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Public Transit vs. Driverless Cars: How Can it Compete?

Some opponents to driverless cars say they'll be a public-transit killer, but others argue that transit will always have a place in dense cities.

by Jordan Pascale, The Virginian-Pilot / March 23, 2016
(AP/Tony Avelar)

(TNS) — One of the arguments against light rail is that it’s old technology.

Some opponents point to the arrival of driverless cars in the next decade as a public-transit killer.

“Why would you take a fixed route anywhere,” the argument goes, “if you can jump into a driverless car that can take you anywhere?”

So, can public transit compete against driverless tech?

A post from Jarrett Walker, a public transit consultant and blogger, landed in my inbox this week. He argues that transit will always have a place in dense cities.

In his blog, “Human Transit,” Walker writes that mass transit will remain crucial in places defined by a shortage of space per person. Mass transit, where densities are high enough to support it, is an immensely efficient use of space, he says.

Now, this doesn’t quite fit the scenario in Virginia Beach, where the city is trying to create dense environments with light rail.

Although a city can choose sprawl to the point where driverless cars would dominate by default, Walker says, that approach will fail to create a place the 21st century economy rewards.

Also, the cost of taking a driverless “taxi” may be unattainable for some low-income riders. A Lyft or Uber ride runs at least $4 for the shortest ride. You’d assume those that can’t afford their own driverless vehicle would have to pay more for a driverless ride than for mass transit.

Hampton Roads Transit wins best overall at Virginia Bus Roadeo

No, we didn’t spell “rodeo” wrong. “Roadeos” have been around since at least the early ’80s. They pit bus drivers against one another in a timed competition showcasing safe driving skills. Mechanics identify defects in engines, transmissions, brakes, doors and AC units.

Think of it as an NBA skills contest or the NFL combine, but for bus drivers and mechanics.

Competitors from all over the state gathered in Hampton last Sunday for the Roadeo. Check out the photos online if you can. It’s pretty wild – making tight turns through a series of cones or threading the bulky bus tires through a narrow row of tennis balls.

Hampton Roads Transit won best overall team and best overall maintenance team.

Winners will compete in the International Bus Roadeo in May in Charlotte, N.C.

The exit ramp

Back when I worked in Lincoln, Neb., I used to rummage through the old clip files in the newspaper library. My all-time favorite find was a 1980s story about the first grocery store in Nebraska to adopt this mysterious new thing called a “credit card.” Hilarious to read the explanation of a now-omnipresent technology. I’m sure the same will be true for young people today when they read 30-year-old stories about self-driving cars. Or, as they’ll call them by then, “cars.”

Three out of four U.S. drivers report feeling afraid to ride in a self-driving car, according to a AAA survey. But drivers who own vehicles equipped with semi-autonomous features are, on average, 75 percent more likely to trust the technology, suggesting that gradual experience with these advanced features can ease consumer fears.

Virginia Beach’s ViBe arts district is taking applications through Tuesday to create street art for the area’s crosswalks. The winner’s design will be revealed on March 28, and the city is supplying road-grade paint. The NEON District in Norfolk painted some cool neon, geometric art at the intersection of Brambleton Avenue and Granby Street in October but used exterior house paint. It has not lasted.

Remember that high-tech “Smart Cities” grant from the Department of Transportation that Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Newport News applied for? None of the Hampton Roads cities won. The following cities will each receive $100,000 to help research and develop proposals: Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Kansas City, Mo.; San Francisco; Denver; Pittsburgh; and Columbus, Ohio. The goal is to push midsize cities to integrate technologies like self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors into their transportation network. A final winner will be announced in June.

In 2014, there were 34 alcohol-related crashes in Virginia around St. Patrick’s Day. In 2015, that number dropped by half, according to the DMV.

©2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

 

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