Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A transportation concept (SIT)

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:

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.


Richard said...

Your idea isn't cool, it's dumb. Think about it for a minute and you'll realize you've reinvented containerization. Now try to think of why it can't possibly work. It's simple really. Shipping companies have total control over the transport of containers whereas transport companies have absolutely no control over individual human beings. If you ever managed to solve the insurmountable logistical problems, it still wouldn't work. People wouldn't adopt it because it's so extremely authoritarian. And that is why your idea isn't even dumb but creepy.

Ryan Baker said...

I wouldn't say I reinvented containerization. More like I was inspired by it.

As far control over human beings goes, I think you've totally misunderstood. You will go where you want to go. It's even possible for the system to allow people to specify what path they want to use to get there, though I doubt people will usually care much.

You may also want to remember that this isn't just an alternative to cars, but a compromise between public transport of today and cars.

When people accept ideas like this is hard to say. I guess from your comments you seem to think in 50 years we'll have found enough gas to somehow keep driving the same way we do today (except with gas being divided among 2-4 billion people of industrialized countries, rather than the 600 million or so of the last 50 years.

Anonymous said...

This sounds very much like another chicken-and-egg situation, there won't ever be enough incremental gain to make people moving to this system, and it might not
even have an absolute gain.

First of all there is apparently no financial reason for most not simply to drive a personal car, and when the automatic driving technology is advanced enough to move the tools through city streets, self-powered cars will have the same capability.

It doesn't solve the parking space problem because you still need the space to store the spaces, and neither does it solve the space problem in mass transportation. Standard subways simply need much less rail length per passenger than personal space transportation, and also where the subway usually hauls you to there simply isn't enough space for the spaces, either.

Face it: One third of the traffic problem simply come from the concept of personal movable space. The others are polluting and energy-wasting means of propellation and accident-causing operators. Only the third is going away with your proposal, but that's not an exclusive.

Actually, I'm writing (and posting) this not from a self-moving car but from a train. Gives me more time to work or browse than I lose by not using a car (which I don't own).

Ryan Baker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ryan Baker said...

Adoption is a problem. I think it's less radical than most public transportation ideas, but it does need some technological advances and allocation of infrastructure.

I think however that all the necessary pieces are already being developed and moved toward market for other reasons. Like consider the GM Hy-wire, and the "platformization" of normal cars.

Also, automated cars themselves have a role.

One thing I think you missed about the idea is it doesn't exclude conventional mass transit, which reduces the space. In fact, it should be a great boon to these systems because the shared infrastructure will enhance the service quality and lower the costs even further for mass transit.

You get a lot of economic benefit from being able to use the money from the space hungry, which is something mass transit today totally ignores.

By the way, isn't it two thirds of the problem? Accidents and energy wasting propulsion? And I think you've missed one of the biggest changes to space, stackability. Sure you could stack a normal car, but the engine, suspension, wheels, etc not only take additional space, but weight. Combines this with the non-standardization of shape/size and your stacking system is hugely complex.

The space would be lighter, smaller and have a standardized connector that a stacking system could use to safely and efficiently manage them.

Thanks for the comments, I'm sorry to say, but I think you're the most open person yet that I've run into yet on the general idea.

Anonymous said...

Hi again,

sorry, it's only one third, since accidents are caused by manual operation, and regular cars can be automatically controlled as 'easily' as the street tools.

One other advantage that crossed my mind since is (but that also comes with automated cars) that you do not need to pick up your 'space' where you left it but can stroll the shopping area and drive off the other end of it. But then, automated street vehicles are technologically as well as legally quite challenging.

And for a completely different point: There seems to be a huge difference in acceptance between public busses and electric tramways (or other rail-bases transports). Busses are just perceived as bigger cars while rail transport is different and gets more popularity.

Ryan Baker said...

Oh, I thought your original point was even that last third wasn't exclusive. Looking at it from the viewpoint of exclusivity, I suppose none of it's exclusive. There are plenty of solutions.

As a comparison to just automating cars, I think this is better because it has economic and technical advantages without any real downsides. If your not driving, why would you care how you get there?

Automated vehicles are one of the big challenges. I think we are quite close technologically. In fact we may already be there in a practical sense. It's the other issues like perception and legalities that will hold it back longer. By the time people get over their innate fear in automated cars they'll likely be 100's or thousands of times safer for not only occupants and other travelers, but to pedestrians, cats/dogs and planets.

Today, I'm certain you could deploy an automated car system that would be safer for travelers than the current manual system is. I don't know if pedestrians would be better off yet, but far more people die in a car then die as pedestrians hit by a car. But for some odd reason people prefer to be killed by a person, then by an extremely rare glitch. Perhaps they feel they have more control, but in reality almost half of everyone in accidents have no control over it.

I think you might be on to something with different, but there's another big advantage to trains. They're safer, more dependable because they don't deal with other cars.

Dependable is a little bit questionable, because you can have a breakdown on the tracks that makes huge delays, but on the average day a train shows up on a more regular and reliable schedule. Buses however often come in packs of 2 or 3, with half an hour between because they have to deal with traffic.

RabidSociety said...

No, it is stupid. It is very radical and would not work at all.

Interesting link if you want it about "Sky Ways" for bicycles. http://www.thepurehands.org/cycleways/

Roger B said...

fom Anonymous..."First of all there is apparently no financial reason for most not simply to drive a personal car,"

No financial incentive??? $3.00/gallon is just the start!!!
When it is $10.00/gallon perhaps even rick kids like you may begin to have a little incentive. The only way something like this won't have to materialize is if hydrogen beceomes viable.