Futurists have suggested that one day, self-driving cars might augment or even replace public transport, but for the town elders of Beverly Hills, this future is nearer than you'd think. Earlier this month, the city's council voted unanimously to create a program to "develop autonomous vehicles as public transportation."
The council's vision is for self-driving vehicles to provide "on-demand, point-to-point transportation," with citizens "requesting a ride using their smartphone." The shuttles wouldn't replace public transportation, but augment it, with Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch describing how autonomous vehicles would solve the "first/last mile" problem for residents using the city's future subway — the Purple Line Extension — to get in and out of the city.
"It is now both feasible and safe for autonomous cars to be on the road."
"This is a game-changer for Beverly Hills and, we hope, for the region," said Mirisch in a press release. "Beverly Hills is the perfect community to take the lead to make this technology a reality. It is now both feasible and safe for autonomous cars to be on the road."
Mirisch previously outlined his ambitions for a fleet of municipal self-driving cars in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Business Journal last June. In this and other documents published by the city's autonomous vehicles task force, the council argues that Beverly Hill's temperate climate, its well-maintained roads, and compact size (it covers just 5.7 square miles) make it "well-suited to [this] individualized, convenient, and efficient local public transportation."
"MASS transit, and MASS appeal."
Mirisch writes: "While branding mavens may yet figure out a snappier name or acronym, let’s refer to this municipal car pool system in the meantime as MASS (Municipal Automated Shuttle System), which would also have the added benefit of allowing for a variety of clichéd puns such as critical MASS, MASS transit, and MASS appeal."
Phase one of the city council's program includes reaching out to companies like Tesla and Google to explore "potential partnerships." These, says the council, will lead to policy frameworks, then a whitepaper on subject, and eventually pilot programs. Sponsorships are mentioned as potential source of revenue, and a "budget will be developed and brought to the council at a future meeting." However, there doesn't seem to be any firm allocation of funding for the program.
So far, the council has more in the way of confident promises than concrete plans, but the scheme doesn't seem too outlandish. Apart from the city's advantages of geography and infrastructure, it's also incredibly affluent; home to celebrities, millionaires, and billionaires. It's even situated on top of a working oil field. The council's plans suggest using council members' "many contacts" to help speed the scheme's development, and notes the autonomous vehicles are well on their way to being road safe.
And after all, the rich are certainly used to be chauffeured around the place, so perhaps self-driving cars are just the next logical step.