra-urban fixed rail systems like the San Diego Trolley, are doomed,” he said. “Their already minuscule ridership counts are likely to continue to plunge.”

It could be a while before the self-driving car takes over but it isn’t stopping some bold predictions. In a June report by Strategy Analytics, sponsored by Intel, it said autonomous vehicles would proliferate globally in 2035 and by 2050 would make up nearly half of all vehicles sold.

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.