Kelowna News

Driverless cars won't ease congestion when they come to your city

Driveless cars may be coming sooner than you think.
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KELOWNA - It’s time for medium-sized cities to move beyond their worries about single-occupancy vehicles and start thinking about zero-occupancy vehicles.

That’s one of the key messages delivered to Kelowna City Council through a staff report today, Feb. 25.

“Imagine sitting in traffic and you look around and every car around you is empty,” Active Transportation Coordinator Matt Worona told council.

Driverless cars would allow a person to be dropped off at work or at an appointment and send the car to circle the block until needed since it can be cheaper to run an electric car than pay for parking.

Or, the car can be sent off to find a free parking space, or even sent back home, adding to congestion and leaving parkades empty.

“We are a mid-sized city but we’re not a suburb of anyone,” Integrated Transportation Deparment Manager Rafael Villarreal told council. “We are self-contained.”

That means, instead of driverless vehicles being mostly a big city option, smaller cities should start planning for them, along with other changes in transportation technology, like apps that tell riders when their buses are going to arrive and an increase in the desire to share cars and bikes.

It can also mean changing how sidewalks are used so, instead of parking spaces, there are drop off points and bike stands.

And, while driverless cars seem to be something far in the future, especially for smaller cities, Worona’s report suggested they could start showing up in Kelowna as early as next year and reach an 80 per cent rate of use by 2025-30.

“It’s a world of possibilities,” Villarreal told council. “Billions of dollars are being invested worldwide. At some point there will be a breakthrough that will accelerate this thing.”

Driverless cars could even mean someone could live in Grand Forks, get up early to commute to work in Kelowna and sleep through the whole trip, Worona suggested.

“I think you’re way off base as far as your time lines go,” countered Coun. Maxine DeHart, who complained about the problems of even finding an electric car to buy in Kelowna, let alone a driverless car.

She was supported in that view by Coun. Luke Stack who noted that, when he talks to car dealers, all they’re selling are pick-up trucks because that’s what customers want. And, he cited a documentary he watched recently on ethanol-fueled vehicles that might actually increase single vehicle occupancy.

At the other end of the spectrum was Coun. Gail Given.

“I look about what has happened with the changes in the retail world and I look at, just in the last two or three years, what proportion of the population is happy to order online,” she said. “To say it’s going to be a long time coming is naïve.”

Coun. Charlie Hodge went so far as to say staff should be looking 20 or 30 years down the road when there may be flying vehicles.

Later this year, the city will release what it calls its Disruptive Mobility Strategy that will take a deeper look into how to plan for these changes.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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