So Very Uncool

The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

Here in my car, I feel safest of all …

Marc Andreessen is a smart guy but his views on shared cars strikes me as completely impractical.MG Siegler muses on Marc Andreessen’s view on the long term viability of cars:

Andy Serwer interviewing Marc Andreessen:

Speaking of cars, you’ve talked about a shared economy where people will share cars. They won’t own cars. You see a little bit of that today, but is that really the way the world’s going?

So this is when I get really excited. This is another example of the impact of information transparency on markets. We are 90 years or so into cars. And we drive our cars around. And we own our cars. And then when we’re not in our cars they sit parked. So the average car is utilized maybe two hours out of the day. It sits idle for 90% of the time. The typical occupancy rate in the U.S. is about 1.2 passengers per car ride. And so even when the car is in motion, three-quarters of the seats are unfilled.

And so you start to run this interesting kind of thought experiment, which is what if access to cars was just automatic? What if, whenever you needed a car, there it was? And what if other people who needed that same ride at that same time could just participate in that same ride? What if you could perfectly match supply and demand for transportation?

Taken a step further, what if you could bring delivery into it? Two people were going to drive between towns, and there was also a package that needed to go. Let’s also put that in there so we can fill a seat with a package. Just run the thought experiment and say, “What if we could fully allocate all the cars, and then what if we could have the cars on the road all the time?”

And of course the answer is a whole bunch of things fall out of it. You’d need far fewer cars. The number of cars on the road would plummet by 75% to 90%. You’d instantly solve problems like congestion. You’d instantly solve a huge part of the emissions problem. And you’d cause a huge reduction in the need for gas. And then you’d have this interesting other side effect where you wouldn’t need parking lots, at least not anywhere near the extent that you do now. And so you could turn a lot of parking lots into parks.

But people love their cars. They have their stuff in their cars, the car seats for their baby, their Frisbees, their golf clubs—it’s their second home. People aren’t going to give that up, are they?

Ask a kid. Take teenagers 20 years ago and ask them would they rather have a car or a computer? And the answer would have been 100% of the time they’d rather have a car, because a car represents freedom, right?

Today, ask kids if they’d rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There’s a huge social behavior reorientation that’s already happening. And you can see it through that. And I’m not saying nobody can own cars. If people want to own cars, they can own cars. But there is a new generation coming where freedom is defined by “I can do anything I want, whenever I want. If I want a ride, I get a ride, but I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to make car payments. I don’t have to worry about insurance. I have complete flexibility.” That is freedom too.

MG Siegler then writes “Even for me, with each passing year, owning a car seems to be far more of a hassle than it’s worth — quite literally. Yeah, yeah, Silicon Valley bubble talk for now, perhaps. But I think this mentality will spread rather quickly in many areas of the country.”

While nothing Andreessen says is incorrect, I don’t see what he’s suggesting is remotely possible. If you live in a high population density area where parking is impossible, businesses are close to one another, and public transportation is good it will make you forget that most of the country is spread out into the suburbs. How would you possibly guarantee all these people in the suburbs have transportation any time they need it without them all having cars? It’s nonsensical.

And so you start to run this interesting kind of thought experiment, which is what if access to cars was just automatic? What if, whenever you needed a car, there it was? And what if other people who needed that same ride at that same time could just participate in that same ride? What if you could perfectly match supply and demand for transportation?

I don’t want some random lunatic sharing my car with me any more than I want to pick up a random hitchhiker. The only reason you tolerate it on a bus or a subway is because you have to. This is a horrible notion.

Taken a step further, what if you could bring delivery into it? Two people were going to drive between towns, and there was also a package that needed to go. Let’s also put that in there so we can fill a seat with a package. Just run the thought experiment and say, “What if we could fully allocate all the cars, and then what if we could have the cars on the road all the time?”

So now my new BFF in the passenger seat and I can be someone else’s UPS? What is the lunatic who hitched a ride with me now wants to steal my neighbor’s scheduled delivery? 

Americans love their cars. They won’t give up what they have unless you can guarantee they’ll have something better. The car technology that gets me most excited is self-driving cars. Imagine if you were on roads where the car was the only possible driver. Google claims its self-driving cars are safer than human driven cars. The potential for lower accidents, safer driving, and possibly less traffic-congestion is far more interesting to me than ‘take a car, leave a car’.