Report from Santiago protests and thoughts on mass protest in a robocar world

Street fire lit by protesters in Santiago, Chile

I just got back from Santiago, Chile, which was brought to a standstill this weekend by mass protests over economic conditions. Once out, I started thinking how mass protest (and even riots) might change in a world where robocars are providing the transportation, instead of the private cars and transit systems which were central in these protests.

It's a very mixed bag, with good and bad for both the city and the protesters. At some levels, a highly distributed transportation system can be more robust, but the nature of robots means it could be very easily to choke most of the streets quickly.

Read my new article Santiago Protests Shut Down Transit - what happens in the robocar world?

I am curious as to reader views on these issues, and what solutions might exist to them.


Reading this made me think about whether or not a government would be likely to commandeer a robotaxi fleet during protests. But that got me thinking about whether or not we're even likely to have privately owned robotaxi fleets. Why not have all transportation handled by government-owned robocars?

Lots of reasons why not, of course, but mostly the same reasons not to have things like all health care handled by government.

As far as I know, government ownership of taxis is very rare. Government control of traditional taxis is strong, though in the past that has not meant deep control, like controlling where they go in real time.

Governments have tended to own transit systems, but there are a number of cities that have private transit. I expect a shift to private transit if we do things right, but governments will cling to ownership and control of that, in large part because they usually subsidize transit very heavily, making private competition difficult unless it's quite different from the government offering. And of course the government controls the ROW, including private ROW for transit. In many cities, taxis are allowed to use the bus lanes.

The reason why governments tend to not own taxi services is probably that they are traditionally an expensive, luxury form of transportation. Robocars will change that. Robotaxis will compete on price and efficiency with transit, which as you note is frequently government-owned.

I'm not sure if it'll happen or not, but given the current trends in the USA (a groundswell of support for "free" health care, "free" college, etc.), I wouldn't be surprised by it. And that's the USA. There are plenty of other countries already much more socialized than we are.

It could start out fairly innocuous. A government fleet of robotaxis to fill in the gaps in the transit system. Then replacement of some transit routes with robotaxis. Then "if you like your robocar you can keep your robocar." Then just an outright ban of privately-owned robocars.

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