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Only Carpools Can Keep the Driverless Future From Becoming a Nightmare

Driverless cars ferrying passengers one by one won’t help curb greenhouse-gas emissions, so policymakers have to do more to encourage ride-sharing, including drastic moves like refusing to build parking lots.

That’s one takeaway from California Air Resources Board member Dan Sperling’s new book, which urges finding ways to incentive carpooling -- and fast. Stuffing as many people as possible into every car, bus and train will help keep city streets from becoming clogged with rich owners’ self-driving cars that prowl endlessly in search of parking spaces, he says.

“It is the single most important strategy and innovation going forward for all passenger transportation,” Sperling, also a transportation professor at University of California Davis, writes in his new book, “Three Revolutions.”

Measures like bans on new parking lots may sound extreme. But so does the possible U.S. dystopia he describes where electrified, self-driving cars transport a single rider for more than a third of all trips, matching how often drivers travel solo now. If that’s the case, richer drivers will dominate the roadways while poorer commuters get stuck with aging gas-guzzlers and collapsing mass transit, he warns.

Pooling is already taking hold in San Francisco, where in 2016, half of all Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. passengers opted to stop and pick up strangers in return for a 50 percent price cut. Governments should encourage more of this behavior, Sperling says, by giving multi-occupant cars discounts on tolls and taxes, plus special access to freeways and airport drop-off points.

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