Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Why High Speed Mass Transit is a Dead Idea...
Google and others have already figured this out.
So lets go back to the mid to early 70's shall we?
Returning to the current time and our aforementioned Google autonomous driving vehicle. Within this one creation we have the death of speed limits and high speed mass transit under one roof.
While everyone has been having fun with the cool factor of not actually needing to drive a vehicle in the future, few people have looked at some of the practical impacts. For instance--Can we safely say that within our lifetime that autonomous cars will be regarded as being as safe or safer than human driven ones? I would think that to be the likely case. There will be some reluctance to have vehicles put on auto pilot while the passengers take a nap or read a book or whatever at first but as the data comes in, views will change and the need for a person to be ready to grab the wheel should the AI decide to drive into a lake will fade.
Then we have the growing "electrification" of our modern auto offerings. Whether its the Leaf, the Volt, the Prius, a Tesla, a Fisker, etc., etc. we can all see the future of vehicle propulsion is very quickly going to be leaving the internal combustion engine behind.
Sad...but likely inevitable.
This get's me back to the title of this piece however. High speed mass transit is always touted for the future due to its ability to reduce energy costs, and as long as you don't live in China, its safety record. Like flying airplanes the accident and death rates on mass transit are much lower than that of the automobile. Add the fact that high speed rail, or even low speed rail is a much more energy efficient method of travel than the current automobile and you have the perfect liberal, green, foil to all us driving enthusiasts.
Turns out we were all wrong. Now just don't let your tax dollars be taken for the myth of high speed mass transit.
The combination of autonomous vehicles and "alternative" fueled vehicles will, in the immediate future, completely eliminate the benefits mass transit has been touted with for the past three decades. The personal transportation device will be nearly as fuel efficient as any train you can find while being as safe with the kicker being it will actually take you where you want to go when you want to go there.
As Americans we have an aversion to being told when and where and how to go where we want to. Autonomous vehicles will eliminate that allergy, providing a sense of Independence and ownership that mass transit does not while eliminating all the concerns that led to limited speed limits.
Other countries and companies are getting on board with this idea. For instance: http://www.automate.co.il/about.html and are frequently dubbed "dualmode" transportation in that they can be automated and manually driven.
Now highways and roads will need to be upgraded to accommodate the higher speeds but on given road surfaces there is no reason why the new age of transportation cannot see the autonomous vehicles cruising across the country at speeds in excess of 150 mph. We all know we can make vehicles easily capable of such speeds but it has until now been deemed unsafe and economically wasteful to travel at such speeds as individuals. Not anymore and any mass transit boondoggles built now will soon become billion dollar graffiti magnets. Just another case of technology outstripping the imagination of politicians and the unthinking public.