Public Transportation

Discussion in 'General' started by Lowell_Greenberg, Feb 19, 2019.

  1. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    An estimate of price before construction has even begun is nothing but a guess. I doubt I need to remind anyone that large urban construction projects often go far over budget and take far longer than planned.

    A relevant quote:

    “No public transit system I’m aware of covers its costs on fares. (Musk) is the rare entrepreneur willing to bet it can. He’s willing to build this completely at his own cost. If he fails, he fails.”

    Source: Chicago "What a prospective customer saw in Musk's tunnel vision"

    Yeah, I can see why they would give Musk the green light on this project if he promised to pay for everything himself. If Musk is personally assuming all the financial risk, then the municipality of Chicago has little to lose.

    I don't get it either. Musk said that his goal was to reduce tunnel construction costs by 10x, but just as you say, all he has done is buy some used boring machines. I don't see that this is a path to reducing costs.

    But hey, it's Elon's money. I hope he and his engineers do figure out how to substantially reduce tunnel construction costs, but real-world experience shows that Musk tends to be too optimistic about such things. For example, he said he could reduce orbital launch costs by 10x. SpaceX has reportedly been able to reduce them by about 5x. That in itself is remarkable; an 80% cost reduction is astounding! But still short of his goal.

    Per mile of track, I have no doubt you're correct. But measure it on passenger-miles, and that's a very different equation. It's the passenger-mile figure that indicates running costs, which seldom if ever are completely covered by ticket costs, so the municipality has to kick in a subsidy. But a subsidy of mass transit may be very beneficial for the economy of the municipality. By making it easy and cheap for people to get around, that boosts the job market and encourages trade. Contrary to the hard-right crowd which believes everything should be able to pay for itself, subsidizing mass transit is a win-win for the entire community, so long as the subsidy is justified by an economic boon. It's when they build "bridge to nowhere" type boondoggles at taxpayer expense, that we taxpayers should object very loudly and very firmly.

    But to return to the subject of this Chicago mass transit project: The thing is that subways are pretty much a known quantity. We know pretty well how much it costs to build one and how much it costs to maintain one. Rational decisions can be made on subway construction.

    Contrariwise, Elon is offering a rather different plan whose true costs, both for construction and for maintenance, are unknown. Furthermore, he's offering something so different that it will be utterly incompatible with current subway systems. Right there is a serious problem, and a serious barrier to expansion if the pilot line does prove successful.

    Any mass transit system, ideally, should carry passengers from origin to destination with a minimum number of transfers. Every transfer means another wait, and the necessity to build another station... which adds cost. A subway system with a bunch of Boring Co.-type branches won't be an efficient mass transit system. This should be an all or nothing thing: It should be either all subway, or all Boring Co. type transit system.

    Last edited: Feb 23, 2019
  2. Calliope

    Calliope Member

    Viable for what, and for who? For many people, it's not viable at all -- there isn't enough funding to manage the spread of the population in some areas (and times), and there isn't enough capacity to handle the desired need in others. There's certainly a sweet spot where public transportation works well -- there's enough population to handle the costs and enough transportation to handle the desire, and enough disincentives to convince people they can do without door-to-door service.
    I also agree that it doesn't have to be one or the other.......There are routes/places where I would never drive and only take public transportation (or walk), and there are other routes/places I would never take public transportation and would only drive. I do wish I had better nerves (and balance) so I could ride a bike, but even then, safe biking is pretty dependent on weather.
  3. TheMagster

    TheMagster Member

    Public transportation needs are highly dependant on geography and regional needs, so there can't be a one size fits all solution, at least not a ground-based one. Electric buses are probably the closest we'll get in the short term, since they will work in most cities. I think there's room for innovation in designing systems that don't require us to rework all of the existing infrastructure. Electric scooters, as problematic as they are, are a good example of this. Electric bikes have allowed people to bike commute to work at distances that may be too far for a human-powered bike. How about golf cart style vehicles, 1-2 seaters that can fit two abreast in a standard lane of traffic, and are automomous and on demand? Perhaps we could fit 4-8 passengers in the footprint of a standard passenger sedan, but each vehicle could head to a different destination (door to door transit). No one would want to own a vehicle with a max speed of say 30 mph, but people would happily use one to dart around the city for a dollar or two per ride.

    I think it is also important to attack this problem from the other direction as well - reduce the need for transit altogether. Most goods and services can be delivered to the consumer (via slow moving autonomous delivery vans or fast drones), and people can work from home or a nearby co-working space. Travel around a city then becomes mostly for pleasure, and big transit projects can be focused on large gathering places, like stadiums and airports (as they generally already are). As VR tech improves and becomes more mainstream, traveling for work or pleasure will become rare.

    The exurbs and rural communities will likely still need cars for quite a while, since there won't be the economy of scale to justify massive investments. That's the area where privately owned autonomous vehicles will still be relevant, at least for another decade or two.

    Sent from my Pixel XL using Tapatalk
  4. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    That would likely work in third-world countries which have a lot of pedestrian and scooter traffic on the streets. It's not going to work well in the USA, where such lightly built low-speed vehicles would be riding on streets and roads dominated by much heavier, faster, highway-capable vehicles.

    There is a class of vehicle here in the USA, a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV), which is allowed to travel on roads with speed limit restricted to between 25 and 40 MPH, depending on the State. But those are commonly used only in geographically restricted areas such as gated communities and campuses.

    I'm not sure about Europe, but there is the Twizy, what they call a "motorized quadricycle", that's about the same thing as an NEV. I don't see any reason why a Twizy, or something close to it, couldn't be made into an autonomous vehicle.

    The Renault Twizy in Malaysia

  5. TheMagster

    TheMagster Member

    Good points, but I think at low speeds NEVs and similar will be fine mixed in with standard traffic. After all, we allow bikes and motorcycles to share the same roads as trucks and semis. I also started thinking about cities introducing 'autonomous only' zones. Similar to a pedestrian mall, it would be a geofenced section of a city in which only autonomous vehicles can drive (emergency vehicles inclusive). If this restriction also mandated BEVs be used, it would create very pleasant city centers without all of the noise and air pollution, and super cheap transit options as well. Also no wasted real estate for parking or gas stations, just a few charging stations that are constantly in use. Inductive charging could allow the vehicles to charge autonomously as well.

    Sent from my Pixel XL using Tapatalk
  6. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    Bicycles are banned from highways, and on roads are expected to stay to the right, where cars can easily pass them. Contrariwise, motorcycles can travel at the same speed as cars even on highways, and other than "lane splitting", are expected to obey the same rules of the road as cars. In effect, they are treated as small cars.

    What you're proposing is a third type of vehicle, and our traffic laws aren't set up for that. I'm not saying that will never change; I'm just pointing out there is a definite barrier there. And while you and I think that small, lightly built vehicles should be able to share the roads with larger heavier ones, that doesn't alter the reality that most American drivers consider small, lightly built vehicles to be very unsafe, and would never be willing to ride in them on public roads on a regular basis.

    Sorry if this is being a wet blanket, but I think whatever solution we propose must work in the real world. Remember what happened when Segway advertised (hyper-hyped) their scooter as something that would transform our cities? In reality... not so much.

    Trying to persuade Americans to settle for tiny, lightly built vehicles, which are considered "unsafe" by the overwhelming majority of American drivers and passengers, would be a pretty steep hill to climb. I'm not saying such a change is impossible; cultures do change in response to new technologies. Just look how the motorcar has transformed American roads and cities since the horse-and-buggy days!

    But I don't see the market for NEVs suddenly increasing substantially in the USA even if we do get fully reliable autonomous cars. In fact, I don't get the whole "People will give up owning their own car once cars are fully autonomous" idea. On the contrary, once a "robot chauffeur" (in a self-driving car) which you don't have to pay is possible, I would expect a lot of people who now don't own cars -- such as the elderly for whom driving is no longer safe, and many of the physically handicapped -- would enjoy the freedom of traveling in their own car again!

    Reminds me of our visit to Washington, D.C. We parked the car at a friend's house at some distance from the city, and took the train into D.C. We rented a hotel room near the "downtown loop" there, and for the rest of the visit depended on the subway to get around to the tourist sites.

    What you're proposing would likewise require visitors to the city center to park their car outside the zone and depend on public transportation inside the zone. That is going to place certain restrictions on activities; how are you going to, for example, deal with a shopping spree if you can't put your purchases in your car and then go back for more? I suppose you could hire a self-driving car and then have that shuttle you back to your regular car to dump off cargo when necessary, but it seems like a restriction which would be resisted by both visitors and merchants alike.

    But I'm enjoying the discussion here, and great to see so much thinking outside the box!
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2019

Share This Page