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Who's going to drive you home?

Tags: Property Insight Residential

Self-driving cars could radically transform city-living and increase property values in Auckland’s outer suburbs and satellite townships, believe real estate professionals.

The technology, which could be on the market in as little as two years, has the potential to shorten commuting times by eliminating traffic jams – making homes in the suburban fringes a more attractive prospect.

It could also spell the end of the personal car, freeing up space needed for garages and driveways and forcing city planners to rethink how they build and service communities.

Self-driving cars – defined as any car that is capable of accelerating, braking and steering a course without human input – are no longer just a gimmick from a science-fiction film.

Companies like Tesla, BMW and Mercedes have plans to release driverless vehicles in the next three years. Uber predicts its full fleet will be driverless by 2030, and claims its vehicles will soon become so ubiquitous and inexpensive that car-ownership will become obsolete.

The technology will have a huge impact on how we live and how we work. Its effect won’t simply be felt in the car industry, it will disrupt a wide range of sectors and industries, from insurance and policing to goods delivery and real estate.

So, what will happen when will driverless vehicles rule the streets?

Bayleys national residential manager Daniel Coulson said the technology’s impact on the real estate sector could be significant.

“Driverless vehicles will allow people to better utilise their travel time - they could catch up on work, sleep or simply relax instead of driving,” he said.

“As a result, demand for properties in outer suburbs and rural locations could significantly increase. In Auckland, this could push up house prices in greenbelt locations such as Te Kauwhata, Warkworth and Helensville.

“However, as much as driverless cars could accelerate urban sprawl, human nature dictates there will always be demand for high-quality homes close to social infrastructure.

“In Auckland or Wellington, established inner-city suburbs will always retain their value. Quite simply, some people like living in the heart of the city, while others prefer the pace of life in the suburbs.”

Mr Coulson predicted that self-driving vehicles could also mean:

  • Fewer cars on the roads. “For a driverless city to work, there would need to be fewer cars on the road. Many experts believe that the uptake in driverless technology will go hand in hand with an increase in car-sharing and mass automated public transport,” Mr Coulson said. “Fewer cars could mean shorter travel times and less congestion. Vast areas of urban land sustaining what would become surplus parking lots and roads could be transformed into parks, public spaces or residential/commercial developments.”

  • A rise in both food delivery options and eating out. “With driverless vehicles eradicating the problem of drink-driving, cities could see an increase in restaurant and bar patronage, boosting areas with lively entertainment hubs, such as Ponsonby, Mt Eden, Mission Bay and Takapuna,” Mr Coulson said. Food deliveries could also increase. Uber – which some see as the precursor to driverless vehicles – claims its new food delivery service, Uber Eats, will likely change the way restaurant operators prioritise their space requirements, arguing that restaurants won’t need to have prime real estate to capture business any more. This could free up redundant commercial hospitality space for residential development.

  • Garages could become additional living space. “A reduction in car ownership would free up the space needed for garages and driveways. That space could be transformed into anything from an additional bedroom or family room to a ‘man cave’.” Some car-parking operators in the US are already beginning to think about how they could reuse or sell their properties in a driverless world. Fringe suburbs could become more desirable as the inconvenience of driving goes away.

Deputy head of urban design at the University of Auckland, Professor Errol Haarhoff, believes that driverless cars will change the way house floor plates are configured.

“Driverless cars could make personal car-ownership redundant, which would have an effect on space. If you didn’t own your own car, you wouldn’t need a garage, which means you could either have a bigger house or live on a smaller site,” he said.

However, the uptake of driverless cars would require a huge change in attitude towards private car ownership. “Your status in society would no longer depend on you having a BMW in your garage - you would be quite happy to be driven around in a plastic bubble,” Professor Haarhoff says.

Some transport analysts believe that driverless technology could accelerate urban sprawl beyond Auckland’s current metropolitan boundaries by shortening commuting times.

The cost of building dedicated infrastructure for driverless cars, or to accommodate life on city fringes, could be hugely expensive, and it’s likely driverless cars will have to use the same infrastructure that existing cars use.

“The argument is that the bigger the sprawl, the longer commuter times become and the more infrastructure is needed to transport people over ever-increasing distances,” Professor Haarhoff says.

“Whether there are driverless cars or not, what limits urban sprawl is the amount of time people are prepared to sit in a car or a bus or a train to get to their place of work.”

He adds: “We have been able to work remotely and live dispersed lives for years now but people still want to meet and have a cup of coffee, exchange ideas and talk.”

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