Is the EZ-GO the Future of Taxis?
At the 2018 Geneva Motor Show Renault revealed a concept car detailing their vision of how ride hailing services would operate in the not too distant future – the EZ-GO.
The EZ Part
The EZ-GO is an electrically powered, level 4 autonomous vehicle, meaning it will operate independently of a driver. It will certainly need that ability as one of the most obvious features missing from the vehicle is a drivers seat - as well as basic controls like a steering wheel and pedals.
The vehicle cannot be controlled from within the car by anyone other than the autonomous system, but may be accessed remotely from a control room if needed.
The absence of driver paraphernalia leaves space for up to 6 passengers and luggage in a spacious pod, accessed via the front of the vehicle. A canopy that covers two thirds of the cars length raises to allow passengers to walk in, and closes again once everyone is seated.
Seats are arranged in a horse shoe around the back of the vehicle, allowing for better social interaction. Or if you’re not in a talkative mood you can make use of the excellent views from within the pod as it’s made with a lot more glass than we’re used to in cars. More akin to something off the London Eye.
The overall effect is very futuristic, and has been intentionally designed that way. Renault doesn’t see this becoming a reality until the later half of the next decade and so have made it to look very removed from today’s vehicles, with one eye on where car design could end up.
Integrating the GO
Renault believes the EZ-GO will provide a new solution to mobility and transportation in busy cities, operating as a service half way between a taxi and a bus. Fares will be priced accordingly, being more expensive than a bus but less than a normal ride hailing service.
The service will work on a constantly updating network of temporary routes that users can send their ride request to. The EZ-GO network would then replot the courses of vehicles in order to direct a car to accommodate the request in the most efficient way – while still meeting the demands of its current and future passengers.
The service would also have the option for shared or private cars if desired. This would no doubt affect the waiting time for your ride to get to you as the network tries to rebalance itself and find you an empty car, and will probably affect the price too.
The concept underlines Renault’s commitment to a fully autonomous future, but where Renault is differing is how soon they’re paving the way for vehicle sharing – which may well be how the majority of people use cars in the future.
The indications are that the autonomous cars of the future are going to be significantly more expensive than current models, meaning outright car ownership will move into an increasingly more luxury market.
Car ownership in dense cities is already seen as non-essential, and these developments would only increase demand for services like the EZ-GO further. A secure, affordable taxi type service would be welcome among many residing in large cities, particularly if it was integrated with existing public transport services to form a comprehensive network.
Not Without Consequence
If we ever arrived at a stage where the EZ-GO concept becomes mainstream, there are some issues to be considered.
A widely held view is that the increasingly levels of automation will result in many job roles being replaced by artificially intelligent machines in the near future. Unfortunately for those that drive for a living, taxi and delivery services are squarely in the sights of this progression.
Despite Renault stating they see the EZ-GO as a new option for travel, it’s hard to see how traditional taxis and minicabs will compete with it in major cities.
By offering the same service for less, driven carriages will struggle to compete. Autonomous carriage networks will be able to run all day and all night with no gaps in service, and likely eliminating the bank holiday and night time premiums currently charged.
The industry will have to adapt.
Another concern is similar to an argument currently embroiling the rail networks. Rail Companies want to do away with guards on trains, deeming them unnecessary with current technology. The argument against that approach is if there was a problem, who could passengers turn to for assistance.
It’s an extremely valid question as it can be a long time between stops, and only someone who has been in that situation will be able to tell you just how much it meant to them to have someone there to help - be it advice, medical emergency, antisocial behaviour, or worse...
Despite the relatively low capacity, the EZ-GO is still potentially a public space when not exercising the private option, and how that space is controlled and protected is a legitimate concern.
In practice, how likely is it that there will be a private car available within a realistic time period, and what will it cost to do so. These time and cost pressures may well force those travelling alone, or who are otherwise vulnerable, to have to share a confined space with a group of strangers.
Anyone who’s been to a car park recently and had to squeeze up against the latest SUV will be able to tell you that parking spaces seem to be mysteriously shrinking. Or more accurately, cars are growing.
The London Taxi, despite appearances, is not a small vehicle. The latest TX4 model is as long as a Land Rover Discovery and over a foot wider. The EZ-GO is two feet longer than that, and another half a foot wider.
For cities, that represents a problem as space becomes increasingly scarce. If London replaced its fleet of taxis and private hire vehicles standing at 242,000 as of 2015 with a vehicle 18% bigger it would be noticed.
It could turn out that an increase in the ride sharing the EZ-GO promotes will reduce the number of other vehicles on the road and the difference evens it self out. But you can’t help but think that for a vehicle that occupies over two square metres more area and doesn’t have a driver or controls, it could have fit more than six people inside – the same as a Taxi.
It must be remembered that despite the EZ-GO having a concept model it is still an early concept, and one that will no doubt go through numerous changes before the idea is fully realised.
The technology isn’t quite there yet, but it will be. With so many automotive manufactures and some of the biggest tech firms on the planet all working towards making autonomous driving and electric vehicles a reality, it’s very much a case of when rather than if. When it happens it promises at lot of change, for everyone.
The EZ-GO may well represent the next step in transportation - semi-public transport. Designed to wean us off our dependency on vehicle ownership before the next phase of technological innovation changes everything again. Or it may not, as manufacturers manage to make the next generation of vehicles affordable for everyone, and things stay largely as they are. We shall just have to wait and see - but at least it looks better than a Johnny Cab...