Will technology reduce the need for Mass Transit?

If this proposal passes, then even by the County’s optimistic estimate it will be fifteen to twenty years before Gwinnett will see MARTA trains.  Do we think rail transit will be a winner in the future? For comparison, here are some things that seemed like a good idea fifteen years ago:

  • Start making maps for cars –  there was no phone GPS. In fact, 20 years ago there was no portable GPS.
  • Start a cab company – Ten years ago there was no Uber
  • Buy stock in Sears, Roebuck, and Company –  A secure long term investment
  • Transfer all your songs to cassette
  • Open a lab to process film
  • Invest all your savings into a Blockbuster store

Fifteen years ago there was no Facebook, no iPad and no such thing as Bitcoin – or even Cryptocurrency.  And Pluto was a planet.

So what can we expect to see in the area of transit in the next fifteen years?  Here are some of the ideas from the experts:

Connected Vehicles – There is great interest is something called Signal Timing Optimization Using Connected Vehicle Technology.  Connected vehicle technology enables vehicles to exchange information with each other and even with infrastructure, such as traffic signals, through vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. V2I communications will help to extend the benefits of connected vehicles beyond safety, to include mobility and the environment.

Dynamic Speed Harmonization (SPD-HARM): Recommends target speeds in response to congestion, incidents, and road conditions to maximize throughput and reduce crashes.

Queue Warning (Q-WARN): Aims to provide drivers with timely warnings of existing and impending queues.

Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC):  Going beyond the adaptive cruise controls on almost every new car today, this is an application that aims to dynamically adjust and coordinate cruise control speeds among platooning vehicles to improve traffic flow stability and increase throughput.  Additionally, Human-in-the-loop (HITL) Connected Driving Assistance will help to automate platooning, merge/weave assist, speed harmonization, and eco-approach and departure.

Dynamic Ridesharing (D-RIDE): Uses dynamic ridesharing technology, personal mobile devices, and voice-activated on-board equipment to match riders and drivers.

Automated Vehicles – The biggest change to the transportation industry by far and a boon in hands-free driving will decrease the need for public transportation.  If you can simply sit in your car while it is stuck in traffic, reading, watching a TV show or going through emails, the delay will not seem so unacceptable.  Most agree that these vehicles, or something similar, will be widely available within ten years.  But even before personal transportation vehicles become fully automated expect to see mass transit options without human operation.  Systems are already being deployed in large numbers around the world.  Automated trucks will also benefit commuters.  Since the automated truck will not have to be limited by human operators they can run only on off times leaving more room for personal transportation.

Rideshare Services – 2018 will be the first year that for-hire vehicle trips (including taxis, Uber, Lyft, and their peers) will outnumber bus trips in the U.S.

Stuff we haven’t even thought of yet – Live/Work/Play communities will continue to encourage new forms of personal transportations such as the just announced electric bike from GM or even these personal transportation pods.  Won’t we feel foolish having just spent a billion dollars on a train when they are made obsolete before they even start rolling down the tracks.

Telecomuting and other innovations also are reducing the need for commutes.  More jobs are now service oriented, which can be done almost anywhere, allowing a great increase in the number of people who can work from home.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a very good libertarian group, agrees with the foolishness of locking into transportation options which may well disappear in the next 10 years.  They recognize that fewer people are using transit because they have more and better options.  As reported in the AJC, Benita Dodd, their vice president, said that it’s a bad idea to spend billions of dollars on new rail lines when ride-hailing services and autonomous vehicles may transform America’s transportation network in coming decades.“It’s a huge mistake to take two steps back into 19th-century technology when there’s so much promising technology in front of us,” Dodd said.

Think about this – if Marta does reduce Gwinnett’s congestion, more people will opt for the convenience of taking their own car, having it for lunch or for an errand after work.  No matter how convenient you make public transportation you can’t pick up groceries on the way home while riding a bus.  Expanding rail into Gwinnett at the cost of $250 million per mile just doesn’t seem like a good plan for the future.

Like most things it touches, the federal government has taken a very interesting topic, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and made it very boring.  But they do have a ton of research ideas, only some of which were touched on in this article.  For more on this topic visit the special site the DOT has set up just for ITS:



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