By on July 14, 2017

car back seat interior, Image: Blaz Kure/Bigstock

Yesterday, we talked about how self-driving cabs would quickly become absolutely filthy, the same way that most of mass transit is absolutely filthy. I’m not sure if that’s always the case, to be honest.

Which got me thinking about autonomous vehicles — is there a way I could ruthlessly limit the customer base of any given vehicle to those whose thoughts on personal hygiene, food disposal, and bodily fluids mirrored mine? There are surely people who are fussier than I am, as well, and perhaps they don’t want me in their vehicles.


I suspect that autonomous vehicles will quickly segregate into “tier” levels, the same way that air travel, gym memberships, and, uh, everything else in New York have. Those tiers will be priced accordingly. Surely there will be some kind of tier where you are guaranteed an autonomous Rolls-Royce with a freshly valeted interior, and just as surely there will be an autonomous vehicle with a one-piece blow-molded interior that will be hosed out once a day with a bleach mix whether it needs it or not.

I also suspect that the cost of using an autonomous service will have to slip below $499/month for people to well and truly consider it. Maybe it can be a little more expensive in Manhattan or Chicago but very few people in the Brave New World really have much more than five Benjis a month to spend on transportation. So let’s say that the base price for autonomy is $499/month. How much more would you pay for your tier? And what do you expect from that tier?

As for me, I’d pay $200/month more to have an outrageously exclusive set of parameters placed on my customer group. I’m thinking I want age restrictions for sure. Young people are messy and as Perry Farrell once sang, the elderlies are like children. I don’t want aromatic food in my vehicle. I don’t want the residuals of cologne or perfume in my vehicle. I want it to meet the standards currently set by my Accord — imperfect, but not more than ten minutes of cleaning away from being ready to sell.

How about you?

[Image: Blaz Kure/Bigstock]

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67 Comments on “QOTD: What’s the Most You Will Pay to Have Autonomous Decency?...”


  • avatar
    thelaine

    Give the customers a stake in the enterprise by making it an “exclusive” club. Any other way you try to limit ridership, other than just price, will be considered to be bigotry and you will be burned at the stake before a cheering mob.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      And it will be broadcast on Facebook Live!

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Not if you make it so exclusive poor people are excluded completely. Airlines have survived public mob lynching despite offering all manner of niceties to the über menschen in first class. Generally speaking, the middle class is quite aspirational, and they are happy to know there is something better. It’s the unwashed welfare brigade and the not-for-profit-riot-complex who cause problems. They don’t seem to care right now that poor people can’t really afford to drive, and I’m not sure autonomous vehicles with trigger their rent-seeking ire.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    What’s the price of the level of privacy to not be caught en flagrante delicto?

    Those rides from the airport to the city center are long and boring.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Bud Fox!

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Solve this and all the other problems by banning autonomous vehicles!

  • avatar
    Coopdeville

    I must be confused by the question, because there’s no way I’m paying nearly $6,000 per year to lose the autonomy of my meatsack-driven car in the first place.

    Counting cost, taxes, insurance, gas, and maintenance I’m well below that on my used Avalon if I keep it the intended 7-8 years. Maybe not if I have several large repairs, but c’mon we all know that’s unlikely and a gamble I’m willing to take. And it was far from the cheapest used car I would have been happy with. Plenty of CPO Camcords et. al. were out there for less than I paid to get what I wanted, and if worst came to worst, lots of MUCH cheaper Corollas, Civics, etc.

    Ok, I’ll say it. I would drive a used Yaris before I would pay for an autonomous service. Revoke my B&B membership if you must.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I think most of us here are irritated by the looming autonomous future.

      I foresee a day during my lifetime (I’m 40) when there’s legislation being kicked around because going for a joyride in my 67 Mustang is a threat to the A.I. people pods.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Seems unlikely, given that I can legally drive a Model A on the interstate or ride a horse through town in most states.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Which I might have actually seen once or twice, IIRC. (The 1920s/1930s car on the freeway. May have had a caution triangle affixed, or may have been driving with two other folks “protecting” it with their vehicles, but I recall one doing an honest 55mph!)

      • 0 avatar
        Coopdeville

        I’m your age and foresee a time when they try. The fly in their ointment IMHO is the motorcycle community. Nobody’s taking away my bike and my ability to legally ride it on the street. Even if I choose to stop riding, I’m never giving up the privilege.

        Because of its intrinsically dangerous nature, bikes attract people who are fiercely and ruggedly independent and won’t be told what to do, even if it’s in their best interest (*cough helmet laws cough*). The internet tells me in 2011 there were 8.5 million registered motorcycles in the US. Get rid of 50-75% who are casual owners and you still have millions of passionate riders and bikers that are not giving up their non-autonomous bikes without a real fight.

        I’m on the fringe – I’m a rider, not a biker. I might write and call my elected officials, join activist groups, maybe even protest. But, internet hyperbole aside, I know people who will *really and actually* defend their freedom with force if it’s threatened.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        HA! If you can still get gasoline.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        Like I’ve mentioned before, you’ll lose your manual driving when the AI driving is commonplace, and insurance costs for manual driving skyrocket.

        Becoming an insurance outlier is what will kill the manually driven vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          Dawnrazor

          The fear regarding insurance companies killing-off manual driving is completely rational, but I don’t think it will ultimately come to pass.

          There are several specialty insurance companies which underwrite policies for classics, exotics, and other stuff that cannot be adequately serviced by mainstream insurance companies’ policies at reasonable prices, and I can foresee policies catering to manually-driven cars being made available through such companies. I think there will be more than enough demand to not only create a market for such policies, but provide a large enough risk pool to make the premiums something approaching reasonable.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            This is possible at the start, specialty companies. But – the pool will be immediately and ever-dwindling after manually driven cars are no longer produced (along with servicing mechanic knowledge and parts supply).

            I think it would be a decently steep curve upward on price, as the supply of manual cars goes down.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Cory ;

            Please stop scaring me .

            -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          chaparral

          Even with 90% of all cars being autonomous, that still leaves ~30M manually-driven cars to be insured in the US, roughly the same size as California’s or Canada’s market.

          Before deregulation, Massachusetts had a separate insurance market, with none of the national players. Even so we had 5 or so insurers, and our rates were about 20% higher than they were after deregulation.

  • avatar

    Absolutely zero. I would pay more to avoid it

    I drive Teslas for my job and although the Autopilot feature is fun with impressing friends and customers, it’s more of an aggravation than anything. It misreads road conditions, is non reactive when it should be, or is overeactive at times. The technology will evolve and get better, but it steals the joy of driving while adding a new type of stress.

    No thanks; I may be the minority but I’d rather keep my manual transmission and be involved with each piece to the art of driving

    • 0 avatar
      Dawnrazor

      I tend to agree, but must admit that distance-pacing cruise control has been something of a revelation for me in heavy traffic. There’s just nothing fun or joyful about driving in stop and go conditions, and having a system automatically handle the most fatiguing part (constant switching between acceleration and braking)just makes life so much easier that I am happy to surrender a little gearhead credibility. (Actually, cruise CAN be a little thrilling if the car is in “dynamic” mode as it will then accelerate and brake aggressively enough to toss you around a bit.)

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        You have to keep your eyes on your rearview mirror a lot more, in case a vehicle cuts in front of you, and the system grenades the brakes! Touching the throttle will override the system.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I’m picky when it comes to all levels of cleanliness..I clean my house daily..I have a lady that comes in bi weekly and super cleans my residence.

    Same here, 10 -15 mins with a shop vac, and a damp cloth my cars are in saleable condition.

    I expect the same level of cleanliness in any vehicle I pay to use. Uber is still in its infancy here, and can be hit or miss. Occasionally after a night of Wings, and Beer, I use a Cab. I have a direct line to four different cab “owners/operators…All four are O.C.D when it comes, to who drives their car. Three are W impalas, and one a W Buick. The interiors of their vehicles are spotless..The glass twinkles. I suspect they clean the interior with a Q.Tip…No smells, Scrubbed Weather Techs in the winter. Meticulously vacuumed mats in the summer.

    I believe its a $12 fare to my house. All four of these owners, and their hand picked drivers, know that getting me delivered to my driveway means a $20..On a busy night it means $25.

    I know squat of Autonomous vehicles…I do know that you get what you pay for.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Unless I become disabled, it’s very unlikely that I’d voluntarily sign up for a monthly-paid autonomous transport service. For the handful of times a year I’d use an AV “taxi” I’d probably either be on a corporate account or a pay-per-ride scheme.

    If manual driving is outlawed, and it isn’t possible to have a personal-owned AV, then I’ll go for the cheapest option that still functions on time.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Nothing.

    You can pry my car keys from my cold, dead fingers.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    All it will take is for 1 autonomous car bump into a school bus, kill 10 children and they will be banned.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Our subway system in DC used to be autonomous. The trains drove themselves, with the human operator’s only job being to hit the brakes in case something went wrong. In 2009, a train sensor failed to detect another train in front of it, and the operator didn’t hit the brakes early enough. Nine people were killed, 80 injured.

      They’ve been using full manual control ever since. So you might not be wrong about them being banned.

      • 0 avatar
        operagost

        “In 2009, a train sensor failed to detect another train in front of it, and the operator didn’t hit the brakes early enough.”

        Sounds like the human failed as badly as the machine.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          True. How often do you read about a Tesla driving into something while using its autonomous mode? Frequently, on TTAC.

          Point being, it takes a fully engaged human to prevent a crash when the machine fails.

        • 0 avatar
          Lampredotto

          “Sounds like the human failed as badly as the machine.”

          Not so fast. From what I’ve read the operator hit the brakes after the stopped train came into view. The train was reportedly traveling at close to top speed (~55 MPH) when the operator hit the brakes. Think about it: a six-car Metro train weighs 480,000 lbs empty… throw in a few hundred rush hour passengers and you’re looking at another 50,000-100,000 lbs easily… that’s a lot of inertia.

          I doubt there’s a scenario where the operator could have stopped the train in time.

    • 0 avatar
      Landau Calrissian

      People thought the same thing about gun control laws, yet absolutely nothing changed after Sandy Hook, so…

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      I struggle to imagine a scenario in which they won’t be banned. Eventually something will fail and the vehicle will have to chose between killing the vehicle’s occupants or killing someone else. It will make an unpopular decision or perhaps the decision-making algorithms will be unpopular themselves, like killing off men to protect women and children.

      I really don’t see how centrally-planned artificial intelligence will ever take over for humans, unless humans become so pathetic they can’t even preserve themselves or achieve happiness without seeking help from an institution with no fiduciary responsibility to the individual citizen.

      On second thought, maybe humanity is overdue for an AI apocalypse.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    Nada.

    I have no desire to own a self driving car or be driven around in one.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I’ll continue to pay per-use (i.e. Uber/Lyft/taxi in its current form) but I can’t see ever dumping my car and going full time into this shared service. I don’t care how fast it is, it will never be as instantaneous as me walking out of my house and getting into my car at precisely the second I decided to (or, on the other hand, not having to rush around the house because I forgot something last second and the car is here). And I distinctly remember how terrible it felt to basically lose autonomy when I went from a high school kid with his own car to college kid with no car on campus freshman/sophomore year; I never want to go back to that.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    When I go into Chicago, I probably pay $50 in gas/tolls/parking etc to avoid a $5 train ride. If white glove, black car, on demand, individual door to door autonomous car service was available for $5, I’d probably do it. I might even pay $10. I don’t see this happening any time soon, so unless there is a major change in the price of gas, tolls, or parking that somehow isn’t passed down to the customer of a car service, I expect to be driving myself indefinitely.

    If I’m traveling for business, and the rental car market goes autonomous or disappears, that’s different. Then the answer just depends on how generous the corporate reimbursement policies are. Since rental car upgrades are currently frowned upon for peons at my level, I don’t expect they would upgrade me to a “clean” car service either.

  • avatar
    hpycamper

    I will not vountarily pay for, or use an autonomous car. And I don’t like the idea of sharing the road with autonomous vehicles. Relying on the software and hardware to that degree seems nuts.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      You’re comfortable relying on advanced primates whose driving is so bad that it currently kills ~30k people per year in the US alone?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

      • 0 avatar
        hpycamper

        I’ve worked around, maintained and repaired computer controlled machines long enough to know they are not 100% reliable. Parts that you can’t see degrade with time and use, and critical calibrations drift. Many cars are not maintained as well as they should be now; when they are autonomous that factor could be more important. Humans make mistakes, but computers can make more outrageous ones.

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          Of course the’re not 100% reliable.

          But humans are horrible drivers; to the tune of *tens of thousands* of deaths per year.

          The machines don’t need to be perfect. They just need to be better than apes.

          • 0 avatar
            hpycamper

            Maybe the number of wrecks may drop with autonomous cars, but I suspect they may be more severe. And this is not even taking into account malicious intent. I think way too much faith is being put into this idea.
            And to be honest, I’m hoping it doesn’t come to fruition; I like driving.

          • 0 avatar
            hpycamper

            What percentage of machine faults are you OK with, and what consequences are acceptable?

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            Offhand I would say I’m happy to accept any autonomous driving future that reduces the total death rate vs our current ape-based approach.

            Let’s say that we’ll even shoot for a 10% improvement to help cover the costs and learning curve.

            I would therefore be thrilled with an outcome where autonomous cars kill up to ~27k people per year.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “What percentage of machine faults are you OK with, and what consequences are acceptable?”

            I don’t know, but they can’t be worse than texting/drunk/road-raging/inattentive meatsacks.

            I mean, go watch even just one “Bad drivers” video on YouTube and see the mind-bogglingly stupid stuff human drivers do.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Ugh, Jack you can be such a snowflake sometimes. “Ewww yucky public transport!” Come on man, let’s think this through.

    For starters using NYC as an example of anything to do with the rest of America is no bueno. But even in the context of big city public transportation systems, it’s underfunded, poorly maintained and operating at well beyond peak capacity. Of course it’s going to have problems. But even in that context, as someone who commuted by NYC subway for 10 years, I can say with a straight face the subway cars themselves were pretty clean. The bigger issue was the stations, which are just dilapidated.

    Coming back to this ride sharing stuff, public transportation has no relevance to it as there will be a crap load of competition. Any auto manufacturer with two nickels in their pocket is investing in “mobility”. People outside of big cities used to having their own cars won’t stand for someone else’s filth, and things like reviews and people voting with their dollars will establish some baseline of decency, with a commensurate price. So I don’t think your germophobic nightmare has a chance of coming to fruition.

    As for what it would take for me, it’s not so much about money as it is about convenience. I’d be OK to give up a car for commuting… if I could also have a ride to get me to the gym or to run errands at work. Plus not having to choose a car for commuting means I could choose one for other things, like track days or nice weather back road runs. So I don’t think it would be all bad. People are generally so awful at and loathsome of driving that I think autonomous cars would be an overall improvement.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Existing public transit has oversight. Bus drivers and train/subway attendants can police human activity. An autonomous vehicle wouldn’t have this deterrent. If you allow yourself to imagine queasy scenarios, like a bunch of low-rent college kids sexing and puking all over public vehicles each weekend, you’ll come around to Jack’s point of view.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Molded Fiberglass seats and rubber floor covering.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    I agree with those who want to continue driving their own car, but at some point in the future (proximity TBD) it is inevitable that driving your own car will be:

    1: prohibitively expensive for most due to insurance costs; and eventually

    2: illegal on public roads.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      I can affordably insure a Model T and drive it on public roads today.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        The Model T is a manual car, just like a Civic. Same type of insurance.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          How much more of a rate increase for Model T?

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          The point is that there are already examples in place of both legal and actuarial systems that can tolerate wide disparities of vehicle operation and safety; and still permit much more dangerous machines to be affordably driven on public roads.

          • 0 avatar
            doublechili

            The Model T/Civic comparison is not analogous to someone driving a car in a sea of autonomous pods. I’m talking end game here – far in the future. But insurance will be part 1 of the end of driving on public roads. As the system goes more and more autonomous, rates for drivers will creep up and up forcing more drivers out, thereby increasing rates even more, etc., etc.. Until eventually there are so few outliers (wealthy to boot) that one well-publicized accident caused by a rich cowboy will lead to legislation. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it will play out, IMO.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    No need for a premium, expensive service. Just one that quickly and permanently bans anyone who has cleanliness/hygiene issues or eats in the car.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    For most places and times I’m not convinced the sharing economy will work. None of the ride/sharing firms earn a profit, and they all face further regulatory and financial pressures that they have only been partly successful in avoiding so far. An Uber that manages their own fleet of self-driving cars is even less likely to make a profit than today, and how many people will actually let their own private self-driving car be used as an Uber, especially after it comes back smelling bad or vandalized? I suspect in the end most people will want and be able to afford their own personal self-driving pod.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    You’ve inspired me to put on my “Absolute 90’s” album. Thanks; it’s been too long!

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    You are assuming that vehicle sharing will replace ownership. I suspect most people who can afford the cost of ownership will still prefer it over tolerating the messes that other users leave behind.

    For me, how well the vehicle functions in autonomous mode will be the critical factor. If I’m going to the grocery store, I will want to get into it inside my garage, announce my destination, and enjoy the ride until it has parked itself in a slot near the store’s front door. In situations where there is no parking nearby, I would expect it to drop me off at the front door and then find a parking place where it would await my summons. Until autonomous vehicles can function at that level, I fail to see their usefulness.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      I would find an autonomous vehicle to be enormously useful, even if all it did was operate safely on the interstate and reverted to manual mode on surface streets.

      I made a 20 hour freeway trip to visit family over the 4th of July. I would have much preferred the car drove itself for those 20 hours while I slept or recreated.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Hard to say because this consumer behavior is on the backlash/outrage spectrum. It’s like gasoline prices. They rise and nobody really cares, then one day, society draws a line in the sand and rage spreads throughout the population, and people start buying economy cars and hybrids en masse.

    It’s not really possible to gauge your rage before hand so I’m not sure what would trigger my desire to spend more money. I don’t fly first class, though I jammed in coach seats like a sardine for 3-4 hours. I can say confidently that personal space will not affect my decision. I’m pretty sure puke would set me off, and I’d probably be willing to drop another $150-$200 in order to escape the weekend puke brigade. Maybe autonomous vehicles could have age restrictions like rent cars. Everyone under 25 get the city bus plastic seat treatment.


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