Any long term reader nows I detest rail,Â especiallyÂ in Auckland. There isn’t aÂ metropolitanÂ rail service anywhere that makes money…they are all heavily subsidised. Cities like Auckland with negligible rail corridor, built on an isthmus and geographically spread are never going to solve transport problems with rail.
Of course you will get the train spotters who always claim that roads are subsidised too…if we could only divert all the money of roads to rail and then get buses to connect…missing the point that buses need roads that they just committed to not spending on.
Ultimately roads will surpass rail forÂ efficiencyÂ but only once we remove the idiots behind the wheel.
[T[he more developed a country becomes, the more expensive and time-consuming any new rail line will be. And if youâ€™re looking out say 20 years, thereâ€™s a pretty strong case to be made that the kind of efficiency that we can get today only on rail lines will in future be available on roads as well â€” with significantly greater comfort and convenience for passengers.
Right now, technology is arguably making roads and cars more dangerous. Drivers are notoriously bad judges of their own driving ability, and theyâ€™re increasingly being distracted by devices â€” not just text messages, any more, but fully-fledged emails, social-media alerts, and even videos. Whatâ€™s more, when car manufacturers roll out things like stay-in-lane technology, that just makes drivers feel even safer, so they feel as though they have some kind of permission to spend even more time on their phones, and less time paying attention to the highway. The results can be disastrous.Â
I long for the days of a driverless car…the time savings a,one of not having to drive, concentrate of that and not do other more important things will beÂ immesh.
But once we make it all the way into aÂ platoon, or in a self-driving car, then at that point we become significantly safer than even the safest human driver. While weâ€™re very bad judges of our own driving ability, weâ€™re actually incredibly good at intuiting how safe our driver is when weâ€™re a passenger. And the experience of people in self-driving cars is that after no more than about 10 minutes, they relax, feel very safe, and are very happy letting the car take them where they want to go. They even relax so much, Iâ€™m told, that they lose the desire to speed â€” maybe because they know that theyâ€™re getting where theyâ€™re going, and in the meantime can lose themselves in their phones.
If and when self-driving cars really start taking off, itâ€™s easy to see where the road leads. Firstly, they probably wonâ€™t be operated on the owner-occupier model that we use for cars today, where we have to leave our cars parked for 97% of their lives just so that we know theyâ€™re going to be available for us when we need them. Given driverless carsâ€™ ability to come pick you up whenever you need one, it makes much more sense to just join a network of such things, giving you the same ability to drive your car when youâ€™re at home, or in a far-flung city, or whenever you might normally take a taxi. And the consequence ofÂ thatÂ is much less need for parking (right now there are more than three parking spots for every car), and therefore the freeing up of lots of space currently given over to parking spots.
That would be awesome…signal on your phone for a car…it rolls up and you get in, it drives you to where you want to be and you get out and it becomes available for the next passenger.
Whatâ€™s more, the capacity of all that freed-up space will be much greater than the capacity of our current roads. Put enough platoons and self-driving cars onto the road, and itâ€™s entirely conceivable that the number of vehicle-miles driven per hour, on any given stretch of road, could double from its current level, even without any increase in the speed limit. Then, take account of the fact that vehicle mileage will continue to improve. The result is that with existing dumb roads, we could wind up moving more people more miles for less total energy expenditure in cars â€” even when most of those cars continue to have just one person in them â€” than by forcing those people to cluster together and take huge, heavy trains instead.
This is where we should be investing billions, not stupid trains.