What must robotaxis do to make people give up car ownership?


For the robotaxi business to be worth it, they must get customers who give up car ownership because of the service, and use it regularly. But since robotaxis will have a limited service area, what will they do to make it happen?

I discuss various strategies, including partnering with competitors and linking services areas in a new Forbes site column at What must robotaxis do to make people give up car ownership?


all travel, 24x7 access on my schedule for less than 250$/month unlimited mileage. I lower car costs by buying used and taking care of my cars so I can get every last mile of use out of them.

local is about 100 mi/week

weekend travel to isolated central and western mass (frequently without cell service). sometime need to carry 100lb of telescope kit.

1-2 x per month, make trips 4-9 hrs away from Boston and back.

I have my routes mapped out including where I take a pee break whether i need to or not.

I enjoy riding in solitude. I usually don't play radio or stream music. just the quiet of the car on the road in the deep dark of the night.

That would be easy. The long trips out of town are going to be rental car, not robotaxi at first, but that's probably a bit pricey in car rental to fit in $250/month. On the other hand, if they put you in a luxury shared vehicle to the remote city and you use robotaxi there, I can see it happening. Astronomy trips to remote territory will certainly be outside of robotaxi service area for a while. That's plain rental car. One day's rental car is usually $60 plus gasoline and they can probably get it cheaper for you, so a dozen of those each year sounds doable.

One factor to consider, if you park your car in your garage, you just recovered a bunch of extra storage or workshop space in your house.

For 2 car families like myself it would likely be a 2 stage process.
Initially the service is likely to be geo-fenced so the service could replace commuter trips and visits to family and shops. We could sell the second car and reserve the first car for activities like beach trips, hiking, and holidays.
The service provider using rentals for trips outside its region might end up being much cheaper than standard rental rates because of economies of scale and the fact that the paperwork only need to happen once. In addition as you probably said, the rental might also be a robotaxi that can self deliver and then be human driven for part of the trip. The self delivery and drop off removes both a cost to the rental company and an impediment to the renter.
To lose the second car, availability of the right vehicle at the right time is going to be important, for example, I go surfing and would need a vehicle with a roofrack (for the longboard) or one with a suitable cargo area when I take only the shortboard.
I would also be happy for this to be pay as you go rather than built into the subscription.
When the service area expands to include my favourite surf locations it would probably be nice to hire the vehicle for the duration of the trip, so I can leave clothes/towel/phone in the car. I imagine this would happen naturally anyway as it might be quite hard to redeploy the taxi to serve someone else from such a location. My surf trips are usually 3hrs or so, but for whole day trips to the beach the use pattern will be similar to a daily commute, off to location x in the morning and back home in the afternoon/evening with a similar dead head miles issue.
If it turns out that the taxi can be redeployed then I might have to invest in some sort of secure storage box with combination lock I can leave at the car park with stuff I don't wish to carry to the beach.

I was just thinking about this yesterday when I noticed that some soda spilled into my cupholder. What would a robotaxi company do? Fine me? Leave the mess there for the next person? Charge everyone more for the constant cleaning?

You’re not going to get me to give up car ownership. Why would I give up my car (which is only worth a few thousand dollars)? Makes no sense whatsoever.

Nobody will be forced to give up car ownership I think (at least not for a very long time) though some forces will push things that way (properties with no parking, robocar only zones etc.)

For cleaning, I think the car will have sensors (like a camera used between rides) to detect messes and damage. It will mostly use these to tell you you left something in the car but also to bill riders for messes, and send the car to a cleaning depot when needed.

It is possible that the cost of ordinary messes will just be built into the price and only big messes like throwing up etc. will get you a bill.

Alternately, people who enter a car could immediately report a mess, which gets tagged on the prior rider and they get a different car dispatched if not in an urgent situation.

I agree nobody will likely be forced to give up car ownership any time soon. But your question asked how robotaxis could make people give up car ownership. Force would be one way. Maybe losing billions of dollars running a service at a loss is another (that could work until the market demands profits)?

So not only do I have to pay a fine for that spilled soda, I also have to pay whether I spill the soda or not, for sensors to detect spilt soda?

Taxis are great when you need a taxi. For everyday driving, a personally owned car is so much better. And when you add in all the overhead (cleaning depots and spill detectors are just two from a very long list) it’s probably often cheaper too.

Robocars might even reduce the need for taxis. No need to pay for expensive parking at the airport when your car can just drive itself home after it drops you off. No need for a taxi to the rental car place when the rental car can pick you up.

The sensors (a camera) would be of quite minor cost, not one anybody would notice.

A private car has a number of advantages, but a number of disadvantages. Already there is a decent segment of people in cities with good transit who elect not to own cars. There will be more of them in a city with inexpensive robotaxi service.

I generally don't pay for parking at the airport any more and haven't for many years due to Uber. If I am going to a further airport for just 1-2 days I might pay for parking.

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