Evolution Of Self-Driving Industry Could Provide 'Free' Rides

As the autonomous vehicle industry develops, there would be a significant impact of free rides being offered to our destinations. While there are cons of corporate manipulation on the horizon, this service could also provide major benefits for startups and low-income families.


May 28 2019, Updated 5:24 p.m. ET

With fully autonomous vehicles coming in our future, focus has been placed on the technology involved and how safe traveling would be. With ride-hailing services facing less costs, these savings would be passed onto the consumer. If these prices fall enough, there would be the incentive for businesses to provide free rides, which could greatly alter how we go about our daily lives.

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Many businesses would be affected if consumers relied more on ride-hailing services. The auto industry wouldn’t sell as many units directly to individuals, but would still need to provide enough for companies like Uber and Lyft to satisfy their customers. It’s anticipated that if we do end up relying more on these services, self-driving technology would make rides cheaper for everybody.

Judith Donath of The Atlantic kicks around the idea of free transportation with autonomous vehicles. Naturally, these rides from one place to the other would still come at some cost -- with advertisers throwing a couple of stops your way. For example, the vehicle could make a detour toward a downtown district to showcase restaurants and services or a realtor presents homes for sale.

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As technology advances, this can completely change how we make decisions. Instead of being limited to a driver’s knowledge of the area, a computer would be able to retain far more information and it can learn our daily habits. Advertisements could be tailor-made for the passengers, and businesses that provide free rides over the competition may win out. 

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Instead of going to a familiar restaurant, perhaps a new establishment can push customers in by promoting a free commute. Some department stores deliver flash sales in the vehicle, prompting some to change their course. There’s a number of innovative ways that companies can advertise, taking advantage of the apps we use for ride-hailing services, any monitors installed in the vehicle, and the routes it can take us on.

This can paint a bleak picture of manipulation, and that’s certainly a negative aspect of what the autonomous vehicle industry could hold. There’s still a number of benefits with this new service, even with the new forms of advertisement coming our way. Taking the previous example, new restaurants offering free rides may establish recurring customers if they’re impressed, helping the place out instead of closing within a year. This could also help out people with low incomes to go out more instead of paying for car maintenance or taxi fares.

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It’s scary to think of the computerized navigator knowing our habits and tasks we need to accomplish, but it would provide a lot of convenience. Think of the vehicle recommending massive sales on Christmas trees and decorations to get a head start for next year. For those looking at new apartments, the vehicle offers to stop by a potential location if it’s on the route of the destination. After all, this is all very similar to us surfing the internet these days -- our viewing habits are recorded and recommendations are given to us through a website's advertisements.

Removing the manual aspect of driving is something that many people don’t want to give up unless they’re fully convinced it’ll work for them. It’s doubtful that we’ll see a world that offers nothing but free autonomous rides, and it would be better to give people the option of paying to go directly to their destination or they can opt for a free version with ad-supported stops. All of this also depends on how the technology advances and what regulations are put in place.

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