And I don’t mean Missouri. :-) Here’s a recent update on a very interesting technological development, the self-drive, self-park private vehicle.
This thing, if it ever comes to fruition, could present a partial solution to the huge headache America faces as its baby-boom generation ages away from independence. The biggest pressure to move oneself into a life-care or assisted care institution is loss of the ability to drive a car. And the reason for that is that in about 99.9% of American towns and cities, public transit is simply not a practical option.
Most of us wish not to be warehoused in a holding pen where old folks wait for death. It’s a horrible prospect, and those of us who know people who have enjoyed that treatment have seen the depression and decline that quickly follow admission to one of those places, which drain your life savings in exchange for sad living conditions and bad food. But for many of us, there’s really no other choice.
If you don’t live in a city like New York, which has more or less usable public transit, your days of living independently in your own home expire with your final driver’s license. A friend of mine, Tootsie, saw exactly that happen to her.
In her mid-80s, she ran a signal at a major intersection and, not surprisingly, someone crashed into her. No one was injured, thank goodness, but both cars were totaled. A few months later, she ran a stop sign in my neighborhood, apparently because she thought it was a four-way stop. It was not. The SUV that ran into her was, yes, totaled. Again, no one was hurt.
But the two accidents in close succession alarmed her kids so much that they insisted she get rid of the car, which, being the accommodating type, she did.
The result was dismal.
She lived just far enough away from her son that it was inconvenient for him to get to her place to help her and drive her around on errands — nor did he feel much enthusiasm for having to do so. He would go out there about once every week or ten days. Less, if he could get away with it.
Phoenix being a 100% automobile-oriented city, access to even the most basic necessities meant blocks of walking through heat that can reach 118 degrees in the shade. Heat radiating off asphalt and concrete can make your external car thermometer register numbers upwards of 125 degrees.
Public transit in Tootsie’s part of town was essentially nonexistent. She tried: waited 30 minutes before a bus showed up. I myself have stood for 45 minutes waiting for a bus in this town. Few bus stops here provide seating or shade structures — most people end up standing in the full sun or, if a nearby business or home has a lawn, sitting on the grass. Getting around on public transport here is extremely inconvenient for younger, fit people and out of the question for the elderly.
The city used to have a Dial-a-Ride service for the disabled and the elderly, but recently they discontinued access to it for people who were merely too old to walk far. Unless you’re in a wheelchair or on crutches, you can’t use that anymore.
This meant she couldn’t get groceries, she couldn’t buy personal products or pick up a prescription, she couldn’t take her ailing dog to the vet, she couldn’t get herself to the doctor unless her son or a friend drove to her home, picked her up, and schlepped her around town.
Trapped in her double-wide, she grew increasingly depressed and listless. When her daughter visited from Seattle, she was appalled to find the cupboards low on food and Tootsie’s normally spotless house disheveled. She persuaded her brother that their mother should be put in a care home, and within a few weeks, off she went to the Beatitudes.
This old-folk’s warren is one of the better institutes in town. But still…an institution is what it is.
Tootsie, who had a resilient and up-beat personality, at first bubbled on cheerfully about how grand it was to have someone else to do the cleaning and cooking. But it didn’t take long for the depressing aspects of imprisonment in a one-room studio inside a facility with locks on the doors to take effect. Within a few months, she lost interest in living, withered away, and died.
Personally, I’d rather take a flying leap off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon than die a day at a time in an “assisted living facility.” I am convinced that Tootsie would have lived longer if she had been able to stay in her home, and the quality of the last year or two of her life would have been infinitely better.
Being able to get to grocery stores, drug stores, and other routine destinations on her own would have made that possible.
That’s why I see the planned self-driving, self-parking car as a life-saver in more ways than one. It not only may save lives by avoiding collisions, it will keep older adults independent in their homes.
Obviously these things are going to be ludicrously expensive when they hit the market. But consider what a year in a life-care community costs: thousands of dollars a month. You can hire a lot of cleaning help and buy a lot of restaurant breakfasts and dinners for six or eight or ten grand a month. And you could realistically get there in a car that will chauffeur you to the restaurant while you kick back and read your Kindle. Even at sixty, seventy, maybe even eighty thousand dollars, a self-driving vehicle would save so much over assisted living that it would pay for itself within a couple of years.
And you might have a shot of living life and enjoying it for that couple of years.
This is one of the reasons I decided not to replace the aging Dog Chariot in 2015. Admittedly, it’s way down on the list of reasons…but it surely does register. The lightrail extension past our ’hood will go into service late this year or (more likely) next year. A station will be within walking or scooter-riding distance of my house, and the train will run down to the Ghetto Costco, passing a Sprouts, a Walgreen’s, and two other grocery stores, as well as to the upscale AJ’s market and to all the downtown entertainment venues.
If that strategy works — riding the lightrail to reach places that sell basic needs — it will extend the ancient car’s lifetime by a lot. Even before I retired, I only put about 10,000 miles/year on the tank. If some of those miles can be traveled on a train, then the 30,000 to 50,000 miles that Chuck thinks he can squeeze out of the Chariot translate not as three to five years but as maybe six to ten years.
By then, automakers may very well have functional self-driving vehicles to put on the road.