Self-driving Taxis Will Become the Most Disgusting Spaces on Earth

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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.”

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Join the conversation
4 of 40 comments
  • Gedrven Gedrven on Jul 15, 2017

    "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." Gold!

    • See 1 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on Jul 28, 2017

      @la834 You need to be choosier about the passengers them =8-) . -Nate

  • Alff Alff on Aug 03, 2017

    "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.

  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh hmmm get rid of the garbage engine in my chevy, and the garbage under class action lawsuit transmission? sounds good to me
  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.