By on July 13, 2017

junk car

With the entire automotive industry looking toward a future of driverless mobility, commercially owned self-driving taxis seem poised to be on the frontline of tomorrow. However, nobody seemed to realize that these vehicles will eventually become little more than mobile toilets.

Animals are universally disgusting and humans are no exception. While we’ve mastered land, air, and sea, consider the spaces we occupy while we traverse those expanses. Rental cars are returned filled with candy wrappers, spilt soda, and human hair. Uber vehicles are routinely vomited in. The subway is a haven for disease. Airplane interiors experience havoc within the first hour of a flight as the worst of us begin defecating into the seats, too lazy and weak to control ourselves.

Autonomous taxis aren’t likely to endure better treatment. Without a driver present, the urge to have drunken sex will be far too strong — and those odds only increase when you add a second occupant to the equation. With nobody watching, we’ll leave half-consumed hamburgers and cans of sweetened tea on their floors that will roll around and turn the carpet into a sticky magnet for larger pieces of garbage. 

Bloomberg speculates the never-ending process of cleaning other people’s filth will cost large firms with autonomous fleets tens of millions of dollars annually. That number swells into the billions when you account for  insurance, maintenance, storage, and the accelerated devaluation of such vehicles.

Uber is desperate to make the switch to driverless vehicles as soon as technology allows it, but abandoning the vehicle’s owner could result in unforeseen costs. Since drivers are responsible for their own cars, Uber’s policy is to force passengers who make a mess to foot the cleaning bill. This often results in drivers paying it themselves, especially when there isn’t a standout vomiting incident allowing for easy finger pointing. However, even when there is, it’s notoriously difficult to actually force someone to pay and often times not worth pursuing.

Other firms, like Avis’ ZipCar, have seen their fleets used and abused to a point where it has become difficult to keep up with the necessary cleaning. Its vehicles are stored in various locations throughout multiple cities and can change hands hourly. Finding someone to routinely assure they’re clean inside is next to impossible.

Traditional rental companies spend anywhere from $100 to $300 per vehicle each month while maintaining their fleet. For hourly rentals, that fee is much less predictable.

General Motors’ Maven arm, which competes with Zipcar and leases vehicles to both Uber and Lyft drivers, has begun studying how much abuse ride-share vehicles take. In addition to the wear, tear, and grime left in the wake of inconsiderate customers, the costs for parking and insurance will be significant — especially in the major metropolitan areas where such services are more popular.

Peter Kosak, GM’s executive director of urban mobility, has said that Maven’s goal is to provide consumers access to a diverse lineup of vehicles while still making sure it feels akin to ownership. That illusion is tainted the second someone finds another person’s greasy fingerprints on the steering wheel. That’s a new problem, one which will proliferate as community cars become more popular.

Lyft’s co-founder John Zimmer recently referred to personal vehicle ownership as “a ball and chain that gets dragged through our daily life.” He believes car ownership will be all but abandoned in major U.S. cities by 2025. While few are willing to plot a timeline quite so ambitious as Zimmer’s, ride-sharing has become more common. However, it won’t become ubiquitous until manufacturers can make the numbers work and drivers/riders can be assured a sanitary experience. Likewise, a plan has to be put in place to keep autonomous vehicles, with nobody to look out for them, from becoming roving toxic waste dumps.

“Lyft and Uber don’t care about managing the fleet,” said Kosak. “Down the road, you’ll need to dictate who does all of that.”

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40 Comments on “Self-driving Taxis Will Become the Most Disgusting Spaces on Earth...”

  • avatar

    Maybe they can employ college students who defaulted on their student debt to clean these cars of tomorrow. Seems fair.

  • avatar

    Cameras combined with software that recognizes certain behaviors, reviewed by humans? Just ban them until they pay, or make people put down a security deposit.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup. People using these cars will be under video surveillance and will have to provide some type of ID, scan their thumb print, whatever. The jerks will pay for their jerk behavior.

      • 0 avatar

        And some of the people saying these things are already complaining about technology’s invasion of their privacy.

        While I do agree that something of the sort would be required, such means won’t even slow down a determined vandal.

      • 0 avatar

        “The jerks will pay for their jerk behavior.”

        Jerks have lawyers. It’s an integral part of being a jerk.

    • 0 avatar

      Imagine a car driving slower and honking repeatedly if AI video recognition recognizes sex of two people on the back seat :)

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I’m something of a germaphobe. Carry around Lysol (or similar) wipes, and/or spray. Wipe down the shifter, steering wheel, stalk, arm rests and seat(s) of any rental vehicle before actually driving it.

    Clearly recollect the Top Gear episode where they conducted testing on the surfaces inside some used cars (seats, floors, steering wheels, etc).

    Yet I find that the vast majority of Zipcars that I use are actually not bad at all as far as tidyness. Most previous users are diligent about gassing up.

    The primary issue is that those who depend on car sharing services are generally either only occasional drivers or those who really do not care (think about) cars and therefore, they have numerous dings, dents and scratches.

    And Matt that is a rather dystopian viewpoint.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I have had the opposite experience when using ZipCar. While they were initially all very clean, I noticed many that were horrendously dirty inside as the years progressed. I later found out that much of the fleet’s cleanliness is dependent entirely upon whoever is in charge of the garage where they are stored. Sometimes they do a great job, other times not so much.

      Everyone was exceptionally good about keeping the vehicles fueled, however. That’ll be one less thing we’ll have to confront in the bleak future I’ve outlined.

    • 0 avatar

      I ride the NYC subway on a regular basis. I’d like to see you try that Lysol thing on the Q Train.

    • 0 avatar

      I doubt there will be much more sharing than present when self driving cars become real. It will be more likely that we’ll buy self driving cars for personal use, just like we buy cars right now.
      a) Long drives, easy
      b) car drops you off at door and goes off to park
      c) likelihood of traffic jams in cities, very high– everybody will tell their car to circle till a spot is available or they are ready to go home.

      The question you have to ask is, who’s buying a fleet of self driving cars? Is it the same people who run public transit? Is it taxi companies or Uber type companies? Owning a vehicle is a capital expense. As the Bloomberg article says, who wants to run a vehicle that costs 400 or so dollars a month to clean? Yuck.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Matt – I agree with everything you wrote here, especially this part:

    “Without a driver present, the urge to have drunken sex will be far too strong — and those odds only increase when you add a second occupant to the equation. With nobody watching, we’ll leave half-consumed hamburgers and cans of sweetened tea on their floors that will roll around and turn the carpet into a sticky magnet for larger pieces of garbage.”

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I really appreciate this.

    • 0 avatar

      The thing is, though – this is already mitigated in the driverless self-rentals today. Zipcar let’s you report cleanliness issues when you take a car, and since they know who was in it last, they know the culprit. Add cameras to that and anyone abusing these cars will find themselves unable to use them pretty quickly.

      • 0 avatar

        @orenwolf, exactly. Simple and basic. It could also be beefed up with odor sensors and snapstots of the interior when the user leaves it. Another non-issue.

      • 0 avatar

        Funny, they used to say that about libraries…. until it became a civil right for homeless people to sleep, sh*t, and jack off to pron in them. You think your ZipCar will escape that fate? After all, business owners must provide service to everyone; ask the bakers and florists.

    • 0 avatar

      You mean filthy like theaters and concert venues? Yeah… Yuck…

  • avatar

    We’re already there. NYC cabs and others have had bedbugs & roaches. Even the fancy hotels get infested. With rental bikes last CC that got the flat gets billed. Should be the same with autonomous taxi. Last CC that left the used condom gets billed.

  • avatar

    We’ve joked in the past about how cars with low grade interior materials had an “interior by Rubbermaid”. When robo-taxis come into existence, this will become real. Nothing inside but hospital grade plastics and rubber that can be hosed, steamed, or sterilized. Big business opportunity for Lysol to market a power washer concentrate named UberScruber. [I’m trademarking that!]

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      You’re today’s winner.

    • 0 avatar

      Just like a 1950 Chevy pickup – just hose that pig manure out.

    • 0 avatar

      I was kind of assuming that would be the best way to make it work. There’s a few places that have pay toilets that are self-cleaning after each use (I think the entire room gets gently sprayed down or something), and they’re plenty clean. Granted, that’s much easier to facilitate with a fixed structure that can stay permanently hooked to a water source, but presumably something could be made to work.

      • 0 avatar

        I figure they’ll use odor sensors and video footage. If the odor sensor senses vomit, the car will divert to a independent, licensed detail shop where they will “employ college students who defaulted on their student debt to clean these cars of tomorrow”. If the odor sensor senses a strong fart, it’ll crank up the ventilation to see if it goes away. If it doesn’t go away, off to the detailer for incontinence cleaning. Repeat offenders will see their monthly rental fee increasing.

        As fewer people own cars and more manufacturers get in the business of running car services, you’ll see interiors more geared towards easy cleaning and replacement.

  • avatar

    That’s one headline I absolutely believe.

  • avatar

    One advantage a self-driving fleet would have over an outfit like ZipCar is that nobody has to go out and retrieve the vehicle for cleaning; instead the car can simply be instructed to return itself to a maintenance depot for scheduled (or unscheduled) cleaning.

  • avatar

    Autonomous. Ride-sharing. Signs of decline.

    But, I can identify the car in the picture!

    It’s a Fiat from the early/mid 1960s. A middle-upper one too!

  • avatar

    Good read .

    I hope I never need to use one of these rolling cesspools .


  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Let’s write an article complaining about something that doesn’t exist.

  • avatar

    What about drug paraphernalia and the such? Are they going to accuse the previous rider? I bet lawyers are salivating at this new tech.

  • avatar

    Considering that the first group to really figure out autonomous taxis will make approximately a quadrillion dollars I’m pretty confident somebody will figure it out.

    I’m sure that if we hopped in a time machine to the year 2000 most people then would regard a modern smartphone as impossible, and even experts in the field would happily give us a whole bunch of great reasons why they would never arrive and why they were sure to flop if they did.

    Less than 10 years later smartphones were everywhere, and the first guys to really figure it out and do it right currently have $250+ billion in cash on hand.

    • 0 avatar

      PDA’s, (the smart in smartphones), were available from the mid 80s forward…..

      Funny thing is, as soon as the first San Francisco geek got hold of one, the race was on to route around the taxi monopoly. Paypal grew out of efforts targeted at allowing for encrypted money transfers between PDA users, with “pirate” taxis being an oft used example….

    • 0 avatar

      Who’d think people would spend $100+ per month for smart phone service. Hell I know families with a line for each member and spending a car payment each month in perpetuity for smart phone service.

  • avatar

    One thing the sharing economy and futurists seem to forget. A significant portion of the population are terrible people and or assholes.

  • avatar

    When the time comes (autonomous taxis), we will likely buy a contract for a service. The service terms will need to be different than simple UberLyft terms for this and other reasons. I foresee contracts for X miles per year rather than pay per ride, with mile credits for off-peak use, and based on two or more classes of service (1x cost per mile for basic commuter class, 1.5x for luxury, etc).

    Along with this will be a security deposit, and charges for abuse of vehicles. Riders credit worthiness and histories will need to be considered. Those with less ability to pay for damages, or lower rider ratings, could be restricted from using luxury class vehicles andor charged more for use. We use credit history for auto loans, why not for use contracts. A less credit worthy, but respectful rider could earn lower rates by building up a good rider rating.

    The basic class vehicles will need to be built different, with more resilient, easy to clean surfaces to withstand the use and abuse, and we will become victims of our own (or fellow rider’s) selfish behaviors in terms of comfort much like public transport today with molded plastic seats, linoleum floors, plastic interior siding. Luxury vehicles could be offered with more comfortable materials and restricted to those willing to pay more (per ride and security deposit) and restricted to those with acceptable rider ratings. Trash bins could be installed to allow proper disposal of waste.

    Not so sure about cameras (invasion of privacy). Service operators will know who last used the vehicle, and if one arrives disgustingly dirty, it can be instantly dispatched to a service center for cleaning or repairs and a replacement sent. All vehicles would need to be returned to a service center on regular intervals for inspection, cleaning and repairs. If the instances of returned vehicles becomes too high, riders will sour on using that operators service, so operators will need to be diligent in following up on the schedules and abuses.

    Riders who get a filthy vehicle will report this immediately (with photos) to the operator before starting their journey (lest they become responsible for the damages). They could be given the option to cleanrepair the vehicle on the spot (to reduce delay and earn credits toward future rides), or return the vehicle to the shop and dispatch a replacement. Cleaning materials could be stocked in the vehicle for rider convenience,

    Rider ratings, derived from the condition of the returned vehicle and miles driven could be used to base rates on. A rider who habitually causes filthdamage would instantly be charged more for future use and can only redeem themselves by returning to civil behavior.

    The point is, where there is a problem, there is a solution. We are collectively capable of animal behavior, but we are also equally capable of introducing solutions to overcome a lot of our faults.

  • avatar

    “Without a driver present, the urge to have drunken sex will be far too strong — and those odds only increase when you add a second occupant to the equation.”


  • avatar

    “Airplane interiors experience havoc within the first hour of a flight as the worst of us begin defecating into the seats, too lazy and weak to control ourselves.”

    Please tell me which airlines and routes you fly, so that I may avoid those.

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