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A World of Robo-Taxis

Will self-driving cars lead to the demise of privately-owned cars?

As the world of self-driving vehicles heralds closer and closer, experts are beginning to wonder whether the entire paradigm of car ownership will be transformed, too. Will there still be the need or desire for privately-owned vehicles?

In the near future, we can imagine a scenario in which transportation companies field entire fleets of self-driving cars that keep driving around, transporting passengers, without ever standing idle. Indeed, even individuals who still elect to own a private car could profit by allowing them to operate uber-style as TNCs when they are not needed, rather than paying the steep cost of parking. In this case, an integrated telematics management system would ensure the cars punctually return to their owner’s location as scheduled.

The cost per ride of driverless taxis will certainly fall sharply by removing the human element in the equation. In fact, a recent study conducted at the University of Virginia and the University of Texas estimates that over 25% of trips in private vehicles would move over to a shared fleet if the cost were about $1/mile. Moreover, research firm ARK Invest indicates that the cost of operating a shared self-driving vehicle fleet could be as low as $0.35 per mile. This is equivalent to less than one tenth the cost of traditional taxis, and half that of owning a car!

On August 25, 2016, the Asian city-state of Singapore, a global innovation hub for commerce, finance and transport, stepped forward to introduce the first global fleet of commercial self-driving cars, powered by tech company nuTonomy. While the service is currently in a final pilot phase, operating solely in Singapore’s One-North District and only providing free rides to select clients, it clearly marks a brave new frontier: the functional testing of telematics-driven vehicles in a complex urban environment.

In fact, many companies now claim that regulation, rather than technology, is currently the biggest obstacle to overcome. And although autonomous vehicles are largely recognised as being safer and more reliable than human drivers, there still is a general misgiving of placing too much trust in machines.

While similar services are being perfected by innovative start-ups and major digital players around the world and promise to be ready soon, Singapore stands as the first city to step into the future and deploy a self-driving robo-taxi service.

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