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Uber and co don't want you to own your own self-driving car

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Uber has joined forces with other online taxi and ride-sharing companies to outline what they think the future of transportation within cities should look like. And although many of the shared principles point to a positive outlook for the coming years, one, which appears to suggest outlawing privately-owned self-driving cars, is causing a stir. 

ZipCar has brought together a group of companies, including Uber, Citymapper, Lyft and BlaBlaCar, to produce the Shared Mobility Principles For Livable Cities policy document. At first glance, many of the principles in the document are positive, outlining a commission to renewable energy and prioritizing the needs of people over vehicles. 

However, the final principle may be cause for concern. It states: “We support that autonomous vehicles (AVS) in dense urban areas should be operated only in shared fleets.”

The document then goes on to explain some of the reasoning behind the need for shared fleets, including better control over emissions and stricter regulation.

“Due to the transformational potential of autonomous vehicle technology, it is critical that all AVs are part of shared fleets, well-regulated, and zero emission. Shared fleets can provide more affordable access to all, maximize public safety and emissions benefits, ensure that maintenance and software upgrades are managed by professionals, and actualize the promise of reductions in vehicles, parking, and congestion, in line with broader policy trends to reduce the use of personal cars in dense urban areas.”

An urban monopoly?

This suggests that these companies, as well as some of the other green pressure group signatories, may not want people to own their own self-driving cars, at least within urban environments. Although their reasoning may make sense, it points to a monopoly over autonomous cars that would give individuals less choice over their choice of transport. 

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (opens in new tab) reports that one way around these kinds of policies in the US may be for individual states to draw up their own plans that would stop companies and local governments from restricting the use of self-driving cars. 

For many members of the public, automated cars may still sound like the futuristic vehicles of our sci-fi dreams. However, if Uber’s ambitious plans are anything to go by, they could be arriving within the next 18 months. 

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi made headlines after he predicted that we'll be seeing Uber automated cars on the road for use by the public, outside of testing, within that timeframe. That means that discussions about restricting ownership of self-driving cars shouldn’t be ignored, even if the intentions of Uber, ZipCar and the other companies involved appear to be good. 

Becca Caddy
Becca Caddy

Becca is a contributor to TechRadar, a freelance journalist and author. She’s been writing about consumer tech and popular science for more than ten years, covering all kinds of topics, including why robots have eyes and whether we’ll experience the overview effect one day. She’s particularly interested in VR/AR, wearables, digital health, space tech and chatting to experts and academics about the future. She’s contributed to TechRadar, T3, Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, Inverse and many more. Her first book, Screen Time, came out in January 2021 with Bonnier Books. She loves science-fiction, brutalist architecture, and spending too much time floating through space in virtual reality.