I’m at the NPA conference in Palm Springs. Christine Banning and her crew are doing a fantastic job. I took some time to attend a couple of seminars on autonomous vehicles. One was by Mary Smith of Walker, the other by Dale Denda of the Parking Market Research Company. They were point/counterpoint.
Mary spoke capably for an hour about the coming of self driving cars, had statistics that backed up her contention that these critters were coming, and that they would have a negative impact on the industry. That impact would be not great, but would be real. Their arrival would be sometime within the next couple of decades. She spoke eloquently on how garage design needs to change to prepare for a reduction in parking demand, and that design should be tilted towards changing the use of the parking facility as needed. The questions were on point and polite. I got the definite feeling Mary’s talk was what the standing only room crowd expected to hear.
Dale took an entirely different approach. He quoted high tech scientists who basically said that a true self driving vehicle, that is one with no driver at all, is many decades away, if ever. He pointed out that the impact on our industry comes from those ‘level 5’ vehicles (a Tesla is a 1.5) which have no driver and can deliver folks from place to place without the aid of human interface.
He posits that the Uber and Lyft model of today is about at its zenith and the reason they are spending so much money on driverless vehicles is that just aren’t enough drivers to meet the demand. He held the position that since true driverless vehicles aren’t coming (its really a complex problem, more difficult coding a computer for a 787) that our concerns about these things was overdone. He said that we, as an industry, were concentrating on the wrong thing.
He then went on to use government data to support his contention that car ownership and parking demand was actually going to increase over the next decade, and that we need to concentrate on the infrastructure needed to handle this demand.
This was not what the crowd came to hear. Many questions were pointed, skeptical, and when I saw who was asking, agenda driven. They came from those whose livelihood is ‘connected’ to driverless vehicles. Dale handled them well, but I’m not sure the room was convinced.
The problem it seems to me is that we have been bombarded by technical media that has an agenda, one that says that driverless vehicles are just around the bend and we will all be using them. When Elon Musk talks about a self driving Tesla, he is not talking about a level five driverless vehicle, but one that has sensors and software that allow it to drive itself in certain conditions, but not all. However the people listening to him hear and believe that he means driverless vehicles. Hell, he may mean that, but its not coming soon.
Musk has an agenda. Tech writers talking about software and sensors have an agenda. If they shave a couple of decades off the time it will take to have a truly driverless vehicle, so what. Well actually that means that folks in industries like ours may make decisions based on those agendas, and not on the facts.
Mary took what I would say is a ‘conservative’ view of the problem, which was “its coming, it will be here, and we need to plan.” The problem is not that ‘its coming’ but when. No one mentions that parking and vehicle demand is still on the upswing and most likely will continue for some time to come. What are we planning to do about that?
At the Temecula group last week we talked about the difference between agenda driven fear and reality. (more about that later.)
There is a lot of cool aid out there, and some very smart people are passing it around. Now we need to determine whether to drink the stuff from this agenda or that.