There has been a public awareness in recent years about the coming arrival of driverless vehicles. This awareness was quickly inserted into the Luas strike, with calls for automation there. A local politician received heat for suggesting that plans should be made to make all trams driverless. Most people can accept that automation is coming, and transport unions are balancing on a thin beam as more pay demands only hastens the inevitable disruption. I suspect the unions themselves are aware of this.
The obvious outfall of this is that when driverless cars become normal, and can be summoned via your smartphone under an “Uber” type service, suddenly every man woman and child in the country has access to transport , essentially being chauffeured around by a robot at a low cost, and since most of the technology involved in driverless cars follows a Moore’s law type trend, we can expect that these costs will rapidly decrease.
What happens then to the need for the government to provide the social good of public transport? Well, at first nothing . Bureaucracies respond slowly or not at all to change, so business will continue as usual. The same density of buses trains and trams will ply the the nations roads and tracks . However the inevitable decline in passenger numbers as more and more enjoy the convenience of of a self driving car will force the closure of some bus routes, consolidation of others and mothballing of all but the most travelled. The budgetary savings in these closures will be attractive to politicians to buy votes elsewhere. Additionally, the remaining profitable routes along densely populated commuting corridors will themselves be automated, removing the driver and his associated costs and risks from the public purse.
Slowly but surely the need for public transport will atrophy, yet (privately supplied) transport will be more abundant and affordable for all. This is the essence of technology, more output for less input. Although bad for those employed in the transport sector, it will be a great benefit to the entire population who will be able to transport themselves at minimal cost, without the capital outlay of a car or the stress of learning to drive. Within 20 years the government can nearly entirely exit the transportation business,leaving the business of mass transit to the private sector and the non profitable routes to be served by driverless cars. Talk of increasing subvention or making “public transport pay” will become a thing of the past.
This will be unpopular with transport workers unions, and with anyone employed in the Department of Transport, in the Road Safety Authority and several other areas. Expect to see obstructionism from any of these quarters citing public safety, environmental concerns , social justice (even though autonomous cars are much more democratic in their utility than public transport) and job protection. This will delay the saturation of autonomous vehicles in the economy by several years, but the result is inevitable.
A secondary benefit of driverless cars will be their increased safety, thereby reducing accident and emergency bills in hospitals, police time involved in traffic control and crash investigation and making issues such as driver awareness and sobriety irrelevant. The entire apparatus of road safety can be drastically reduced in a linear trend with driverless car adoption in society. No doubt, incumbent disruptees will manufacture issues which will retain their services for a while longer, however the disruption is unavoidable and their departments will eventually be downsized into irrelevancy
The state will be no longer be needed to provide transport, and what little it does will be seen as inefficient and backward. Seeing as the taxpayer gives a subvention to the CIE group in general of about €230m a year, and this only for a bus service, the removal of the State from the transport system can only be a good thing for the pockets of its citizens. It will be a bad thing for drivers who have the means to hold a city to ransom with demands for more pay, for unproductive public sector employees and protection seeking industries (such as taxis) who have not innovated.
This is one of many ways by which near future technology will allow for smaller government by producing abundance in the economy.