Vehicle ownership ban seriously wrong

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida Headshot
Updated Jan 27, 2020

Discouraging vehicle ownership, or even calling for its end, is nothing new but the notion has been gaining more traction in the ‘emissions are everything’ era particularly when coupled with fears of over-population.
Essentially, if government entities and/or companies own all vehicles they can maintain tight control on vehicle distribution, usage, earnings and emissions. It’s ridesharing extreme and it’s an absolutely ridiculous idea. Cue Bernie Sanders humming around in a tiny electric car named for him, the BS-1.

“Comrades!” Bernie announces through state TV. “We can we can now all travel together to other bread lines around the country. Don’t be an oaf. Grab your loaf and jump in! There’s room for everyone in the new self-driving BS-1. No pleb left behind. Apply now on the People’s App for your chance to participate in our inaugural run.”

While not as dramatic, former GM President Dan Ammann, who went on to lead ridesharing start-up Cruise, recently penned an op-ed in Medium with the haunting headline and subhead, “We need to move beyond the car: The status quo of transportation is broken. The only way to fix it is to move beyond the car to a better experience—one that is self-driven, all-electric and shared.”

There’s nothing wrong with offering ridesharing services. I use them when I travel when I don’t have my car. Period. That’s it. Reducing or eliminating vehicle ownership, particularly for an all-electric, self-driven future, is wrong on several levels.

Ammann suggests that auto-related deaths, over-crowding and air quality concerns warrant the switch. Though Ammann has turned his back on internal combustion, advancements in emissions reduction technology continue to make huge strides resulting in near-zero emissions for all vehicle classes. And collision mitigation features have made their way into all vehicle classes where they will continue to proliferate while reducing accidents.

The problems with an all-electric, self-driving future? Power grid failures bring everyone to a halt. The storms we’ve experienced in Florida, including Cat 5 Hurricane Michael, have cut power for weeks at a time. Good luck charging then. Portable generators can help, but not if your entire transportation system is comprised of EVs. As I’ve mentioned before, a variety of propulsion technologies is key. It falls back to one of the earliest lessons I learned from Mom: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

EV proponents are fast to condemn IC tech as terrible for the environment, but battery recycling is nowhere near perfected with perhaps about half of a post-secondary use battery being appropriate for recycling. The rest is toxic sludge. And child labor for cobalt? Is the air really that bad? I smell something else at work.

This week, the Los Angeles Times ran a story pointing out how electric and fuel-cell drivers get a big break from California’s high fuel taxes. To help bring some balance, the state introduced an annual $100 fee for zero-emission vehicle owners which only applies to 2020 models and up. That leaves 320,000 vehicles free from paying their share to help maintain the state’s worn roads and bridges. The move is costing the state $32 million a year in lost fuel tax revenue, according to reporter Patrick McGreevy. Hmmm…wonder who gets to make up for that shortfall?

“It’s reflective of policies that favor the elite and the wealthy in California relative to working-class Californians,” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., told the Times. “There are a lot of tradespeople who don’t drive electric cars. They drive gas-powered pickup trucks, and they are being punished by the highest gas prices in America.”

Darn right! The other issue with mandatory ride sharing is limited transportation. Think about it. You’re at the mercy of another party for a car. If you want to personally make that choice, that’s fine. Just don’t force it onto others.

“Yep…I remember those days when I could jump into my VW and dash down to a 24-hour Walmart to grab whatever I needed,” beleaguered Citizen Drained says in the days of revoked vehicle ownership. “Now I’ve got to wait on BS-1. And that car is never clean. Smelled like vomit last week. I swear I got the nastiest cold in my life ridesharing with some folks last year.”

Self-driving tech is very promising, but still a big work in progress. Cruise has already delayed its release date on self-driving cars—and that’s good. I’m not complaining. We’ve seen too many headlines where Tesla’s not-really Autopilot system has resulted in serious crashes. The company’s response? Autopilot is not really an autopilot system. How’d that name ever get past legal? Cue Tesla’s fart app.

Mandatory ridesharing could help clear up crowded highways, but the price to get there is too high. Plus, limiting travel means limiting the purchasing power of consumers which means limiting truck loads. Few of us will want to go out for a day of shopping when we’re stuck with a self-driving, ride-sharing van or car that’s obviously not our best bet for making that last-second dash through Starbucks’ drive-thru before making two—no, better make that three—last minute blitzes to big sales at our favorite stores. I mean…who gets to decide in the ridesharing pool that you’re going to suddenly bolt from Lowe’s and head back to the mall? Will you be penalized for being a ride-sharing hog? Will you have to resort to paying off some kid who’s figured out how to hack the car? Are there plans for an electric, ride-sharing pickup so that you can get a load of 2x4s?

Where I really see this heading is to something similar to China’s heavily regulated transportation system which is fueled by its social credit system. Thanks to facial recognition technology, the world’s second-strongest economy can keep a close eye on its people and more swiftly decide when someone has sinned against the state and thus limit or even suspend their traveling privileges. Mandatory ridesharing steers heavily in that direction. After all, who decides when you’ve made one too many runs for late night coffee? Who decides that your trip to the dentist for a toothache loses out to the guy who’s got a big meeting?

In “Asleep at the Wheel,” short story writer and novelist T.C. Boyle paints an interesting and disturbing world filled with autonomous fleet cars. Boyle, who knows human nature well, reveals a scene in which curious and dare-hungry kids attempt to overtake autonomous cars which proves stupid and tragic. Ultimately, it recalls the need for people to be in the driver’s seat—to captain their own destinies from Walmart to Washington, D.C.