Mobility Blockers:
(part 3) how tech fears and 2D thinking are keeping us looking in the rearview mirror

Part 3 of 4

Most have heard of range anxiety as it applies to electric vehicles, but connectivity anxiety is a problem for all forms of transportation. Think about this future scenario where your autonomous electric car sharing shuttle is low on electrons and needs to get you to a nearby charge station, but when you get there you find the station is ICEd by a coal rollin’ F250 with a lift kit and oversized clay-caked mudders, just to add insult to injury. Sure dumb chargers can be a problem (not cloud connected) but even if all EV stations were truly smart (and none of them are today), the lack of ubiquitous reporting to network maps would not have had the smarts to tell you in advance that buddy in the F250 was charge blocking your shuttle in dire need of juice. The present total lack of parking space occupancy sensors wreaks havoc not just on EV drivers’ patience; it impacts every driver no matter what the mode of propulsion. Searching for a parking space reportedly accounts for upwards of 40% of traffic congestion in downtown cores.

blockers

So ubiquitous use of smartphone navigation, autonomous vehicles and Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technologies are sure to help, but the bigger problem is we are simply playing catch up using an out-dated transport medium–roads. Running out of real estate and money for transportation infrastructure as populations explode in megacities globally is the elephant in the room. So what’s the answer beyond IoT hyper-connectivity? To really get ahead of the game, for transit authorities everywhere, we need to think in three dimensions. Just the same way skyscraper construction transformed urban living through vertical densification, elevated guideway systems such as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and to a lesser degree Hyperloops must become the next big thing in mobility.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) and Light rail transit (LRT) are better than personal cars, but they are merely short-term linear-structured stopgaps because they occupy massive land tracks on the ground in cities where people want to cycle, walk and sip lattes. Surface level and subterranean transit also gobbles disproportionate amounts of city budgets not only for the upfront capital expenditure, but for the huge ongoing operating expenditures compared to PRT. PRT in principal is orders of magnitude more efficient than surfaced based transport without the huge tunneling cost of subway construction. Hyperloop technology makes sense for long distances, but does not address the urban congestion like PRT does, nevertheless, upwards is onwards in both cases.

Sure autonomous vehicles (AVs) have the potential to make commutes safer and more pleasant, but for the level five fully autonomous holy grail future to arrive, there are huge infrastructure, logistical and policymaking issues that will take many years if not one to two decades to resolve and the benefit to reducing congestion is still debatable in the eyes of many transportation experts. In the mean-time, there is a less complicated, faster to implement and lower cost way to move more people safer, quicker and more enjoyably—the answer is podcars that employ autonomous, connected, electric and shared (ACES) solutions, the MaaS subscription model and use a networked elevated guideway system.

PRT certainly is not a new concept in fact the first designs date back to the early nineteen fifties. PRT has definitely had its challenges not the least of which has been lack of computing power, insufficient battery energy density levels and entrenched thinking in the notoriously risk averse transit industry. Such factors have not only stymied any and all new transportation technology including PRT adoption, but the mind-set has also created an existential threat to public transit as well while simultaneously giving rise to profiteering ride share companies like Uber, Lyft, Didi Chuxing and others around the world. When you start to see transit authorities like Metrolinx in the GTHA issuing Requests for Information on shared mobility solutions, you know the writing is on the wall for public transit disruption.

– Part 3 of 4 –

PART ONEPART TWO

author
Stephen Bieda is a Sustainability Leader
and Cleantech Marketing Communications Strategist

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