Another Study Agrees: Autonomous Cars Will Annihilate City Budgets & Send Flo To The Poorhouse

July 13, 2015

Look at Google's adorable autonomous car up there. Isn't it cute? It looks as harmless as a wireless mouse or a koala wearing a fez. Precious.

But do not be deceived, dear reader, for verily, that vile contraption is a harbinger of doom and destruction. It will unleash hell on Planet Earth, causing governments to crumble, schools to collapse, and traffic cameras to grow dusty from disuse.

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That's what the Brookings Institution says, anyway. (And it's not alone.)

The think-tank's thinkers point out several important facts about autonomous cars. Taken together, they paint a picture of rapidly changing revenue streams in cities across America, as self-driving vehicles become increasingly common over the next two decades:

1. Autonomous cars will dramatically reduce accidents: Brookings points to Google's autonomous car fleet, which has logged more than 1.7 million miles over six years of testing and only had 11 accidents -- all of which were due to (a) other motorists or (b) humans driving Google's cars in "manual" mode. To be sure, autonomous cars won't end auto accidents overnight, but as the technology evolves, improves, and becomes more widely available, the number of traffic accidents is likely to plummet. As a result...

2. Autonomous cars will slash government spending: State and local governments currently pay a huge price for traffic accidents. Together, they foot the bill for around seven percent of emergency services, property damage, traffic court costs, lost productivity, and other expenses. Autonomous cars promise to free up that money and put it to use elsewhere, which is great because...

3. Autonomous cars will annihilate city budgets: If you've ever been pulled over for speeding -- or worse, received a ticket from a traffic camera -- you know that fines can be steep. Cities depend on those fines to keep things running. But autonomous cars will put those cash cows out to pasture. They're such goodie-goodies, they won't speed, they won't drive drunk, and so, they won't generate billions in fees

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Will the cost savings from item #2 balance out the loss of income in item #3? In cities that derive a small portion of their revenue from fines, it's possible. But most cities rely heavily on traffic fees to stay afloat. (Consider this: until May, Missouri allowed municipalities to derive up to 30 percent of their general operating dollars from traffic fines.)

Bottom line: city and state officials should begin planning for autonomous cars very, very soon. Like, yesterday.

Of course, autonomous cars will cause disruptions elsewhere, too:

  • Think of all the roadkill crews with nothing to do because autonomous cars brake for animals.
  • Think of all the advertisers freaking out when rush hours disappear and "drive time" really becomes "drive time", not "traffic jam time".
  • Think of all the insurance companies forced to scale back their auto policies because no one has accidents anymore.

Think of Flo, you monsters. Think of poor Flo.

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