Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A solution to rotten transit service, but do we want it?

While Uber, Google, and others are working on autonomous vehicles, others are working on a specific use for autonomous vehicles, namely, to provide some minimal transit service to areas difficult to serve with full-size buses.

In this story from a transit industry magazine, tiny electric vehicles shuttle people to a nearby bus stop. I can see these being very helpful in areas where it's hard to thread a 35-foot bus around tight, inner-city streets. I can also see these as helpful for getting people from deep inside a suburban subdivision out to a bus stop on a trunk line.

Pennsylvania state law already allows for similar vehicles. See Title 75, Chapter 35, Subchapter F, Sections 3591-3596 (link). These little transit vehicles theoretically could be stored on-site, in storage sheds in or adjacent to the neighborhood served. Then, whether on-demand or by fixed schedule, these could come either to your door or a nearby corner, and shuttle you to the nearest bus stop. They would not get you downtown, and they likely would not get you from one suburb to the next; they are not taxis. But if your house is a mile or two off the main drag, they can get you down the street in a few minutes instead of having to walk it.

If you really wanted to go all out, equip each storage shed with a Tesla Wall, so it can be recharging its battery when not in use. Of course, run a utility line to it anyway, so it can recharge when weather is bad, or the neighborhood kids throw a blanket over the solar panels. Just like kids 100 years ago strung clotheslines under the trolley electric lines to knock the car out of service. But barring routine vandalism, they could get some of their go juice off-grid.

Next complaint: Labor unions. They're stealing our jobs! Well, yeah, they might be. OTOH, those jobs don't exist already. You already don't have service back into suburban cul-de-sac neighborhoods, so I don't see these as a big threat. On a larger scale, every bus driver job in the world might well be automated out of existence in 25 years, so go ahead, be the Luddite and oppose every use right now, no matter how much good it might do, how many additional people might be brought into the system, how many cars might be taken off the road, how many driver jobs are preserved by dint of these stabilizing ridership on outer parts of a route. I cannot and will not fight that argument. Been there, done that, and it's pointless. I'm speaking to the glass-half-full people, and those who can see the way forward.

I see jobs in this idea. Someone has to design a system that makes best use of them. Someone has to construct storage facilities. Someone has to service them. There needs to be a method to handle on-road situations where they become inoperable while containing passengers. These are solvable problems, but they do mean employment where no employment exists now.

Anyway, an idea worth looking into.

1 comment:

  1. I think of myself as a glass-half-full sort of person when it comes to new technology in transit service. Such as tiny, electric, autonomous vehicles.