You wake up Monday morning, shower and eat a quick breakfast. You let the dog out and see the kids off to school when the bus arrives. Then you leave the house and step into the back seat of a car that's already waiting for you in your driveway. You sit comfortably as the car heads to your local train station, checking emails and preparing for your workday along the way. When you arrive at the station, you don't need to worry about fighting with other commuters while looking for parking. Instead, the car pulls right up to the front of the building and you're on your way to the train.
Tomorrow, this will be exactly what life is like for millions of Americans when driverless cars take over our roads. Today, this is already what life is like for 100 commuters in the town of Summit, NJ, where Uber has reached an agreement with the city to provide low-cost rides to and from the train station each day as part of an innovative six-month pilot program.
The town of Summit is a suburb of Manhattan, which is a relatively quick 45-minute train ride away. As is the case with all New Jersey towns that are a stone's throw from New York City, the population of commuters has grown quickly over the years, leaving city managers with a problem: The local train station simply doesn't have the capacity for all the commuters who want to park there.
As BuzzFeed reported on Sunday evening, city administrator Michael Rogers was faced with a choice. Either he could push to free up roughly $10 million from the city's budget to expand the parking at the station, or he could get creative.
"We wanted to offer residents a convenient alternative to driving and looking for parking spaces, which can be scarce," Rogers told the blog. "If I could free up 100 parking spaces, that would help alleviate some of the demand and capacity constraints. One hundred parking spaces is pretty significant in our system."
He approached Uber with the idea and managed to put together a pilot program that was announced this past weekend. About 100 residents of the city will be able to ride to and from the train station each day for the same price as a parking pass — $4 per day, or $2 each way. The deal will cost the city of Summit an estimated $167,000 annually, less than 2% of what it would have cost to build a new parking lot.
The cost to commuters might be the same as parking at the station, but there is far more value in this deal than there is in a parking pass. As anyone who commutes by train will attest to, not having to worry about fighting with other cars for parking spaces each morning is worth 10 times that daily fee. Not having to trek to the station through snow or rain from the furthest corner of a parking lot is an added bonus. And while the cars in this case aren't driverless, the deal still gives the world a taste of what life will be like when the hassles of driving, parking and even owning one's own car are a thing of the past.
"Our program is the first of its kind in the United States to use ride-sharing technology as a parking solution," Summit Mayor Nora Radest said. "Our innovation has the potential to shape how municipalities think about and implement parking options in the future."
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