Chapter 76- Overnight Travel

"I've heard that if you take off one sock and one shoe, it’s harder for your body to regulate your temperature and therefore harder for you to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Don’t know if it’s true, but it’s certainly worth a try!"
Internet advice on how to drive all night to Disney World.167

A friend once described an overnight trip from college in Nebraska to New York on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It went something like this, “It took about 20 hours because we had to go to a last class on Tuesday afternoon. The professor was such a jerk. We took turns driving and didn’t stop until we got home. It was pretty cool, but we had to drink lots of coffee and open the windows about eight times at night to stay awake. But we made it.”

Contrast that with a trip that I once took from Edinburgh to London. I got on the train at 11pm and slept in a bunk until I woke up in London the next morning. The trip took around 6 hours and we arrived around 5am, but they didn’t force us to get up immediately. We could take our time while the train was parked in the station.

Autonomous cars will turn the first kind of trip into the second. Car travel at night does not need to be uncomfortable. Fleet owners can learn from sleeper cars on trains and provide services that deliver people rested on the next day. The sleeper cars may be a bit more expensive but the smart fleet company will price them at less than the cost of a hotel room.

Car rides of 8-10 hours make it possible to go to sleep in Washington, D.C., and wake up in Chicago or go to sleep in Los Angeles and wake up in San Francisco. It won’t be free because of the costs of energy, but there won’t be a need to waste the time in transit.

One challenge will be creating a safe and comfortable bunk. Railroad sleeping cars went through many iterations. George Pullman, the man who made his fortune perfecting the sleeping car, started tinkering with them in 1858 and continued improving them for the rest of the century.37

Early models were often too short, too wide or too expensive, but in time the company standardized on a design with bunks that would pull-down much like luggage racks.

It’s worth noting George Pullman never owned a railroad. Joe Welsh, Bill Howes and Kevin Holland wrote in their history:

Though a major player in American passenger railroading for more than a century, Pullman was not a railroad. The company built, owned and leased a large fleet of sleeping and parlor cars, which it provided to the railroads under contract. The railroads handled the reservations and carried travellers from place to place aboard Pullman cars. Pullman was essentially a giant hotel company.248

The same split in corporations may evolve in the world of autonomous cars. Perhaps hotel companies will extend their brands by creating rolling Hilton rooms or a rolling Ritz. These pods can be placed on sleds driven by autonomous cars owned by transportation companies. (See also 77

.) Passengers will be able to choose different rooms for night travel just as they do when they pick between hotels.

One of the early debates was whether to sleep with the head or the feet toward the front of the train. The early Pullman manuals suggested that riding with the head first was better because any cinders drifting through the windows would land by the feet instead of the face. When air conditioning arrived, many switched to riding with their feet in front in case the train stopped suddenly.202

A safer overnight autonomous car might arrange the bunks with the feet in front and a flexible netting that stretches over the blankets to keep the rider in the bed if the car flipped over or turned suddenly. Well-padded sides would also help. This may not be perfect, but it would almost certainly be safer than driving all night amped on coffee with cold air gusting through the windows.