I have an idea for building the transportation systems of tomorrow. Before I start on details, I'll say, no I'm not insane I do doubt you'll see this in your town tomorrow, but likely one day. At its most basic it is: Separate the tool used to transport things from the space being transported.
You're thinking, big deal. Right? Consider the possibilities. First, it facilitates public transportation systems with car like flexibility and convenience, without the worst problems. I call this system SIT, Storable Individualized Transit, because it's personal space, and you get to sit, and you can store it in your garage.
Advantages of SIT:
- Part 1 - Personal Transit
- Part 2 - Storage
- Part 3 - Flexibility
- Part 4 - Efficiency
- Part 5 - Morning Options
- Part 6 - Service
Cars have two main benefits over public transportation. One, they go directly from starting point to ending point and are ready when you are. This contributes to shorter travel times. They don't guarantee them; public systems have different advantages, but it does "contribute".
The second benefit is personal space. Public transportation is singularly focused on moving people, and gives little thought to things too large to carry. A car has a trunk. In addition, you might want privacy during your trip. Maybe you want to talk with a friend, blast your tunes, whatever.
By separating the tool and space the system accommodates people movers and object movers. Ok, you're thinking, today busses, cars and taxis do the same. Yes, but you can't effectively move from one tool to another. Changing requires waiting outside, in the cold or rain, and also requires moving any bulky items by hand.
Rails are more efficient than rubber wheels, and advanced rail has much higher speeds, but track is expensive to build, so they can't stop at your doorstep. But SIT spaces can transfer from one tool (rubber wheeled "sleds") to another tool (rail cars). You get the best of both worlds.
There are a plethora of ideas for better transportation tools, but all have the same adoption hurdle. None provide all the benefits of a car, and as a result ridership is limited. Public transportation struggles with economic sustainability quite often. It isn't because they're inefficient or expensive, compared to cars. It is because they are "additional", and do not receive the economic benefits of displacing automobiles.
For example, if we diverted the money spent on road-widening projects, new cars, car maintenance, traffic policing, parking and gasoline toward a public transportation system, it would be trivial to meet that budget. But you can't recoup those benefits if you don't give users an alternative to every possibility.
Large metropolitan areas sometimes come close to this goal, but they don't provide truly equivalent alternatives. There is a difference between tossing bulky items in the trunk, and having them delivered. There is a difference between riding the bus and sitting in a car. These differences make it much more difficult to convince everyone to abandon cars. So the car persists even in the city; not everyone has one, and they're used more rarely, but there are many costs that are not recouped.
Speaking of different "tools", here are four that would work great with SIT. The first addresses "to your door" service, rubber wheeled sleds pickup compartments and transport them to nearby locations or the closest station for faster and more efficient transport. Sleds would be controlled by a central dispatching system and be numerous enough to prevent waiting. The local government or an evolution of taxi companies could operate the sleds. The user would specify a destination and sit back, relax, or whatever else they choose.
Sleds would not operate at high speed being in urban environments near pedestrians and such. There are plenty of creative ways to put barriers between the two, but since there are tradeoffs here we'll assume operate at sidewalk level, similar to cars today.
The second tool, a light rail/raised rail/sunken rail(subway) system, would also be fully automated. Compartments would be loaded off sleds and into the rail system without any user action. Transfer is part of the basic dispatching systems. This rail system would use more intelligent switching to shorten routes compared to the hub-spoke model of many public transportation systems. They are designed to minimize the number of transfers, but here transfers are automated and transparent.
Rails would operate at high speeds, and be easier to insure sufficient capacity than today's highways. If existing rail infrastructures are reused, speeds would be 60mph or so. With new rail and intelligent switching systems speeds would be over 100mph. Once to the station closest to your final destination your compartment would transfer back to a sled for the final leg. After you depart, "at your door", your compartment stores itself in an elevator like space efficient garage.
The third and final tool, for inter city transportation, or suburb to city in larger metropolises, would also be rail, but far higher speed, and operate point to point like traditional rail.
A final possibility, a "rural" sled, a drive-by-wire sled when combined with a compartment would like a normal car, be manually controlled by the user. They would be useful in outlying areas not economic to build and maintain a dispatching network. Though like cars in many ways, they would have one big advantage of interoperability with all other compartment transport tools.
What is exceptionally cool, is SIT provides all the benefits of cars while increasing efficiency, decreasing deaths due to traffic accidents, and giving driving time back for more productive tasks (like reading). As an added bonus an established automated compartment delivery system could automate deliveries of all kinds; Pizza, Groceries, everything FedEx/UPS/Mail, providing another avenue to recoup costs.