Is Uber Today’s Pony Express?

Is Uber Today’s Pony Express?

The Pony Express, a glamorized mail service, earned a prominent role in American history, carrying mail and messages from the East Coast to California in ten days.

The Pony Express has been featured in movies and in novels about the West.

Unfortunately, it lasted less than two years, being put out of business by a new technology, the Telegraph.

Uber is making headlines as a pioneering ride hailing service, with drivers using their personal cars to transport people for a fee. It’s been referred to as a technology company, using the latest communication devices and apps to schedule rides.

It’s disrupting other transportation services, such as taxis. But it’s using ordinary vehicles and requires a driver.

Won’t it go the way of the Pony Express with the advent of autonomous vehicles?

Couldn’t autonomous vehicles be the future for public transportation?

For example:

A customer using an app calls for an autonomous vehicle to transport him from one location to another. The financial transaction is done using a communication device, with the location of the passenger and the ultimate destination transmitted to the vehicle by the same device.

Rather than being an oversized car, or a car such as the Prius that is difficult for people to enter, a specialized small, driverless vehicle, with the capacity to conveniently hold two people and their luggage, arrives to pick up the passenger.

It might be an aerodynamically stylish vehicle like the former Waymo, Firefly, but it could just as well be a boxy affair making better use of space.

Waymo Firefly

Such a vehicle could lend itself to being battery powered. On average, a taxi drives less than 250 miles per day, with some of that time merely cruising, looking for passengers. A battery powered vehicle could cover this distance before needing to be recharged.

With autonomous vehicles they wouldn’t need to cruise looking for passengers. They would sit waiting for the call from the person needing a ride.

An urban setting, where every street is well defined, lends itself to autonomous vehicles.

Such a vision for “autonomous-ride-on-demand” requires three conditions to be successful, aside from the technology that is well on its way to being realized.

They are:

  • Reliability
  • Safety
  • Cleanliness

Reliability and safety are obvious, but cleanliness could be crucial.

With Uber, the car’s owner cleans and take care of the vehicle.

An “autonomous-ride-on-demand” vehicle has no such caretaker, unless the owner builds it into the system.

No one wants to enter a vehicle that is filthy dirty, with who knows what spread around on the seat and floor.

There will have to be a system for routinely cleaning and washing the vehicle. If done centrally, it would also accommodate recharging the batteries or refueling the vehicle.

Ride sharing companies, such as Uber, have two, possibly three advantages over other existing forms of public transportation.

  1. They have low capital costs from not having to buy vehicles, but fares must include both the cost of the driver and depreciation of the driver’s vehicle.
  2. They have very few employees
  3. Taxi cabs tend to be decrepit, and frequently not very clean

“Autonomous-ride on-demand” vehicles can largely offset the advantages held by ride sharing companies such as Uber.

Cost advantages for “autonomous-ride-on-demand” transportation

  1. Capital costs for purchasing vehicles can be lowered substantially by:

(a) Using a small, purpose built vehicle, without the need for styling

(b) Extending the life of the vehicle to perhaps ten years:

(i) Having easily interchanged components, such as seats

(ii) Using durable interior materials

  1. Not having to compensate drivers
  2. Having few if any employees
  3. Having consistently clean vehicles that appear new

The Pony Express provided a needed service for a very short period, and was replaced by a new technology.

Might that not also be the case with today’s ride hailing services?


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2 Replies to “Is Uber Today’s Pony Express?”

  1. Yes….evolve or be eradicated. Without a driver union to support, the evolution may be quick. I am sure the cries of health and safety and security will be heard. Autonomous vehicles have a niche in dense urban and maybe some suburban areas. Rural suburban areas where we live are just now served by taxis. Uber?!? Not yet.

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