Imagine a Seattle where parking is obsolete, as is owning a car, and transportation is reduced to an app on your smartphone.
According to one analyst, imagination is no longer needed: the future is here.
“A lot of people are going to tell you it’s not going to happen … but we are on the cusp,” author Tony Seba told a crowd at the Downtown Seattle Associations annual State of Downtown earlier this month.
“We are on the cusp of one of the biggest disruptions within the last hundred years,” he said. “Within the next five to 15 years, all cars will be electric. [They will go] from human-driven to self-driving, and [we will go] from owning to car-sharing. When you have that combination, the number of cars is going to shrink by 80 percent, the number of parking spots will shrink by 90 percent.”
What was once only speculated in Hollywood films such as “Demolition Man,” or “Minority Report” is now being witnessed in reality. Seba notes that Mercedes is testing a self-driving semi-truck on Nevada freeways. Google recently announced that Kirkland will be the third city to test its own self-driving car technology.
“Google has a built a car and has driven it a million-and-a-half miles without a single accident,” he said. “Actually, without causing a single accident. Human drivers have hit it 19 times.”
Seba’s specialty is market disruption — when a product or technology basically destroys another market, forever changing our habits and how we live our lives. He says that when such disruptions occur, they happen quickly. One example is the computer — once relegated to entire rooms and operated by scientists, but now in nearly every home. Or how the cellphone considerably altered how people communicate — going from landlines to texting or using apps. They changed the market in the matter of a few years
A new, self-driving world
More apt for the topic of cars is how automobiles were a market disruption themselves. Seba noted that in 1900, roads were filled with horses and buggies. Cars were rare. But just 13 years later, horses were barely seen on city streets which were transformed into rivers of automobiles. It’s that sort of change Seba expects to happen in US cities over the next few years — and with Seattle’s status as a tech hub, locals are likely to be among the first to experience the change.
That change has already begun. People have already started using forms of carsharing, such as car services Car2Go and zipcar. Then there are other services such as Uber and Lyft that have essentially reinvented the taxi industry, making it cheaper.
“For eight years I have not owned a car,” Seba said. “I use Zipcar, I use Uber or Lyft, I use public transportation. Essentially, for me, my iPhone is my car. That’s a change from even 10 years ago.”
Put it all together and what do you get? According to Seba, technology will soon be advanced and efficient enough to give us electric, self-driving vehicles. Companies like Uber has already announced they are looking into self-driving tech for their business model. In the end, cars will be driving around town day and night, without the need to park because they will constantly be transporting passengers.
“When you combine these, essentially you can have a car take you from home to work, from work to a bar, from the bar to wherever,” Seba said.
The self-driving tech is already here, Seba said, and it’s getting cheaper. Some of the latest self-driving techs are as cheap as $250.
“Every Tesla coming out of Fremont is essentially 90 percent self-driving,” he said. “We can’t use all of it because of regulations, but the technology is mostly there. The CEO of Tesla says that in within 2 years they will be fully self-driving, meaning you can get in your car and go to sleep and it will take you where you want to go. Pretty much, every large conventional car company has also announced some kind of fully self-driving car by 2018. This is imminent.”
That means that parking will largely become obsolete.
“We have 100,000 public parking spaces in the downtown Seattle area — gone. That’s 18 million square feet of land that we are going to get back,” he said. “What are we going to do with that? Greenspace? Affordable housing? Businesses?”
Seba told downtown Seattle businesses that while people own cars, those vehicles stay parked 90 percent of the time. Not to mention that a car is usually the second most expensive cost a person has — the initial purchase, insurance, gas, maintenance such as oil changes. That all goes away with car sharing, which is cheaper. ZipCar promotes that one of its cars services 15 members — that’s 14 fewer cars on the road, and cars that are owned.
“The market is saying when the costs go down, people say ‘yes,'” Seba said.
“The cities that lead this clean disruption are going to be the ones who will attract the companies and talent to lead the 21st century,” he said. “This is not happening in the future — this is right now.”
Watch Seba’s entire Seattle presentation above.