Case Studies in Autonomous Vehicles, Part I: Shared Use Vehicles and the Challenge of Multiple, Intermediate Stops


There has been a lot of discussion about the potential of autonomous vehicles to change our transportation landscape, in particular the potential for such cars to be shared, reducing car ownership, parking needs and congestion on our roads. A principle idea behind this concept is that since autonomous vehicles can be driven from stop to stop without a driver, they will be cheaper and more mobile, prompting current car owners to switch to mobility as a service (MaaS) where rides are purchased on an as needed basis.

A recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company notes that although ridesharing services are growing, they still represent only about one percent of the vehicles miles traveled in the United States each year. The development of autonomous vehicles by itself is unlikely to radically change this statistic. Why not? Viewed from the perspective of the consumer-passenger, the fact that autonomous vehicles can pick up passengers all day without a driver does not in itself present a compelling reason for a person to switch from ownership to sharing. Rather, a number of other considerations, including convenience, safety, speed, and overall cost, likely will shape consumer decisions about whether to own or share. So while autonomous vehicles may be a necessary condition for widespread ride sharing, they are not sufficient. In other words, automation alone will not be enough.

Viewed from this lens, we need to think about how to design autonomous vehicles and our urban landscape to encourage MaaS (even if this consists only of single passenger rides in one “shared” vehicle). In so doing, we should acknowledge that sharing will not just happen. Rather, the experience of sharing vehicles and/or rides must be equal to or more compelling than owning in terms of convenience, reliability, cost and other factors.

The Challenge of Multiple, Intermediate Stops

One of the biggest challenges to shared use of autonomous vehicles lies in the need for individuals to make multiple, intermediate stops during the course of their trip and store goods along the way. A few examples are helpful to consider:

Example 1 – Family Beach Day

A family goes to the beach for the day, stopping first by car at the convenience store for 15 minutes to pick up some sunscreen and some snacks. They throw these items into their trunk and then go to the beach. When they arrive at the beach, they need a place to store their personal belongings such as keys, etc. so they hide them in their vehicle. When they are ready to head back home, they put their used beach towels and other equipment back in their trunk and ride home. Since they are making multiple stops and need to store belongings both during the interim stop and at their destination, the family may choose to drive their own car rather than using a ride hailing service. Also, they don’t want to be dropped off at their initial stop at the convenience store, have to wait a second time to get picked up to go to the beach, and then a third time to return home, incurring charges for each ride.

Example 2 – Shopping Excursion

A couple wants to visit three shops in three different neighborhoods. Like our beach going family, they may need to store any goods they purchase during the course of their journey. This could lead them to drive themselves rather than use a ride hailing service. Also, if they use a ride-hailing service, they will have to pay for three sets of rides. Autonomous vehicles may make these rides less expensive but they will not necessarily solve the logistical considerations.

Multiple, intermediate stops raise two significant challenges for shared use vehicles: (1) the challenge of where passengers store belongings during multiple, intermediate stops; and (2) ride-hailing services become more expensive for passengers who need to pay for multiple-destination rides.

Most individuals at some point need to make multiple, intermediate stops and to store possessions along the way. If such individuals have such needs even a handful of times, there may be a compelling case for them to continue owning a vehicle rather than using shared car services. To encourage ride sharing will require some creative thinking about how to structure this service and accommodate shifting logistical and storage needs. This might include new forms of personal and urban storage or amenities included in shared vehicles that make it easier to handle multiple stops. The key point is that automation alone will not solve all our problems. Rather, we will need to “work on it” just like most other endeavors.


Much has been said about the potential for autonomous vehicles to drive MaaS and convert vehicle owners to purchasers of trips on an as-needed basis. There is exciting potential in this idea and one that could transform our landscape in a positive manner. However, such thinking sometimes ignores the need for multiple, intermediate stops, and the accompanying “dwell” time that comes with them. These types of trips present a significant challenge to utilization of shared use vehicles. Ride hailing companies and anyone with an interest in expanding the market for MaaS should carefully think through exactly how trips can be engineered so as to make them equivalent or superior to the experience of owning a vehicle.

Blair Schlecter is based in Los Angeles and writes about transportation policy and innovation. He can be reached at

Photo: Flckr user jurvetson (Steve Jurvetson). Trimmed and retouched with PS9 by Mariordo [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons