Most people believe that self driving cars will not be available for many years and will not have any major effect on the transport of people and goods within their lifetime. Not so.
All the major manufacturers are researching self driving cars and most new cars incorporate some aspects of the technology. You can now buy cars that will: follow the car ahead in a traffic jam; ensure that you stay in the lane on a motorway; automatically apply the brakes if you are about to run into another car or a pedestrian and so on.
Google has been working on self driving cars for many years now and their cars have driven 700,000 miles without a single accident that could be attributed to a technology failure. In 2005 they won the US Army prize for a driverless vehicle that could traverse unmetalled winding roads at speed. They hope to have a vehicle capable of driving itself on sale in 2017 and certainly by 2020. The ultimate aim is to produce a car without brake or throttle pedals and without a steering wheel.
In the heavy transport industry, tests are being carried out on trucks and buses that can drive in convoys along motorways with only a single driver. When each truck reaches its designated off-lane it takes and parks safely waiting for a driver.
The potential advantages of self driving cars are enormous. 80% of car accidents are driver-caused so the potential for reducing accidents is enormous. Because the cars will communicate with each other they will be able to drive closer together on motorways without any risk of rear end crashes. Traffic density on motorways could be increased by a factor of three.
Self driving cars will also provide cheap and efficient personal transport. In the not too distant future we will be able to call up a self driving car with our smart phone, tell it when we want to go and when we arrive at their destination it will drive off to pick up the next passenger. For many families, this could eliminate the need for a second car and it would certainly make a huge difference to traffic congestion in city areas. There may also be fleets of roving minibuses under the control of a central system that selects a minibus going in your direction and directs it to pick you up.
All these things will happen and, probably, sooner than you think because they offer huge advantages over private cars, buses and, especially, trams and trains. But, as with many major advances, we can be sure that those who believe in and profit from trains, trams and buses will do everything they can to delay their introduction.
If the Auckland Council researched this technology properly I am sure that they would abandon plans for a rail tunnel that, for sure, will suffer from huge cost overruns and delays and carry half the number of passengers that they predict. It will be a financial burden on the city for decades.