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The Cruise Origin (getcruise.com)
317 points by tzhenghao 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 273 comments

This is _exactly_ the use case I think self-driving cars are perfect for: a shared fleet of cars continuously picking up and dropping off passengers within cities – eliminating the need for parking and allowing cities to reclaim that ROW for other uses (bigger sidewalks, bikeways, parklets/seating, or even dedicated bus lanes and light rail for high capacity routes, maybe even housing in some spots), finally allowing vehicles to become a crucial supplement to higher capacity public transportation rather than a competitor to it, and hopefully decrease the amount of space dedicated to cars (think highways and sprawl in addition to parking) within cities.

I hope they can pull this off.

You are describing a bus company ;)

"a shared fleet of cars continuously picking up and dropping off passengers within cities"

And just like existing bus companies, the self-driving ones will also require you to take a detour so that other passengers can be picked up or dropped off along the way.

So the main novelty is that you eliminate about $0.2 per minute in salary, but in exchange you now have to maintain much more complicated vehicles with much more expensive replacement parts.

Oh and have you ever considered that the same people that you hate meeting on the bus could also be combined into your ride? Except that now they are not 3 weirdos out of 80 people but 3 out of 4.

So unless this is so expensive that most people cannot afford it, it'll have the same drawbacks that rich people currently hate about taking a public bus.

I expect these companies to lead to more traffic, because afterwards you will have the regular poor-people bus and in addition the almost empty rich-people bus vehicles.

I’m wondering if you have ever ridden a bus, and also a shared Uber? The car gets you where you are going a lot faster than the bus, because you need to wait for at most 2 other stops instead of 17 or whatever, and you never need a transfer. Whether or not this argument convinces you, experiencing it yourself makes the difference obvious. It’s one of those things where you can actually do an experiment to find out the answer instead of just arguing about it. You could also try entering a destination into google maps and compare the estimated arrival time with bus vs Uber.

The self-driving car will presumably be a similar experience to the Uber, but addresses the labor issues that are the main problem with that model.

The Uber-like "pick me up where I am" is a pre-fit incentive that will be dropped later.

I take buses regularly. Uber too. Taxis too.

All in all, the de-humanizing/automation part that's getting traction from capital. It's not a strictly human/modern need that's being met, it's an addictive service (faster, exclusive) that's being sold and cost-optimized.

You can be certain that the day Uber-automated-cars are the norm for transit, for cost/efficiency reasons, you will be kindly asked to join a specific pick-up point; and off-loaded at a specific location as well.

Those locations will be computed & decided by the provider, not you (you know, bus). Unless you pay another premium (taxis).

What you describe is a car service with an automated driver. Car services have existed for decades, and saving $20-25/hr on a driver isn't really that big of a net gain. The biggest innovation Uber offered is app-based dispatch.

There is a lot of skepticism that automated vehicles will ever happen without massive infrastructure changes that remove human drivers from the road in large numbers. The liability issues are huge -- accidents will happen and people will die. In a case where fault must be determined between an autonomous vehicle and a human driver, human judges / juries are going to overwhemlingly side with the human. If anything, automated vehicles will require more costly regulation than human drivers do.

Car services are a hard business to make money in because the job isn't very skilled, so there was a lot of regulation in place to ensure those services were priced in such a way that they continued to be reliable. Uber sidestepped a lot of that regulation through creative accounting and VC subsidization, but my guess is that when Uber and Lyft implode in a year or two, much of it will be reintroduced to fill the smoking hole they will leave in last-mile transit since they put the taxi companies out of business.

> In a case where fault must be determined between an autonomous vehicle and a human driver, human judges / juries are going to overwhemlingly side with the human.

I think you're right, but _because_ there is sensor data to back it up we won't have to "take the person's word for it" that the driver-less car "cut off" the human when the human was going twice the speed limit (as an example).

Getting rid of the driver is huge. Even with mass transit, where there is a huge ratio of drivers to passengers, labor is the dominant cost.

> Personnel expenses are the largest portion of Metrobus budget. For FY2019, personnel cost is estimated at $522.5 million or 80.2 percent of Metrobus budget, which represents a decrease of $27.7 million from FY2018 budget.

Is that just drivers or also the mechanics, planners, IT, etc. There are many more personnel than drivers necessary to run a giant public transit dept, and many would still be necessary with self driving cars/busses.

Depends on how market will act in that regard. If it's profitable to pick up at exact location then if Uber tries to optimize by sending you to a pickup location then someone else will jump in to provide the more luxurious option. It's really hard to say how exactly market will reach equilibrium but it necessarily has to be better than it is right now without the self driving aspect

>it's an addictive service (faster, exclusive) that's being sold and cost-optimized.

I'm not convinced it's being cost-optimised... Uber is the most unprofitable company in existence! Unless cost-optimising means undercutting competitors with dirt cheap labour and by burning unholy amounts of cash, on the order of billions per quarter.

> All in all, the de-humanizing/automation part that's getting traction from capital. It's not a strictly human/modern need that's being met, it's an addictive service (faster, exclusive) that's being sold and cost-optimized.

Getting where you want to go in a timely manner is a human need. Currently people fulfill it with private vehicles, because buses can’t get you to work on time. (Part of the fault is government-when I lived in Delaware, bus drivers would randomly decide to end their shift early and skip all the remaining pickups. The other part is structural limitations in the nature of bus service.)

> Getting where you want to go in a timely manner is a human need.

Which is already served in a more than reasonable manner, that an automated car won't significantly speed up.

> Currently people fulfill it with private vehicles, because buses can’t get you to work on time.

Depends a lot on infrastructure and governance. Where I live (moderately large city in France, but still serviced by Uber too), you go faster where you want by bike or buses than by car. Notwithstanding that it is more sustainable (economics).

And Uber does not go much in the countryside. Buses do.

I live in a city of 1 million people and getting from end to end of the city takes me either 20 minutes by car or 90 minutes by public transport when out of rush hour. During rush hour the train is the best option

> Which is already served in a more than reasonable manner, that an automated car won't significantly speed up.

Hardly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_in_Paris

The average public transit rider in Paris spends over two hours a day commuting. In most of America, drivers spend half that time. Replacing the current mix of cars and transit with point to point vans would dramatically speed up commutes.

I've lived in (and outside) Paris. Worked there too. For years. Walked. Biked. Buses. By subways. By car, own, taxis, ubers.

Going by a mix of foot, bike, bus/metro has _always_ been faster, more flexible and less costly than by car.

The only exception is when you've got a large/heavy package to pick/deliver.

No amount of additional cars will improve the trafic there.

Perhaps you were reading those statistics from another source or version of the page, but from the article you linked to:

"The average amount of time people spend commuting with public transit in Paris, for example to and from work, on a weekday is 64 min. 15% of public transit riders, ride for more than 2 hours every day."

During rush hour where I live (NYC), hundreds and hundreds of people ride the same bus I do. If each group of ~4 had their own car, everything would break down, and I shudder to think of the impact on the environment.

The main problem w/ the model is people having to travel non-walkable/bikeable distances twice a day. Until we invent teleportation, not a lot is gonna change that basic math.

> During rush hour where I live (NYC), hundreds and hundreds of people ride the same bus I do. If each group of ~4 had their own car, everything would break down, and I shudder to think of the impact on the environment.

You're forgetting the other half. What if we remove 3/4 of the existing car volume at the same time?

> and I shudder to think of the impact on the environment.

Despite it being electric?

What do you mean reducing car volume? You asymptotically approach "bus" the more people you put in a vehicle. Turning one bus that holds ~50 people into 12 smaller buses that each hold 4 people doesn't solve anything as far as I can see.

Re: electric, this is a good step but we still produce most of our electricity (by far) by burning fossil fuels. Plus we lose energy in transmission/storage so it's a net loss.

Why are you ignoring all the traffic right now that isn't busses?

Let's say we currently have one bus and twenty cars.

If we replace that with 12 vans and 5 vans, respectively, that leaves us with 17 vans.

The road is now less congested and less polluting.

(There's no reason to expect all the current cars to be replaced, but there's no reason to expect all the busses to be replaced either.)

I guess I'm not super interested in the pretty small difference between van and bus. Grandparent's point was cars are better because they don't make a bunch of stops and they don't wait for people to get on/off. As you add people into vehicles you lose those advantages, but you lower your overhead.

But as more and more people work (global population is still increasing), this doesn't scale. Commuting is the problem, not humans having yet to find the perfect commuter to axle ratio.

This is my problem with self driving tech in general. So much energy and engineering has gone into solving a problem we don't need to solve. The answer is more light rail and more remote work. And if you think it's a tech solution to a political problem, I'd point you to all the political problems Uber is having. It's just, idk bad planning or something.

New York is a special case and you can't use it to make general statements about transportation at all. Due to its density, not owning a car is pretty common in NYC, but unheard of elsewhere in the US. The vast majority of the population lives in low or medium density places where mass public transportation is a huge waste of time and effort.

I think you're missing my point(s) a little. Most of the important tradeoffs between public transportation and individual automobiles are the same no matter the density, and it's all a function of how many people are "on the road" at a given time. You can cram 'em onto buses, or deploy a fleet of rideshares, but the core problem is moving billions of people non-walkable/bikeable distances twice a day.

Grandparent's point was self-driving cars solves the labor problem, and thus the benefits of ridesharing totally outshine the benefits of mass transit. I'm saying I don't think a labor shortage is the main problem (no matter how much you think those drivers are making, it's not a lot). Rather, I think the problem is "every American worker gets a car and is transported ~16 miles twice a day" isn't scalable.

To be clear, I think self-driving cars beat busses on quality of service. There simply isn’t a bus that exists that will take most people from where they are where they want to go. Dynamically generated routes beat fixed routes, because they get people to their destination. UberPool accomplishes the same thing, but uses more drivers per passenger than a bus, which leads to labor exploitation. Self-driving fixes that problem.

And no, I don’t want to shut down the busses. I’m describing why so few people are using them, and why self-driving cars have a better chance of success. In fact, I think self-driving is a necessary ingredient for a public transit system that meets everyone’s needs in the US. I think buses are a natural park of a self-driving network - a dynamic dispatch system can use them on the most in-demand routes.

Right now in America, the vast majority of people are driving solo to work. Even if self-driving vehicles merely double the capacity those vehicles handle, that seems enough to fix our transit problem.

> To be clear, I think self-driving cars beat busses on quality of service.

Yeah if your metric is how much time you spend walking, or privacy I guess, then a car is better than a bus (a car with no driver even more so).

But in NYC many people don't have cars, and while "parking in the city is impossible" is one reason, there are other way more popular ones:

- mass transit is much, much safer

- it's more environmentally friendly

- it's faster (trains, not buses, although with bus lanes and lights that might be changing)

- car maintenance is expensive and tedious

- cars are expensive assets that depreciate incredibly fast

- you can do other things while on mass transit

> There simply isn’t a bus that exists that will take most people from where they are where they want to go.

You might be surprised. There's a bus around the corner from me that takes me directly to my subway station. My total walk time is maybe 2 minutes. It doesn't make any sense to me to figure out self-driving cars to save me 4 minutes of walking a day, in fact that's probably a bad idea and pattern in general.

> I’m describing why so few people are using them, and why self-driving cars have a better chance of success.

Again you might be surprised. In NYC, 2.25 million people ride the bus every weekday. I don't know what rideshare stats are, but I bet they're lower.

In places without expansive and deep mass transit systems, people don't ride buses for exactly the reason you said. But the answer isn't to figure out self-driving cars, the answer is more buses (and other vehicles like light rail), drivers, and routes.

> In fact, I think self-driving is a necessary ingredient for a public transit system that meets everyone’s needs in the US.

Well, it doesn't exist at all right now, so I think that's pushing it when it comes to "needs". Something else that would satisfy that is if we installed light rail and started switching wholesale to remote work, things we know how to do super well right now. It's also even safer than self-driving cars, easier on the environment, cheaper, etc.

Self-driving cars remind me a lot of blockchain: a solution looking for a problem. It's a little more vexing than blockchain though, because commuting really seems like a drive time problem, but the root problem there isn't that a working human has to drive, it's that a working human has to move 30 miles every workday. The smart, efficient solution here is better mass transit and more remote work.

Getting somewhere faster doesn't necessarily mean it's better.

Recently I lost my car (I used to have a company car in front of my door, but switched jobs), now I am solely using public transport and my bicycle. It takes more time, doesn't really cost me anything more than having a car and because it takes more time I have more space to clear my mind. To let my mind wander for a while to process thoughts.

I'm talking about distances that typically take 5 - 20 minutes by car, that are now maybe 15 - 40 minutes by public transport.

See also: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/

All else being equal, getting places faster is better. Remember, most people don’t have jobs where they are paid to be “in the zone” three or four hours a day. They spend eight hours processing loan applications or serving customers.

The average public transit commute in most cities is twice as long as the average driving commute: https://abc7news.com/5289025

> The study found San Diego had the nation's shortest commute times with an average of just 26 minutes by car, but 52 minutes by public transit.

That’s an hour a day (total) that public transit commuters aren’t spending with their families.

Even during rush hour in DC, it’s slightly faster for me to get to work driving clear across the city instead of getting on at the rail station at the edge of the city and taking a train straight to the station 8 minutes from my office.

I wanted to provide an anecdotal example, my bus commute is about 30 minutes and by car would be about 15 minutes. The extra time I spend commuting is ~150 hours per year (- WFH days/personal days/sick days). Owning a car and buying parking would cost me about $4506 more than having a bus pass per year. So I'm essentially getting paid ~$30/hr for those 150 hours each year to read books / listen to podcasts in public. I understand this is leaving out a lot of details. And if my commute times were twice as long I would only be getting paid ~$15/hr, still not bad if you already enjoy reading books or listening to podcasts for free.

If your city is anything like a typical US city, note that your bus pass costs 3-5 as much as you think you’re paying for it. The rest of the cost is covered by the taxes you are paying. This means that you are paying 70-80% of the public transport’s fare regardless of whether you’re actually using it. If you account for that, it might not change your calculations, because you cannot opt out of the transportation tax anyway, but it should make you think as to why buses are really so attractive after all.

That's true, I hadn't thought of that and in my city 70% of PT is indeed funded by taxes. But if there wasn't PT my city would probably need to be less dense because of the additional required parking, roads, suburbs, etc and therefore generate less taxes per acre. Also once a high enough percentage of people use PT, it could pay for itself through fares (Tokyo apparently?). The entire situation is complex and hard to measure IMO.

Well, if you want another anecdote, I used to live in a neighborhood close to DC/Beltway, and my commute by car was 20-22 minutes.

By public transportation, it would be north of 1:15, because it takes 20-25 minutes just to walk to the nearest bus stop.

Maybe you can concentrate and do work on a bus, but I can't, so for me it's just wasted time (almost 2 hrs every work day, adding up to 400+ hrs/year). Having a car is essential (unless you live and work downtown, for which you're paying a premium, obviously)

> All else being equal, getting places faster is better.

It's true, but at least on an individual level, it's worth looking at what happens to the extra time. I'm a four season bike commuter, and my ride is 30 mins each way (~7.5km). It would be about a 10-15 minutes drive.

So I'm losing a half hour each day to my commute, but those five hours a week are essentially all the exercise I get— taking time to play an organized sport or go to the gym with three kids at home? Forget about it. I'm so reliant on this that I really noticed over the summer when I switched to my Boosted Board for a few weeks that I wasn't getting the workout I needed.

Anyway, it's not for everyone, and not every workplace has decent parking or would permit you to show up a bit sweaty. But between that and the savings associated with not owning a second car, biking to work is a no-brainer for me.

> All else being equal, getting places faster is better.

> The average public transit commute in most cities is twice as long as the average driving commute: https://abc7news.com/5289025

The average public transit system in the US is woefully inadequate compared to those in other developed countries, so it's hardly fair to pin this on public transit in general.

The whole point of the discussion around the future of transportation is to align the individual incentive to get some place faster and cheaper with the broader societal goals of affordability, access, and decongestion. Better mass transit is the probably best option we have for that so far. Continuing to grow the individual car based commute likely isn't, definitely not in our ever-growing and increasingly congested metropolises.

Even if today the best solution for a lot of people is to get in a personal car doesn't mean that we can't build better transport systems in the future. This is about making improvements, not about attachment to the currently dominant way of getting from point A to point B.

Getting more mass transit will not be easy - the barriers are as much cultural as they are geospatial - but let's not dismiss a solution that demonstrably works elsewhere.

While a longer route with public transport is certainly an opportunity to let your mind wander (as long as it is not that crowded and you can autopilot transfers), it is still a forced one. You might find that's not a problem for you, and I believe you, but that's a privileged position to be in and you're the odd one out. Most people, I believe, would rather be in control of when they let their mind wander and when they get to their family or friends faster. I am not arguing against public transit here, I wish for a carless city as much as the next person, but I'm not blind to the fact that public transit is far from perfect and almost certainly not the full answer to a carless city.

If you're losing 20 minutes * 2 trips per day, that adds up to probably 7 days of lost time per year that you could have been doing something with.

Like, reading a book. Or listening to a podcast. Wait, I can do that on a bus too.

Not every minute of your life has to be optimised.

And of course some of the same people who complain of this lost time pay hundreds a year to join a gym to spend an hour running on the spot...

Haha, great irony :-)

> Like, reading a book. Or listening to a podcast. Wait, I can do that on a bus too.

Not on some of the buses I've ridden.

We'd have to solve a dozen or so social issues before buses were reliably a good place to do relaxing activities.

Lucky me, I feel qualified to make a comparison here because I have traveled 20+ countries by train and bus, as well as taken 500+ Uber and Grab rides :)

In many bigger cities in Europe, there are dedicated lanes reserved for public transport. You can grab an Uber and get stuck on the public lanes in a big traffic jam. Or you take the bus and arrive in half the time. Plus the bus is dirt cheap at a fixed-price $40 per month no matter how much you use it. I used to travel 12km by bus twice every working day and it took roughly 20 minutes per direction. Good luck getting an Uber ride for $1 per trip that'll average 36km/h = 22 miles/h through the rush-hour traffic in any big US city.

Oh and don't get me started on the Berlin / Hamburg / Singapore MRT systems. Trains every 3 minutes with dedicated underground tunnels that usually arrive faster than it takes you to pay a parking ticket and get your car out of the 3rd parking deck. Plus, the Singapore MRT is so spotless clean and people are so careful and polite, I'd be willing to sit down with a blanket on the floor and have my dinner there. Eating in the MRT is forbidden, though.

Also, I'm not sure if I had beginner Uber drivers untypically often or if they just have such a high turnover, but in 1 out of 4 rides the driver had problems finding me, despite having my GPS location and my street address. Having waited for 10 minutes only for the driver to then cancel and Uber support to scold me for hiding, I now usually walk to the bus stop and call the Uber from there. Much easier to find, even for beginners. But that kind of negates a big benefit that Uber was supposed to have, if they cannot pick me up where I am.

And speaking of beginners, I have been in almost-accidents more often than I can remember, both with Uber and Grab. The driver is texting on his phone, or trying to readjust the app's map, not paying attention to the road, and then we have to stop tires screeching to avoid running over a cyclist. I have never ever had a bus driver as careless as about half of the app drivers.

And then, there's the crazy aspect. When someone pukes in a shared bus, you can move to another seat. When your neighbor pukes in a shared Uber, you can only choose between accepting the smell or waiting 10+ minutes for the next Uber. Sadly, I speak from personal experience here.

I’ve had some great experiences with public transit in some of the cities you listed, and I would never suggest trying to replace those well-working systems. However a lot of cities have really broken public transit that almost nobody uses, and are dominated by people driving solo in gasoline-fueled cars.

Thank you for sharing the life experience you've had on your travels, but this is a service based in San Francisco. Discussion would be more productive if scope was narrowed to the topic of OP.

Good point. For SF, I'm out. I would probably just insist on working remotely to avoid the daily commute there.

I don't know if my experience is usual, but readily ride buses and trains that air so crowded I almost have to physically force my way into them, and I take Lyfts occasionally, but I never, ever opt for the shared ride.

Maybe it's just me, but something about sharing a ride with one or two random people in the back seat of a sedan just seems unpleasantly awkward. Whereas a bus has enough people that you're a face in the crowd.

(context: US, Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area)

> The car gets you where you are going a lot faster than the bus

Of course, you pay more!

It's even impacting the environment more, cities cannot plan for it and chose the path they should follow and ,in the end, why didn't you share your personal car with the people you know before Uber came along?

Because you want a cab and a driver to - if it's necessary - share with people like you, not a shared means of transportation that's doing a service to a larger community

It isn't a max of 2 stops. It's a max of 2 pickups and 2 stops. Also sometimes you end up taking detours for the pickups and stops, not to mention waiting for the people to show up. Happened to me. I think the bus got to my destination first.

A halfway solution is something like Via, which is "bus-like" for frequent routes.


There are a few very big benefits compared to buses:

- The car carries fewer people at any given time, so needs to stop in fewer places.

- The cars are smaller and cheaper, so can be more numerous (hence more frequent/available).

- The car has dynamic routing, so instead of carrying you along a predetermined route, it can carry you anywhere you want to go and you don't need to wait for the "right" car.

You're making the assumption that there's no maintenance costs involved with non self driving cars. The costs are a bit higher depending on the technology used but the cost is spread across 4x paying customers and a car thats able to service customers 24x7 which is about double the productivity of a non self driving car. Technology drives costs down, and once companies figure out best practices on self driving cars, many smaller companies will start copying the approach.

OP here: I love the bus! I take it all the time in Los Angeles, where I currently live without a car.

I imagine this could be a fantastic complement — not replacement — to a bus, specifically for low ridership areas, last-mile connections, and lower-frequency routes, so busses could focus on what they’re best at: high frequency arterials with dedicated ROW carrying many passengers at once.

I wonder how long it will take the average Bay Area commuter to find an adversarial driving pattern for this.

Cruise has been operating a pretty dense fleet continuously in San Francisco for some time. Of course those vehicles have safety drivers, but they’re already facing SF drivers.

Honestly I believe a system trained on so many millions of driving interactions would tend to act like an average good driver in SF, and so would ultimately blend in.

It is also clearly designed for airport trips given the layout of the interior cabin.

Which is genius as in every city that is (a) the most lucrative taxi route and (b) the one with the newest and safest roads.

>(b) the one with the newest and safest roads.

Yeah that doesn't describe 101 around SFO one bit.

Navigating around the airport is tricky, but the roads are ok. Where it's bad is 101 after the 280 split. It's packed, the lanes are narrow, the road is windy (by freeway standards), and exits are old, awkward, and beyond their capacity.

If you ever get a chance to travel to Sydney, you'll find a nice outlier for road quality near the airport.

> (b) the one with the newest and safest roads.

What? You should try driving the roads around DTW. Bring your off-road tires.

Many airports across the rust belt and northeast of the US suffer the plague of under-maintained infrastructure. CLE and BWI are coming to mind as well. And driving any highway in ATL can hardly be considered safe.

It sounds like you're describing a very sophisticated bus route that every city in the world already has.

The buses in my city are not close-to-on-demand, stop frequently, don't adjust their route based on requests and cost over $5/trip (without a multi-trip card).

I imagine something like this will arrive more quickly, not stop 15 times on the way, and get people closer to their home/work.

I come from a city where public transport is unreliable, so everyone use private cars. Which are reliable until you hit traffic jam (always) or have to park them (usually the time to find a spot is a large percentage of the entire trip)

The city is a pretty big one: Rome, Italy.

The only real solution is ban private cars. I don't like it, but it's unfortunately like cancer: kill it before it kills you.

In many places, I think it will happen gradually by removing or charging more for street parking. Then driving yourself becomes an expensive hassle and automated ridesharing looks more and more attractive as the cost drops and convenience improves.

My city has a bus route from the airport to a particular central place in the city. It does not have a bus route going straight to every district of the city, much less to my home.

It may share 90% of the trip with that bus route, but the remaining 10% are very important.

Except taking the bus sucks. It takes forever and I have to get harassed by crazies when I'm just trying to get home.

Sorry for the off-topic, but this is something that blew my mind while traveling around the USA.

I could count with my fingers the amount of crazy people I saw in my life while in public transport or on the streets in general. The same while traveling around Europe.

But in the USA, it was incredible to see the amount of crazy people going around, talking alone, yelling out of nowhere, or "having episodes" (e.g. one guy rubbing a plastic fork intensely on the top of his head for like 15 mins while staring into space).

I wonder what would be the reason for that? (Maybe the lack of a public/universal health service?)

The US lack of mental healthcare institutions. Like an impressive number of problems in this country, it traces back to Reagan.


Here in Germany I happen to share a few tram stops with a group of clearly challenged people who apparently have a commute overlapping with mine. They never bother anyone. Because someone is taking care of them (I can only assume, the group travels unaccompanied, my guess is that it's a bunch of co-workers from some form of sheltered workshop), giving them enough support to live a life they can manage that is neither behind bars nor being left to their own insufficient devices. Thrown out into "full difficulty mode" life I'm sure many of them would end up as annoying outcasts harassing random strangers in a futile attempt to get a trace of human interaction.

Would I like to ride a tram with only smart and beautiful people? Sure I would, but I could not enjoy it knowing about the implications.

Being exposed to a sample of society is actually one of the things I like most about public transport. But it's only a positive if the sample is at least somewhat representative and not a self-selected showcase of the down and out. Classic chicken/egg. Where I live, subway and tram are fine whereas urban buses sharing the same general are and ticket are borderline depressing (suburban buses are somewhat ok, rural buses are completely devoid of driving age population).

No this isn’t it. Deinstitutionalisation is a worldwide trend. It’s the lack of mental healthcare itself that is the problem.

There isn’t a good reason why it should be this way in a wealthy country. It amounts to saying ‘Let the people that need the most help wither and die.’

It's the perfect SV solution: you have problems caused by underfunded public transport, large income inequality and homelessness? Let's not fix those underlying issues, we can just spend a ton of VC money on artifical intelligence to work around the consequences instead!

Within the existing civil rights framework, there is no “fixing” crazies on the bus. The state cannot lock people up or force them to take their meds just because they make you uncomfortable. Nor can it deny them public services. They have the same rights to the commons, their freedom, and their medical decision-making as you do. Smelling bad, shouting nonsense, and talking to strangers in public are not crimes.

Which means if you want to be comfortable, you’re going to have to minimize time spent in the commons.

> Smelling bad, shouting nonsense, and talking to strangers in public are not crimes.

And neither are they symptoms of a specific biological malfunction. We just happen to be highly social animals and if we are continually denied social interaction we'll start to do increasingly stupid things to provoke a reaction. Programs that give those people an outlet for their interaction needs will work wonders for almost all of them. Zero care freedom versus lockup/forced medication is a false dichotomy.

The state (or we) can fund treatment programs that at least make an attempt to respect the rights and wishes of people who need treatment. I spent some time trying to help a friend get I into a program... There are suprisingly few good options and all the halfway decent options don't even accept insurance, let alone offer free services.

> Nor can it deny them public services

If only accessible mental health services were easy to reach for those whose lives are so crippled by mental health that they have little other options (even if some would still "opt out") ...

> and their medical decision-making as you do

For many, there is zero medical decision-making involved because there is zero or near zero access to mental health care.

As an EMS provider, I truly believe (and I'm certainly not alone) that the two major health crises facing the US are mental health and opioid use, misuse and abuse.

> Smelling bad, shouting nonsense, and talking to strangers in public are not crimes.

But you could certainly make rules about doing the first two on a bus.

I don't know how it works in your country, but in mine enforcement of rules on busses is pretty patchy.

After all, do you deny boarding to people who look like they might break the rules? Ask them nicely to disembark if they start? Have the driver manhandle them off? Stop the bus and call the cops? Rely on scowls and tutting from other passengers?

With that said, I spent a few years riding busses in university, and didn't encounter problems from other passengers. Punctuality, service frequency, crowding and journey times were much bigger problems for me.

This is about civil rights, not the practicality of enforcement.

Rules? We have ceased to be a society of rules. (And soon we will stop being a society of rule followers, which will signal the end of our civilization, but that’s a different rant.) Here in DC, we won’t even enforce the “rule” that you have to pay the fare. Good luck enforcing anything else.

Haven't people been avoiding fares since the invention of fares?

Most people don’t avoid fares. I’m of the view that the point of criminal law isn’t deterrence as such, but rather norm setting. We punish people for fare evasion so people know it’s a bad thing. The norm keeps most people from evading the date. But when you stop punishing people for it, the norm is diminished.

I can see my city getting these to help seniors get out and about. Hmm wheelchair support might suck.

It actually is. When entrenched power structures prevent economically efficient outcomes, you bypass the power structures instead of reforming them. You reform by killing the king instead of helping him be kinder.

And this is how progress has always looked. Life will be better for this.

The market is a close analog for lightning. It's finding the fastest path.

And let me tell you, the Bay Area is flush with money. Funding is not the problem.

> taking the bus sucks

Yes. Buses are cheap, but slow and uncomfortable.

Buses are big and unmaneuverable. That makes them slow over long distances. In low densities, the size means lots of inefficient stops. In high density, the manoeuvrability means subpar navigation and traffic avoidance.

Buses are also uncomfortable. If you raise ticket prices to buy a better ride, the quantity demanded drops and one ends up with vans.

Vans are expensive because they need drivers. Driverless vans are superior to private cars and buses for their market. (Nobody is close to providing this.)

The subpar navigation and traffic avoidance are a function of road design in high density environments.

We know how to make that go away: create separated bus only right of way with traffic light synchronization.

Now imagine you sitting in the same Cruise Origin with 2 crazies and one drunk. Where's the improvement?

To be honest sitting in a car with 2 "crazies" and a drunk doesn't sound any worse than sitting on a bus with 50 "crazies" and 25 drunks would be for the other 25 people.

You can skip that and take another one without waiting for 20m?

Well from the sound of it, its an Uber-like service? I'd hope they have an option to book a private one.

Sounds like a job for a passenger rating system as well. With all the ups and downs of that.

Even if we agree that the technical hurdles will eventually be overcome, I think that the problem will remain that a lot of people will want to keep their cars. Uber has provided a car-on-demand service for years, and yet in cities there is still congestion on the roads and cars parked wherever you look.

> there is still congestion on the roads

Uber has probably made this worse. The only way it's helped with congestion is fewer people looking for parking.

I would estimate if the cost of Uber cost even just 30% less than it is now it would probably see 2x greater utilization (at least I think I personally would use it 2x more often at such a price)

If a self-driving vehicle like OP could hit such a price point (a big if, admittedly) I think it could make a substantial dent in inner city driving, beyond what Uber is able to achieve.

I think you're right, but cultural values like these can take way longer than just a few years to change. Cars, car ownership, car tinkering, etc are such a part of American culture at this point that it'll take a long time for any ownership numbers to reflect the realities of shared models. I think.

Waymo launched a service that does just this in December 2018: https://www.businessinsider.com/waymo-one-driverless-car-ser...

Waymo also dabbled in these cutesy future car designs back in 2014 [0], and later just decided to stick with vans.

While it is clear that self-driving cars won't have steering wheels in the future, these prototypes are jumping the gun and a waste of time. As Waymo quickly realized, you can iterate much faster staying away from these futuristic prototypes.

[0] https://qz.com/1005083/the-cutest-thing-google-has-ever-made...

> As Waymo quickly realized, you can iterate much faster staying away from these futuristic prototypes.

Cruise has one advantage that Waymo didn't - General Motors. They don't need to build an automotive product development and manufacturing org from scratch; it's already there and it's got a hundred years of institutional memory.

Since GM has been working on things like this for decades, I imagine it gives Cruise the opportunity innovate on the vehicle itself quite capably without taking their eye off the ball.

Sure, but Waymo also doesn't do manufacturing from scratch. They partner with existing manufacturers such as Chrysler for their vans, and could've easily found partners to develop more futuristic "prototypes" if they wanted.

The point still stands that it's mostly a waste of time and resources while we are still years away from fully functioning self-driving cars. You could argue that if GM has artists and designers who are bored and need a side project, it may be worth the news cycle generated by the reveal, but other than that it doesn't add much to the conversation.

There have been plenty of such prototypes; just at CES a few weeks ago, LG had an almost identical prototype [0].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5SRXzAtcuY

Yeah, but they also have a hundred years of depending on handouts to not keep going out of business so we don't really know that they know how to build a product that works long enough to keep them in business.

How would a neverending stream of self-driving vehicles competing for access to riders free up right-of-way. If these work (which they won’t), the will only worsen traffic.

No way. Way easier to optimize with fewer than more coordinated players and reduced demand for parking.

What you're describing is an automated taxi service. But no car owner will want to replace their car with a Cruise Origin, because most people don't want random strangers to ride in their car all day.

I'm really excited about this. I can't even imagine how much public space we will reclaim with zero car ownership.

No release date or price or anything? I honestly don't even know what this is. Is it for the city or for the individual? What are its capabilities? I sure would love ANY concrete details. This is all just tech marketing speak, same old bullshit.

Yes. Cruise has been "fake it til you make it" since their original demo video. Now "all vehicles shown on road are renders" in fine print.

Here are the CA DMV's autonomous vehicle accident reports for 2019.[1] Cruise has a lot of them. Mostly being rear-ended by a human-driven car. A surprisingly large number are with the vehicle being driven manually, or right after the human driver took over. True driverless still seems a long way off given those results.

I've seen Cruise cars in SF, most recently making a left turn off Union St in manual mode.

GM's first try at self-driving, Firebird III in 1958, was far cooler than this mini-bus thing.

The mini-bus area seems a good place to start with self-driving. I was once thinking airport parking lot shuttles. Controlled environment, low speed - that could work. But the financial numbers don't work out. You get rid of the driver cost, but you add sizable engineering cost and vehicle cost, and you don't sell many vehicles that way. Local Motors and some other startups have been struggling quietly in that space for years now. Local Motors' Olli has three live installations, with about six vehicles total, all very recent. A college campus, a casino area, and a dedicated track at an industrial park are the public installations. Demos, basically. The thing is so slow that walking might be faster, and any bicycle or electric scooter would be much faster. Not fast enough to get people from Economy Parking to the terminal.

Navya, from France, seems to be further along. They provided the self-driving shuttles for the Las Vegas strip. They have a number of live mini-bus installations in Europe. They've announced an autonomous cab, but it is not deployed yet.

This is still something that can only be done if someone is willing to finance a money-loser. However, this is perhaps the best time in history for that.

[1] https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auton...

[2] https://youtu.be/xKOdux6Gjno?t=649

"Finance a money loser" is exactly how local government has been deploying buses all over my country for decades. I assume many countries are like this. Outside of major cities, the main users of the 100,000s of buses are those who cannot drive, primarily school children, disabled and elderly. The bus users pay more per mile than car owners, and the majority of the population pays a lot of taxation and air pollution. Removing vehicle emissions is a no-brainer, but removing the driver makes it possible to replace 50+ seat buses every hour with 4-6 seat buses every 5 mins and vary the routes or add additional vehicles dynamically in response to demand. Sadly this will take a long time - local government won't do anything until forced or until they see an obvious vote winner

Cars aren't a money loser? Think of all those parking spots that cities pay for as well as the massive road infrastructure (as well as extra utilities that have to be run to account for urban sprawl). Cars are massively subsidized.

> A surprisingly large number are with the vehicle being driven manually, or right after the human driver took over. True driverless still seems a long way off given those results.

Could that also be because the driver took over to try to avert the imminent collision?

> Now "all vehicles shown on road are renders" in fine print.

The images of the "Origin" are renders. Not all vehicles. They have plenty of data and footage from their actual self-driving cars.

Re "CA DMV's autonomous vehicle accident reports for 2019.[1] Cruise has a lot of them." Cruise has just put up a post dismissing the disengagement metric. It seems to me they're on a PR campaign to keep funding coming.


There are some indirect references to price in here: https://medium.com/cruise/the-cruise-origin-story-b6e9ad4b47... I don't know why they give both the manufacturing cost ("half the cost of what a conventional electric SUV costs") and the cost to the customer ("on average, see up to $5,000 back in their pocket every year").

“At this very moment, we’re running fleets of our third-generation vehicles on the roads of San Francisco, operating a rideshare service that any Cruise employee can use, 24/7”

This is so disingenuous. Every car has a human safety driver in it that they failed to mention.

And the "apply" link in the top right is for jobs, not for a closed beta.

Makes me think they published an update to keep investors happy.

Is there a rule these days that your startup isn't allowed to clearly describe what its product is?

Anyway, I guess this is an unmanned self-driving taxi service. Looks good, honestly. If it's significantly cheaper than a taxi with human driver, then maybe it really could help people not need to own a car. Especially if they can optimise routes to get more people riding at once.

Having to hunt for what the thing actually is also got me to notice the small disclaimer though:

> All on-road images of the Origin are renderings.

One distinct variety of company culture is one where the employees can't fathom a world where no one has ever heard of them.

That's ok though, especially if you target your marketing towards early adopters who would know who you are. I doubt some of these companies could handle the hype or scale of being a household name.

Well at least someone else has noticed. Off-topic but I've also started seeing modern software websites with no screenshots, to the point that I can get a better idea of what a product is like from the screenshots on Google Images than I can from all the text and pretty graphics on the site itself.

I suspect they do that because every update to your software/interface then renders your example screenshots outdated. For a startup at least and in my experience, that's a painful distraction when you want to just focus on building and getting people to your site. But I also go looking for screenshots and appreciate sites that provide them up front.

Quite possible but in that case I usually treat the website with scepticism. There are plenty of "fake it till you make it" type of products out there, and no screenshots or photographs on the site is a big signal for problem in my opinion.

Getting new screenshots doesn't seem very work intensive plus you can easily put screenshots of an earlier version and a disclaimer that the screenshots may not be fully up to date.

Big companies do it as well, to the point where I can't tell if it's split tested and proven more effective, or just a stylistic thing that they think is more important than effectiveness?

You can automate the taking of screenshots. Many teams already do this for visual testing of UI.

Doing it for marketing pages is similarly easy.

A good critique for the Nth start-up no one's ever heard of. Less useful for a $20B company owned by, and the future of, General Motors.

> Is there a rule these days that your startup isn't allowed to clearly describe what its product is?

1) Release vaguely worded press release announcing your imminent thing-which-will-change-the-world.

2) Read all the guesses at what you might be about to release.

3) If any of those guesses are better than your actual idea, then they become your idea all along!

The Verge video explains it better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3E7p4S_1m4

If it can't be described without a video, that's not a great sign.

It doesn't even have to be significantly cheaper. Being the same price as Uber & Lyft will be enough, as long as it is profitable/sustainable.

Why can't we just invest in buses? This will become the luxury/premium version of "public transit"

The only reason busses are the size they are is the labor cost of the driver only makes sense with many, many passengers. When that is eliminated, the equation changes.

Even if these weren't point-to-point, smaller vehicles can a) serve more routes that would otherwise be below breakeven for minimum passengers served by a bus, b) be more comfortable for passengers to enter/exit, and c) take up less room on streets. Buses barely fit on streets, they only make sense on very dense thoroughfares as an alternative to rail.

> c) take up less room on streets.

Not on a per-passenger basis, which is the metric that matters more in streets full of people traveling.

I appreciate that argument and in some/many situations it is likely true, but in others it is not.

What matters isn't people per square foot, it's throughput. And the larger the vehicle, the more likely:

a) people are to want to stop at each stop,

b) multiple people are to get on and off at each stop,

c) the less likely it is to be full, and

d) the more awkward and slow it is in maneuvering on streets.

A/B/D all delay every other passenger, and make 3 mile trips take half an hour through a city.

Cruise Origin isn't the only autonomous bus. The great thing about autonomy is that it allows us more degrees of freedom to optimize transportation needs including offering a variety of shapes and sizes and densities, while removing the labor cost and the physical space cost of a driver.

You can just as easily design an autonomous bus to have density to match a larger bus while retaining the footprint of smaller vehicles, which improves all of the above issues with larger busses.

Bus dwell time plays a nonzero role in bus performance, but many multilane urban streets are choked with cars during rush hour. It’s often the case that congestion accounts for the lions share of bus transit time, yet there are typically more people on the bus than in all the cars on a given block. Creating a dedicated bus lane can dramatically improve bus performance, and has a follow-on effect that since congestion has been mitigated, the same set of buses (a fixed capital cost) can, in the same timeframe (fixed operating cost), make more circuit trips. So not only does a single trip get much faster, a bus lane magically produces more capacity.

The Origin looks van sized, which is perfect. It doesn't take up significantly more space than a car while moving or stationary but can carry more people (and more importantly for congestion, likely will much of the time). Averaging three people per car/van sized vehicle would likely solve the vast majority of current congestion needs, as it would likely halve the vehicles on the road.

The Origin looks van sized, which is perfect.

Remember Supershuttle? They had vans. "Never more than 3 stops". Remember the long, long indirect routes of Supershuttle? Remember what happened to Supershuttle?

Lack of network effect, perhaps compounded by inadequate routing (I have no idea if they were as good as possible or much worse than necessary).

Network effect must be huge for a system like that. Imagine a large fraction of the cars on the road was shared in the way of supershuttle, you'd already have in that pool a near-perfect itinerary to tie into for almost any trip. And the remainder could easily be fulfilled by assigning a new trip. If you just have a few cars and price for shared occupancy tours will inevitably be much worse. But once you have a critical mass network, route inefficiency will be just a load factor price/performance tradeoff like in a hash-map.

On the other hand, Lyft Line and Uber Pool seem quite efficient.

Supershuttle was concentrated pickup but distributed dropoff, whereas with network effects leading to more vehicles & considerably more efficient routing, you can even that equation out a bit more.

I was thinking along the lines of alternating between a distributed pickup and concentrated drop off and concentrated pickup and distributed drop off. That is, you use these for last mile travel at either end of a commute artery.

Given there are many different bus/rail stops along a route (and many routes for buses), there's a relatively small geographic area to pick up in and drop of to when the other side of the trip is bus/rail. So you might have an automated van drive through an area and make a quick 4-6 pickups in a few block area, drive to a bus stop or rail station, drop those people off, and pick up 4-8 people for drop-off in close geographic proximity. Rinse and repeat.

The point doesn't have to be that they solve the last mile by replacing current mass transit, but by supplementing it in a way that allows for people that were far enough away that it was hard to use previously now have an easy and cheap way to do so, because you've expanded the coverage area of mass transit stations.

Yes, but. It's only perfect if there aren't other cars.

You are right, a bus trip I used to take regularly in London would take 15mins if you got the first bus at 5am, which was quite busy with shift workers. At 9am it would take 45mins with a similar level of crowding. A good portion of the journey was on bus lanes, but there were certain pinch points that killed the journey time in rush hour.

Throughput is an incredibly important one, but something that seems to get little attention from the tech world at least as far as I can tell. Is there work being done to improve throughput of normal cars at intersections, or at least semi autonomous ones. I am talking about the accordion effect that happens at each intersection/red light that there is. If a whole column of cars could start moving at the same moment, and then spread out with increase in speed it would result in an improved throughput at critical points in the cities.

Is there work in that area? I feel it shouldn't be a massive technical challenge, cars are stationary, lights are visible and in the future could even "talk" to each other to pass along critical information (if the car infront needs to brake for example).

Agree, those are the longer term efficiencies when we have primarily / only autonomous vehicles on the road. At that point we can optimize from the system POV not just from the vehicle POV. But that's a ways off.

But there is no reason why it couldn't be done today, even with non-autonomous vehicles. There are cars on the road that can automatically brake if they discover that you are incapacitated, or that something jumped out infront of you. Having some kind of "assisted red light start" which reduces accordion effect could be an easy way of improving throughput. At first only some cars would have it, and effect would be smaller from a system POV, but with time it would propagate.

The metrics that matters most are throughput and travel time.

Theoretically buses are best for throughput, but there's very few routes out there that can fill up a street with full buses. In most cases to totally alleviate traffic we need to take something like 4 people in 4 cars and put them in 1 van. Taking 100 cars and putting them in 1 bus is overkill.

Travel time is where big buses are going to lose. You have to balance density, transfers, and stops. There's no way to get them all. If you want density your buses have to go on the main thoroughfares. Which means you need to transfer to get to the secondary streets. Often trips will look like secondary route -> primary route -> secondary route which vastly increases travel time. Anywhere I want to go by bus in my city takes 3-4 times longer than driving because of this.

The sweet spot is Uber Pool/Lyft Line. You get there much faster and when you account for all subsidies it's price competitive with the bus.

That depends on how full the bus is. A bus remains bus-sized even if there are only a few people on board.

Plus it can come right to your house at (roughly) the time you want it. Closer to being like owning a car.

If transportation departments prioritized buses (ie bandwidth) over cars, buses would make a lot more sense on smaller nonresidential collectors and minor arterials. It takes a lot of cars to make up for one bus.

Labor costs are the only thing? Fuel efficiency and traffic (how many double parked Ubers jamming a single lane road will I see tomorrow? Will it be more or less than half a dozen?) would like a word.

> Labor costs are the only thing? Fuel efficiency and traffic

Is that the case? A quick Googling indicates that buses get 4–6 mpg; let’s go with the pessimistic end of that and assume 4 mpg. Diesel currently costs $3/gal and the average bus travels at 12.7 mph, which means that a bus is spending $9.53/hour on fuel. That’s a lot more than I expected, but how does it compare to bus driver wages?

Another quick Googling indicates that a bus driver makes a little over $15/hour. Double that for fully-loaded costs, and that comes out to $30/hr. That’s treble the cost of the gas, but still in the same ballpark. I’m genuinely surprised that the cost of fuel is so close to the cost of the driver. It may indeed be that fuel efficiency is a factor in bus size.

Yup. Also take into account that many municipalities have buses that run off natural gas, which is both cheaper and not (currently or generally) practical to run in a smaller vehicle.

You're right, not the only thing, but I do think it is by far the primary.

Efficiency-wise a large diesel vis-a-vis traditional car yes the bus wins by a lot, but with smaller multi-person autonomous electric busses I'm not sure if there are any meaningful efficiency gains.

Traffic-wise it may actually be better to have smaller autonomous busses than hulking road giants, because they're not stopping as frequently and they're more nimble. I swear every fifth time I'm around a bus it's stuck idling waiting for a bicyclist or someone to get out of the way, because it's too big to maneuver. Separated bus lanes help, but that isn't a property of the bus as much as urban planning.

How many empty or near-empty buses will you see driving around tomorrow?

I guess it depends on where when and where you ride the bus, but every time I get on a bus in San Francisco its overflowing with people to the point that they have difficulty closing the doors.

That's because you want to ride on the popular bus routes, which isn't a coincidence. If lots of people wanted to ride on the empty bus routes, they wouldn't be empty—they'd be the overflowing ones!

Bus routes are continually optimized. Empty buses end up losing routes or frequency, as needed.

That depends on the municipality- I’ve definitely lived places where a goal of the transit system was “access” even if the buses were nearly empty on some routes. I’m not sure it’s an invalid goal eithier.

How many empty or near empty cars will you see driving around tomorrow?

> The only reason busses are the size they are is the labor cost

They're big because they fit 50 people inside a single vehicle instead of 50 different cars.

Common city busses pack from 120-160 people.

That's a crush load number usually it's a lot lower. Unless if you're talking about articulated buses

Just an example number but yeah

Additionally, buses are certain sizes for political reasons. Constituents want a full sized bus driving through their neighborhood as a sign of respect given, passenger occupancy is not a concern in these situations.

I think you answered your own question.

I want a door to door bus without the homeless guy and two kids yapping on their phones.

I would love to never own or be responsible for a car ever again. Just summon them when needed or book them in advance.

Your wish will be summoned. Just make sure to never have kids and never fall on your luck.

I don't quite understand your argument. Should I enjoy sitting near people having violent mental health crises because I might one day have a mental health crisis? It seems to me that the compassionate approach would be to support the availability of mental health care. Being content with sharing public space with people suffering from mental health problems does not seem like a compassionate or helpful approach.

You? Probably not but true OP was taking about kids on cellphones, and people who looked poor.

Why no kids? I'm a dad without a car. I never wish I had a car.

It’s about not having to “deal” with kids on the bus.

How is it ab absolutist either/or situation?

You can have public buses as well as a private fleet of self driving cars.

Embrace the power of “and.” Public transit can coexist with whatever this future thing will be called.

Maybe. But the more well-off people crawl into cocooned experiences, the less they care about public infrastructure. Look, for example, at how suburbs not only often lack public transit themselves, but work to fight regional transit.

Well-off people are already the ones (involuntarily) funding the public infrastructure. No need to guilt trip any further.

They are funding it less and less. And things like the wave of white flight and suburbanization in the 1960s and 1970s make it clear how comfortable well-off white people are doing that.

In any case, I'm not arguing for guilt trips as a means of solving the problem. Instead, I think the right solution is the bedrock of any community: shared experience.

Are you implying this replaces mass transit? I don't understand how that makes any sense. Why didn't cars replace mass transit? Why hasn't Uber killed mass transit?

Cars did replace mass transit in many cities. Many cities had better mass transit decades ago than they do now. And ridesharing companies have had deleterious effects on mass transit. They haven’t killed it, but studies are starting to show there’s been some harm and, at the same time, that ridesharing contributes to worsening congestion.

Because buses are in many ways a worse experience than taking a cab or driving yourself.

Bus downsides:

1. Does not go from where you are to where you need to go. Having to go from and to bus stops increases travel time and reduces convenience. Even worse if you have transfers.

2. Scheduling issues. The bus may not go when you need it to. Late evenings, maybe not at all.

3. Stops lots of places where you don’t need to get off, making travel speed much slower.

4. Personal space problems. Having to sit thighs-touchingly close to strangers is unpleasant, and unless the bus is pretty empty, unavoidable. Even worse if it’s so full you have to stand.

5. Privacy problems. You can’t use the ride time to make a phone call, scratch your balls or do something else without having to share it with everyone around you.

6. Reliability problems. Depending on where you live, busses are often delayed or cancelled.

7. Noise problems. The bus is loud, the other passengers often noisy.

8. Comfort problems. Bus seats are usually a lot less comfy than a car seat, with less leg room, etc.

Busses are cheaper than taxis, and in some ways more convenient than driving, but those advantages do not outweigh the downsides for most people.

A bus doesn't pick you up from where you are and drive the shortest route possible to drop you to exactly where you want to go. I'm really surprised people don't understand this. Every time this topic is discussed on HN the same question gets asked.

And bus routes always somehow manage to offer two simultaneous problems: the bus stops are too far from your location and destination, and the bus stops so frequently that it takes forever to get anywhere.

This is analogous to micro transit - on demand, smaller buses or vans. One crucial difference, the most expensive cost is eliminated - the driver. Larger buses still have a significant place and will become much cheaper when the driver is gone.

Because unlike the private sector, the public transit officials don’t listen to the public. For example, everyone from across the SF Bay Area have been clamoring for BART to get stainless steel seating like what NYC and HK have for years. Why? Because it’s more hygienic and it’s less smelly over time. However BART just keeps using either some fabric or plastic based seating.

There are also only so many bus stops and it’s not on demand.

> Why can't we just invest in buses?

True fact: Not everyone who needs a bus is able to get to a bus stop, which is why cities have door-to-door paratransit services. Does it make you feel better if this replaces that instead of replacing buses?

Because buses are miserable and waste time. In my city I stopped using the bus after it took 50 minutes to get home from somewhere 15 to 20 minutes away.

The experience is bad because we don’t invest in them. Most cities have heavily prioritized single-rude vehicles and act like the resulting congestion is a natural part of life. If instead we had priority signals, lanes, etc. the experience would be far more pleasant. Unfortunately in most cities, however, that’s deemed a lower priority than more subsidized street parking.

If you want better public transit, advocate for transit agencies to buy these. I agree that the problem with busses is that they're slow and unpleasant to ride. Your solution is to speed them up by avoiding congestion. That would certainly help.

Even if we eliminated congestion though, with 30 people on a bus, average riders wait for 30 people to get on and 30 people to get off on their ride. The average person also has 30 people walk past them and possibly bump into them. Also, any time you get 30 random people together, probably one of them will be doing something unpleasant.

The alternative smaller busses. More, smaller busses make you wait less for others getting on and off, and there are less people to disrupt the ride. It means that the bus system can serve more routes, moving people more directly. ince you're not making 30 people make a detour, you can make bus routes dynamic and get closer to a perfect route for every passenger. With more busses, you can run more frequently, so there's less waiting for your bus to arrive. Smaller busses are also more maneuverable, so it's easy to get in and out of traffic. Smaller busses can also serve areas where the ridership doesn't support a big bus driving past every half hour.

The only thing stopping this from happening before was the cost of all of those drivers. If we solve that, public transit has the potential to get way better.

> Even if we eliminated congestion though, with 30 people on a bus, average riders wait for 30 people to get on and 30 people to get off on their ride. The average person also has 30 people walk past them and possibly bump into them

This is too simple a model: not all stops are equally popular and especially it’s leaving out the time needed to stop and start again relative to the time it takes people to board, not to mention the limiting factor in many areas being traffic and signals.

Like I said, reducing the traffic congestion that busses deal with will speed them up.

However, it is completely unavoidable that if there are 30 people on the bus at all times, the average person will have to wait for 30 people to board and 30 people to get off. That could mean 60 stops, or it could mean one stop where everyone gets off and everyone gets on. Obviously the second one is faster, but reducing stops also means people have to walk further, which increases travel time.

Except in extraordinarily dense cities, the iron math of transit is that if you want to have 30 people on a bus, you're going to have to make people do some walking, they're going to have to wait a little while for a bus, and even without any congestion, they're not going to go very fast because of all of the stopping. That makes the door to door time very unfavorable relative to driving, and so except in those extraordinarily dense cities, very few people that can afford a car use transit.

Because there are a bunch of people on the bus, getting on and off has to be hurried and stressful, because you're making 30 people wait. This is particularly annoying if you're traveling with luggage or kids.

The environmental benefits of transit are potentially big, but let's do the math. A city bus gets about 3.3 MPG (https://afdc.energy.gov/data/10310) It's low mostly because the bus is so heavy and has to stop so frequently. If you have 30 people on the bus, it's about 100 passenger miles/gallon. The average car is about 24 MPG. If you have 4 people in it, it's 96 MPG. If you have 1 person in it, it's 24 MPG, so we can see that the big efficiency benefit of putting people together happens with just a few people. Smaller vehicles are also more flexible. The city bus that is running full at rush hour is also running with 2-3 people on it at 10 at night. It might be getting 6 MPG with less stopping, but it's very wasteful to run such a large vehicle almost empty. Smaller pooled vehicles can still run relatively full in off hours, and the extra capacity sits parked not using any energy.

My point overall is that transit just gets much better in basically every dimension if you reduce the number of passengers per vehicle.

The only reason transit agencies aren't doing this now is the cost of the drivers. Even with the cost of the drivers, UberPool is a similar product with non purpose built vehicles that has been fairly successful. If you took out the cost of the driver and reduced the ride price accordingly, it would dominate passenger transportation.

Widening a street to put extra lines isn't a small undertaking. I like taking the bus and chose where I lived based on transit availability but I would much prefer small buses that run more frequently. Bigger buses are only full a small amount of time each day, but then run slower because they have to make more stops, and when they're not full they still take up a lot of room and require a lot of energy to run.

I'm so down with small self-driving buses.

At the risk of stating the obvious, you don't have to add extra lanes to make dedicated bus lanes, you just have to take lanes away from cars. Would not be popular, but if you could guarantee that these things didn't get stuck in traffic, and they ran frequently, I think they'd steal a huge amount of share from cars, and it would lessen the sting for many people.

Walk around a real neighborhood, most of the roads have only two lanes. There are no lanes to take away unless you want to convert every second street into a one-way, and that (by definition) is going to double the distance people have to walk to take a bus because they won't be able to run buses in both directions on the same street. You don't have to sell me on the virtues of public transit, but it's just a fact that large buses are not efficient in many respects because they are carrying only a fraction of their capacity most of the time.

Small buses that run more frequently address this problem.

> that (by definition) is going to double the distance people have to walk to take a bus because they won't be able to run buses in both directions on the same street

No it won't. At most it adds about a block. At best the new route is closer.

True, I mean mostly for main roads. Sibling post also had a good point that we could remove street parking and make another lane, in many cases.

In most cities you don’t even need to take a traffic lane: just the subsidized parking. Let people use garages or, better, take the bus and the entire area works better for everyone.

Oh yeah, great point.

You haven't actually proposed a solution though, because I have very little control over how much is invested in public transit, but I do have near total control over whether I take public transit.

Completely agreed that buses need lots of love, especially in SF.

However, Uber/Lyft exist, and this divide exists as we stand today. I really hope these are cheaper, and help us drive down the cost of transportation.

Secondly, I'm very excited about areas that are subruban-ish where we could get rid of many many cars and use something like this instead.

the photos imply to me that these are "micro" buses- they are shared as if you share the space with people unknown to you - https://images.ctfassets.net/95kuvdv8zn1v/7bBqzbzAyUqFclbeGM...

The person is getting on a different place to the rest... ?

I expect that you'd be able to pay a premium to get a vehicle to yourself (or use a different service that offers that). Otherwise you're at the mercy of their algorithms. Based on pickup and dropoff locations/times, each vehicle would pick 4-6 people from disparate locations and then work out the optimal route and drop schedule. You'd get a cheaper fare (or monthly subscription) in exchange for tolerating the extra pickups and dropoffs.

Fewer stops than a typical bus, more nimble, and more flexibility with locations/routes. I imagine we'll see apps that offer a further discounted fare if you move closer to a thoroughfare for pickup or accept a dropoff short of your house (e.g., end of the street).

That doesn't seem too unreasonable. The car-summoning services like Uber and Lyft already offer discounts for opting into shared rides where other riders may join you.

This is a completely valid concern, too. I would hope that these fleets would be operated in conjunction with the city – or even be municipally owned – and integrated with the public transit system. I feel that these would be great for last-mile transit, however, or serve areas that don't have the population density for high frequency transit; in my mind, these complement busses, not replace them.

Alternatively: the more efficient and affordable version of “taxis”.

Unlike buses, this has a chance to pay for itself.

Why should public transit have to pay for itself? The downstream economic benefits of mass transit are enormous. Expecting transit to break even is a recipe for poor service

But the original question was "Why can't we just invest in buses?"

And that's the answer. Who invests in something with negative ROI? (Which is, indeed, why so many mass transit systems are taxpayer-supported).

America is not built for public transit and without huge federal investment in rebuilding communities, that will not change. Simply getting more buses on the road when you're dealing with pretty huge suburbs is going to get very costly -- and remember, public transit fares can't be expensive to pay the costs, they have to remain low. So you're talking about a huge uphill battle with suburb communities who a) don't want "shit" in their backyards and b) don't want to pay for it.

So, this method is easier to roll-out, easier to bring profits from (especially with an ageing population who don't want to live in city centers), and can easily fit into nearly any community in America with ease.

Ideally, you would be right, we would instead be investing in a massive public transit overhaul from trains to buses but as the saying goes, we do not live in a perfect world.

"Simply getting more buses on the road when you're dealing with pretty huge suburbs is going to get very costly..."

The service we're talking about with the Cruise vehicles (and "easier to bring profits from") is getting more buses on the road in huge suburbs, right?

Why couldn't a service like this be purchased/leased by a community/city/state to become part of its public transport mix?

It's not like this will be the only self-driving minivan in the future.

> With the Origin’s ability to drive day and night and last for more than a million miles, we’ll be able to cut up to $5,000 in transportation costs per San Francisco household, per year.

What counts as a transportation cost? Do average San Franciscan households have $5k of local (i.e. replaceable with a robocab) transportation costs? We're one of the US cities with the most households without vehicles [1].

But even looking at the US average, $5K would be a big promise.

E.g. a quick search finds claims [2] that average US households are paying $250 in gas per month (-> 3k per year). That same source says the household average for transportation (including planes, trains, ships, vacations) is $9k.

For comparison, an SF muni pass with bart within the city is $98/month.

[1] https://www.governing.com/gov-data/car-ownership-numbers-of-...

[2] https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-household-budget#transp...

> that average US households are paying $250 in gas per month

Gas is definitely not the only expense to driving. Amortization of the vehicle value, insurance, and maintenance are all costs that you have to consider as part of vehicle ownership (or leasing).

If Origin were the difference between someone owning and not owning a car, it would be pretty easy to get to $5k. As you noted, $3k per year for gas. Another $1k for vehicle insurance. Another $1-2k for the value of the vehicle.

Calculated cost of purchasing and operating a used Ford Focus wagon for 7 years and 124600km, minus what I sold it for when it looked like it needed a new transmission: 36k EUR, or 0.29 EUR/km. Given Germany's allowed tax deduction of 0.30 EUR/km for long commutes or charity work, this was a relatively inexpensive car to operate. I could have optimized even more by dropping my high-deductible comprehensive/collision down to liability-only after the first two years. Despite Germany's really high fuel taxes, fuel was only 27% of the cost.

Details: https://mandie.net/2018/11/08/good-news-my-cars-transmission...

That's awesome! Thanks for the link.

I've been meaning to track my actual TCO for a vehicle, but I've always been too lazy. Appreciate you sharing.

Many thanks are due to my husband, who first started me thinking that way about cars when I was selecting this one, mapping out the estimated running costs of various used cars I was willing to consider, and then getting me into the habit of writing down the mileage for each tank.

Writing down the average liters/100km the car displayed for each tank gave me a good general feel for how much fuel it really used for various situations. Driving 220 km/h to Frankfurt for an emergency flight home? 14 l/100km (do NOT recommend, but hey, I got on that plane and had that last week with my mom). Normal Autobahn speeds down from the Austrian Alps? 5 l/100km. Speed or Stau (traffic jam) Autobahn traffic that's the usual situation in Germany and helped convince me that I really do prefer German trains, despite some schedule problems? 6.5 l/100km.

>E.g. a quick search finds claims [2] that average US households are paying $250 in gas per month (-> 3k per year).

Here are un-avaoidable things you are overlooking, at least for passenger vehicles people own/lease:

* Depreciation (with very few exceptions)

* Insurance

* Routine maintenance (brakes, tires, wipers, filters, oil, transmission fluid, coolant) and cleaning. Even on electric cars you have still have most of those.

* Parking (where applicable)

* Inspection (where applicable, minor)

* Registration (minor)

Transportation is very consistently a Top 5 expense for a given household, and for many households, Top 3. For people who go through cars like toothbrushes, usually second only to housing.


For those taking commuter rail, pass costs are a lot higher based on zones. In most markets, Zone 1 and Zone 2 isn't the most common users, but Zones 3 and further out. That puts costs substantially higher than BART or MUNI, and will usually be a portion (not complete) transportation costs.

If you are able to take a metro system exclusively, you're fundamentally paying part of that cost through higher housing costs (not doing so is an exception). Not something that may be directly attributable as "transportation cost", but the increase is there and very material in terms of higher housing costs.

At no point do I claim that the sole cost of traveling by car is gas. The question is not whether a household can spend more that $5k per year driving, owning and maintaining a car. My skepticism is that the _per household_ savings for the city would be that high. Apparently about a third of households don't have cars, and from what I can tell, a bunch of people have cars that they drive very little (which both lowers the replacement opportunity for robocabs, and demonstrates that some people apparently just like having a car). Approached another way, is SF the best city to start with, or would a city that started with higher car ownership figures give them a larger savings impact?

Re your comments about commuter rail/muni: 1. If you live in the peninsula or the South Bay, are you a San Franciscan? Should you count towards such a stat? 2. Yes, people living in the city pay very high housing costs, and part of the value of that housing is convenient access to everything else. But I'm really not expecting robocabs to bring down the cost of housing by decreasing demand. Even if it's cheap and convenient, transportation will always take time.

> Average annual [transportation] expenditures among low-income households come to $2,164, while higher-income households spend an average of $6,569


This one however says the average household spends $13,350:


It really depends where you get your data and what the specifics of your particular city are. AAA estimates north of $9K in total ownership cost for vehicles in the US [1]. I have a feeling this might be lower in SF since fewer people own vehicles than in the wider US and people who do own cars probably drive less than 15k miles and are more likely to own them outright.

The $5k number from Cruise is probably a bit suspect since I doubt this could totally replace vehicle ownership for even the majority of current drivers, but it's probably not more than $1-2k off.

[1] https://newsroom.aaa.com/auto/your-driving-costs/

At first I thought they were giving me $5000 for signing up as an early testers.

I got to ride on one of Lyft's self-driving taxis during last year's AWS conference.

If Lyft (and most of the other commentary on self-driving cars) is an accurate picture of the current state-of-the-art, then let's just say the tech has a long way to go before its ready for the kind of everyday use that we're being hyped up for.

I didn't think Lyft was even on the radar in terms of self-driving capabilities. Cruise is one of the top players and Waymo is still years ahead.

Lyft has their own self-driving car project https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20507925 but they partner with other projects as well. Currently Waymo and Aptiv have cars on the Lyft service. http://level52019.wpengine.com/partners/

Is Waymo really years ahead of Cruise? Given the different environments they're testing in, I'm not sure it's clearcut to compare how well the two are doing relatively.

Hard to tell but in 2018, Google had 3x the driving miles and less than half the disengagements per mile than Cruise did.[0]

[0] https://www.theverge.com/2019/2/13/18223356/california-dmv-s...

It is hard to say how similar different companies are when deciding what counts as a disengagement that needs reporting, but if the headline numbers are accurate, having twice as many disengagements per mile is extremely impressive; the SF environment is far more than twice as hard to drive in as suburban / highway environments.

Also, Cruise’s disengagement rates are already ahead of what Waymo averaged in 2018: https://miro.medium.com/max/1644/0*lYhqv0Bd82ocQP5T

Waymo disengagement rates were halved in 2018 though so they might be continuing to exhibit substantial improvements as well.

The big concern is human drivers hitting it. Like the Las Vegas autonomous car that was backed into by a truck within the first hour of going live. [0] For example, does it have a side impact safety rating?

I also noticed on their technology page [1] they say that they have "Deep Resources"

>> We have raised $7.25 billion in committed capital from General Motors, Honda, SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, and others. These investments help shave years off of our timeline to launch all-electric, self-driving vehicles at scale.

$7.25 Billion?



I would love for this to exist but don't really trust Cruise to get there. I see their cars around SF every day and almost always see someone with hands on the wheel. And one time I ran into one in self driving mode in an area with construction it was driving really erratically and scared me (biking).

Yes the safety driver must have their hands on the wheel at all times for - you guessed it - safety. Doesn’t mean car is not driving autonomously.

Regulations. Apparently most of the accidents on them are caused by the human driver getting scared and taking over.

So is this a concept car? Has it been built or launched anywhere? Unclear what this announcement actually is.

They say it's not a concept car; their intent is to put it in production. They need to get some approvals and exemptions first.

Edit: More details in this video from The Verge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3E7p4S_1m4

These PR materials are meant to go with a press demo of some sort that Cruise will host tomorrow. It will make more sense then.

The car has a pretty easy acceptance test:

1) Board the CEO and the CTO (with their families)

2) Drive from downtown LA to Lax.

Until than...

This mode of transport is very similar to how people ride Jeepney's in my country, the Philippines. I didn't see anything on how it would pick the routes, but I can tell you that it can get pretty smelly in there without windows.

Jeepneys are great though, I hope this mode of transport catches on.

Which reminds me of this article - https://medium.com/swlh/self-driving-cars-should-be-tuk-tuks...

Which reminds me that one concern with the Cruise vehicle is that, understandably, it looks as if it's heavy and built to US passenger car safety standards.

Whereas a tuk-tuk or jeepney designed exclusively for slower speed urban travel could be built sub-500kg which would be better for pedestrian safety and energy efficiency.

(Of course, especially in the US market, there are other factors that go into consideration, such as the perceived or real need to travel in 30+ mph mixed traffic, the need for large batteries that allow a high utilization factor between charges, etc.)

I thought of “tuk tuks” in the Phillipines and Thailand, Vietnam etc. when is saw this!

I can't quite tell, but do the front seats face backwards? I for one would never be able to use those seats. I'd get carsick in no time.

Reminds me of Zoox https://zoox.com/

How so? What overlaps do you see? Anything significantly different?

$7.25 Billion - https://www.getcruise.com/leadership

Yep, same GM, now add Honda and Son-sama and we're ready for act 2: https://youtu.be/p-I8GDklsN4

Just in time for global warming

Anecdotally, Cruise has been cruising around the city for years like they're helping rebuild Apple Maps or something.

Now we know, hard to miss the big launch, getting out of the 47 Van Ness and seeing the usual special event at SVN West.

How ironic it was at the old Honda dealership and less than 1/2 block away from the homeless navigation center.

Seeing as homeless folk ride free in MUNI, I have to wonder will they get to cruise in Origin, too? Maybe good Breed PR gesture.

Probably not. Wrong use case.

If they crash and burn hopefully the IP will be worth something. Otherwise seppuku time.

All the data from tooling around the city has got to be worth something.

Awesome product that does not exist.

Come on, it’s just the first month of the new decade.

The fact that it looks symmetric could be confusing to other traffic. You can't tell which side is front, and thus where it is (most probably) going.

Just put some lights on it. White at the front, red on the back

Its velocity and position on the road should be enough?

So, they made a bus?

Paul Graham:

"Quote-tweets of the form "You've invented <thing that already exists>" are almost always false. That form of witticism must for some reason be especially attractive to the mistaken."

Yeah, an autonomous, dynamically routed minibus that might significantly extend the reach and lower the cost of public transport. Not good enough for you?

Except that they don't actually have a working self driving technology to power it.

Incredible tech from the videos through the technology page and the medium post :O

Their UI looks incredibly sexy https://medium.com/cruise/the-disengagement-myth-1b5cbdf8e23...

Also the quality of their simulator, I've never seen anything like this in production.

> Their UI looks incredibly sexy

Are you talking about the GIFs in that article? I work on that tool, and just in case you're interested, it's open source, so you can play with it yourself: https://webviz.io :)

Nice work!

I hope they sell this to cities. We would seriously regret the privatization of public transit.

People always bring up Japan when describing how nice public transportation is, but almost all "public transport" is privatised over there. Meanwhile everyone's complaining about municipal transport in the USA.

What if multiple competing companies run fleets? Like taxi companies. No one player to rort all the riders?

Last time I visited a city with multiple competing bus companies, each had their own return tickets and annual passes that only work on their busses. I naively brought a return ticket for the green bus company from the train station, and when it came time to return that meant I couldn't get the black bus or the pink bus that came to the stop before the next green bus.

Needless to say, if each bus company runs two busses an hour, such a system changes a one-bus-every-ten-minutes route into a one-bus-every-thirty-minutes if two thirds of the busses won't accept your ticket.

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