Economy & Payments of Autonomous Cars

Apologies in advance if this article undoes a future patent as prior art. As a veteran payments lawyer, I cannot resist sharing an inevitable dimension of the autonomous vehicle world into which we are about to enter. In simple terms. freeways and roads will emulate airport lineups; higher-paying, ‘first class’ commuters will travel faster than lower paying ‘economy’ commuters.

Downtown in 1 hour: Cost $5.00

Downtown in 10 min: Cost $321.00

Downtown in 2 hours: Reward $80

At the start of each drive, each driver will decide, or pre-program, the amount of premium they wish to pay to arrive earlier at their intended destination. For example, if you are driving from Lancaster, CA to downtown L.A., without any premium, the drive will take 1.5 hours. For a $50 premium you can get there in one hour. Put into other terms, you can use your car to adjust the time of arrival as a function of how much you are willing to pay. How does this work? you say. All commuters are competing in the same market for speed of transportation and a market for speed will occur. The cars of commuters who are willing to travel slower will receive direct payments from commuters who wish to travel faster. For example, a slower commuter may wish to charge $0.05 for each car that passes them. This slower commuter’s car will automatically move out of the way of any car that credits it with $0.05. There will be a bid-ask meeting point for each car that passes another car with wild price differentials between the fastest drivers and slowest drivers. In fact, some drivers may even end their commute having made a profit during the drive – i.e. having earned more in passing fees than the cost of charging their (electric) car for the drive. It’s a bit like Uber’ssurge-pricing, but for everyone all the time. Yes, self-driving cars will talk to each other.

Payment Method

Payments between cars is actually quite easy. Each driver can be issued a reloadable prepaid virtual account number (VAN) or ‘card’ in today’s language and the micropayments from one driver to another are account-to-account transfers within the card network. Of course bitcoin or other virtual currencies could, even more easily, serve as the medium of exchange for inter-car payments.


At first blush, an economy of time on the roads of self-driving cars appears harsh and especially punishing for poor people who cannot afford to move more quickly. I take a more optimistic view of the ‘pay for time’ commute, which is that the faster commuters, who can afford to move more quickly, are actually redistributing their wealth to the slower commuters who, in the long run, should actually reduce the cost of their commute in dollars while lengthening it in time. As automation and robotics eliminates manual labor as a viable form of employment, individuals will have only their time and imagination to sell. Those whose time is most valuable will be given more of it by a natural, if harsh, economy of time and speed on tomorrows roads.

If you want to put this idea in motion, please reach out to Adam Atlas Attorney at Law who can provide the whole playbook at a pretty steep hourly rate. 😉