July 19, 2015

Autonomous tech will lead to a dramatic reduction in traffic and parking fines, costing cities millions of dollars.

Even though self-driving technology has the potential to dramatically reduce accidents, traffic, and even the time spent finding a parking spot, most car enthusiasts are concerned that autonomous technology will suck the fun out of driving. But what if it saved them money?
 High-tech cars could help drivers avoid traffic tickets, parking violations, and even getting towed. No would would miss paying for a speeding ticket (and dealing with an insurance rate hike) or taking a trip to the impound lot, but cities will certainly miss the revenue, according to a recentBrookings Institution report.
"Local governments have viewed their sources of revenue … from the perspective of, 'We can tax people in a very structured and predictable manner,'" Kevin Desouza, associate dean for research at the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University and one of the report's authors, told Wired.
In other words, cities, counties, and other government entities bank on catching drivers breaking the law to keep cash flowing into their coffers. Desouza predicts that "they're going to lose out in the long run" as self-driving cars become, as Brookings says, "the prevailing mode of transportation."
Just how much cash do cities stand to lose? While everyone knows that a traffic ticket or towing charge can be expensive, surprisingly there are no national statistic on how much U.S. drivers pay each year for these unpleasant aspect of driving. But the report points out that it adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars for some cities.
For example, the report said Los Angeles raked in $161 million in revenue from parking tickets in 2014, while 20 cities in California collect $40 million annually from vehicle towing, which they split with tow companies. In addition, Brookings pointed out that states will also lose money as vehicle registrations drop if self-driving cars lead to fewer vehicles sold.
A Double-Edge Sword
But this drop in revenue is a double-edge sword for drivers and tax payers. While self-driving cars could significantly reduce the money cities collect from drivers via tickets and towing, it will subsequently lower the funds used to pay for the roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure on which they rely.
Self-driving cars could potentially offset some of these losses by saving money spent by the general public on the high cost of car crashes. A recent NHTSA report found that in 2010 "public revenues paid for roughly 7 percent of all motor vehicle crash costs, costing tax payers $18 billion … the equivalent of over $156 in added taxes for every household in the United States."
Beyond the money saved by reducing accidents, self-driving cars could also provide other financial benefits to the public. According to a 2013 report by the Eno Center for Transportation, if half of the vehicles on the road were autonomous, around $211 billion a year could be saved through reduced traffic and therefore decreased fuel consumption, as well as an increase in productivity since we could all work more (Yeah!) instead of sitting in traffic.
And while this should all appeal to the common commuter, even the most hardcore car enthusiast should also be able cheer the fact that self-driving cars could reduce traffic.

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