Ride-sharing, private commuter buses, autonomous cars, hyperloops, and commercial space flights: Why the future of mass transit belongs to markets, not governments
Transportation politics in the US is the issue that never truly dies. And like their favorite music, food, career choice, spiritual faith, and college football team, Americans’ preferred method of getting from A to B is as much a statement of who you are as whether you’re a Mac or PC guy.
Urban left-liberals routinely preach the faith of sustainability, walkability, livability, and all things “-ability.” The central creed in America’s most Progressive-oriented metropolises is that cars are bad. They believe that through mass reductions in road construction and highway expansion, and increased government spending on things like high-speed rail, light-rail, and more bike lanes, Americans’ mobility future will be much more efficient and future-oriented.
Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to favor the post-Eisenhower policy of spending more on road and highway building. They are more likely to favor the policies that favor the personal automobile-intensive lifestyle where almost everyone drives themselves to work, home, church, and the hardware store.
But both groups fundamentally wrong and do not see that the future of transportation in the United States will most likely not be determined in Washington planning bureaus or state capitals, but in the creative minds of radically disruptive entrepreneurs.
The proof of this revolution is all around us.
The guy in your college dorm who used to give people rides to the airport is killing the taxi cartels
Travis Kalanick of Uber and Logan Green of Lyft, two popular ride-sharing businesses that recruit every day drivers that pick people up via mobile apps on customers phones, may be in competition with each other, but they are aligned in a knockdown drag out battle against the against the taxicab cartels in this country that some have dubbed the Uber Wars.
In almost every major city a strictly regulated cartel of two or three cab companies have had control of the entire taxi-riding market for decades. In fact, in some cities it can cost upwards of a million dollars just to purchase a license to do business.
But with the introduction of ride-sharing amateurs who don’t have to go through restrictive regulatory processes like the traditional cabbie, everyday Americans through technology and entrepreneurship are delivering more competition, quality, and affordability for the average consumer.
People are no longer going to give you a sad face if you say you take the bus to work
Much has been made of protests in San Francisco over Google’s high-tech buses using public city bus stops to shuttle their employees to and from work, and how it is a sign of alleged gentrification and the pricing out of the poor and average people out of the city (though that has more do with a lot of the pro-rent control, anti-development policies the protesters most likely favor. See here and here).
But what the protesters might realize if they take a few minutes away from their bullhorns and clichéd chants is that there actually is a private commuter bus service in the Bay Area that average companies with average income employees can pick up and take to work and take home in relative comfort and swank.
RidePal allows for companies to purchase subscriptions to buses, which are actually owned by established carriers, which can then be credited toward those companies’ employees to ride. A New York Times blog post explains:
“For employers wishing to reserve a certain number of seats on specific buses at certain times, RidePal plans to sell subscriptions, starting at $250 a month for companies of up to 50 people. That subscription is credited toward fares, which start at $8 a seat for trips within a 10-mile zone and go up to $589 for a monthly pass within the largest travel zone, which extends up to 75 miles from the pickup location.
RidePal is running shuttles from a few San Francisco neighborhoods to an office park in Mountain View as part of a limited pilot program. Ms. Criou said the service would be open to all comers after the pilot ended this summer. RidePal has enrolled around 10 companies, she said, ranging from a company with a staff of 20 to a corporation employing thousands of people, to test the service and provide feedback.”
Feel free to take a nap or watch the news on your morning drive to work
While driving a convertible Ford Mustang used to the goal of every groovy Baby Boomer growing up in Suburbia, and of their parents in the 1950’s coveting every neighbor’s massive Cadillac, recent generations have fallen out of love with the internal combustion engine—and not just for alleged environmental impacts.
Millennials are putting off getting their driver’s licenses to older and older ages, and they are also engineering a reverse white flight and re-settling in cities where cars are at best a massive pain in the ass.
That decline may just turnaround with the rapidly advancing development of mass produced, autonomous cars. These rolling robots not only have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year and billions of gallons in wasted fuel, they have the power, if given the freedom to innovate, to rekindle America’s love of the car.
Currently, Google, Apple, and a half-dozen other automobile manufactures having been making models and testing in more and more realistic situations. Even today, most of the high-to-middle end cars have some sort of autonomy in the breaks, steering, climate, etc.
But driverless cars have the ability to also open our minds up to all that we miss trying to not to hit the old guy who walks out into the middle of the street or the squirrel that thinks the crosswalk is nice place to chill.
The pictures, movies, and inspiration that will come of being free to catch up on life during the daily commute can rekindle our passion for the automotive.
Alright this one may be a little farfetched. Tesla-founder Elon Musk believes he has the next big thing when it comes to rapid transit, and it ain’t no bullet train. Musk and others are working on something that resembles a giant hamster tube that sucks all the air out and propels a sealed cylinder full of riders, floating on air, about 800 miles per hour to their destination at the other end of the country.
The rest is speculation since no working prototype is available to evaluate. But the future is listening.
You are now free to move about the solar system
Virgin CEO Richard Bransen has a dream to make private commercial travel in space a reality. To further this mission, he has launched Virgin Galactic to be added to his suit of “Virgin” companies. Many are bullish about Galactic and the prospects for private space flight in general. Some are evening predicting that 2014 will be a banner year for the commercial space industry.
This is becoming more and more plausible by the day. As government agencies become more and more concerned with maintaining high rates of funding, even if they lack any sense of purpose or direction, entrepreneurs are working constantly day and night to improve their results.
The decentralized nature and accountability of markets ensure that if we ever do consider private space travel a basic fact of human life, we’ll be able to thank these first-generation pioneers
The future is bright
What the gist of all this is is that we may finally be starting to be liberated from the clutches of the monopoly provision of transportation under government. Think about it. We live under a road system where around 40,000 people die every year. Why? What makes us put up with that? It can’t all be because of human error. At least some large portion must be due to the government, who is responsible for building and maintaining the roads.
We also live under a governmental system that believes rail, a 19th century technology, is the future. And unwilling accept basic realities, government continues to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into these massive boondoggles that rob taxpayers of their money and time.
In addition, we have a Federal Aviation Administration that still uses its original 1940’s technology to track the location of planes, even while its budget has gone up massively!
This cannot be the way. There must be a better one.
Fortunately, we’re seeing the beginnings of it now: A market revolution that is leaving government in the dust. It has captured the commanding heights of our imaginations as to what we can do and where we can go and how we can get there.
And after this whole revolution becomes obvious, perhaps then the transportation politics that I mentioned at the beginning will die a much deserved death once and for all.