TED Conversations

Benzi R

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We should not try to improve the car. We should think of a new system of mobility. This could come in a form of smart transit.

This idea is around for at least 30 years. All products have gone from mass production to smart production. Cars are no longer all black. There are many models, many brands, and each model has many varieties and colors and many assembled on the same production line. This is possible because we are managing this with software that makes sure the the yellow door arrives at exactly the right moment to be assembled in the yellow car.

Many companies have designed systems like that. You can Google PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) and many will come up.

In dense urban areas this system operates on demand, you don't have to wait for a vehicle, it waits for you even in peak times, it goes non-stop from origin to destination, it costs a fraction of a subway system to install (to be more precise about one tenth) and it cost one fourth to operate. This system can actually make money as opposed to any other public transportation system and therefore can attract investors. The only thing you need from the government is right of way.
This system is safer than roads or any other transit and in a context of dense urban areas it takes typically not more than 10 minutes to get from anywhere to any destination around the urban center. It is easy to use. No predetermined routes and no traffic jams even in peak demand times.

More about this http://smart-transit.blogspot.hk/2010/07/what-is-prt.html

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  • Dec 8 2012: not perfect, not for all cases, not for everyone but a start: http://litmotors.com/c-1/
  • Dec 2 2012: There are several Ted talks that discuss many aspects of these problems. We have an ever growing complexity and cost problem - I don't think that the people messing things up should be allowed to be totally oblivious to these problems. However, you do have a suggestion to help.
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    Dec 1 2012: .
    If you 'think of a new system of mobility' find a way to change peoples minds as well.

    With almost all car owners their personal freedom in mobility is based on their CARS.

    By this and if you wish to implement your new system successfully, you have to have a way to persuade them not only to give up their cars, but also a huge part of their 'freedom'.

    Unless you manage to do that, we should keep improving the car.
    • Dec 2 2012: You are almost right. In the US, less than 1% of trips are made with public transit. In New York city the number is 9%. Why this difference? In Atlanta they decided to subsidize more their transit and ridership hardly changed. Why? The reason is the cost of time. The richer the society, the higher is the cost of time. The main factor contributing to you choice of transportation system is the cost of your time. The richer you are, the more likely you will chose the fastest method independent of the actual physical out of pocket cost, unless heavy penalties are incurred in the forms of tolls, like they did recently in London for the center of city. As we saw in Bill Ford's talk we are heading towards a world where in urban areas we will be stuck in traffic longer and longer. So if you are a commuter and I give you a choice of spending 20 minutes commuting in transit versus 90 minutes with your car and you have to do it everyday. Which one would you chose? Especially if you have to do it everyday?

      In regards to freedom - a properly installed PRT system would give you more, not less freedom. As I mentioned, it operates on demand and it goes from any station to any other station nonstop. You don't need to find parking space and you could hop on a vehicle stationed in any station. New stations are easy and cheap to install. The distance between stations is small because adding stations doesn't slow the system, but increases exponentially its usability. You don't need to walk farther to a station than to your parking space in Manhattan.

      So the reason that in Manhattan transit ridership is much higher is that in many cases it takes longer to use your car than the transit. The price of time is the main factor. So you don't really need to convince people in marketing campaigns to use the system, It will happen naturally.
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        Dec 2 2012: 'Almost right' still is 'slightly wrong', so let me rescue my honor here... ;o)

        It doesn't take rocket science to explain why 'In New York city the number is 9%' and where the difference comes from compared to the rest of the US.

        Against good advice I once took my own car to go to New York to have my first visit and the experience in short is this: Traffic is mad, traffic rules a foreign word, taxis are predators and the cost of a parking garage for three hours exceeded the monthly rent of my shared appartment in a small town in a nearby state.

        I don't need any more evidence to understand why more people go by public transport in NY than by car.

        I also assume, that almost all of the public transit made in the US happen in overcrowded areas and the small remaining rest goes to long range travels like Greyhound.

        The core problem of mobility is not the rush hour in big cities, it is the good old suburbia where dilemma hides. Especially in large areas of fragmented settlements, which is quite common in the US, not to have a car comes almost close to suicide.

        Coming from Europe and before I got my car, I really struggled to get my shopping done. Even though I lived in a smalll town, the closest grocery store was literally miles away. Without even a bicycle, a bottle milk, orange juice and a view basics really caused my arms to grow in length. :o)

        And I had to walk along streets which did not even have sidewalks. Besides school bus services, the infrastructure in public transport was very limited and that what was, off my schedule.

        So the majority of private mobility in the US happens exactly there, where the infrastructure of public transport is least developed.

        Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of smart transit, but if its main focus is cities it only competes against existing systems of mass transportation with only a small benefit of time savings.

        Yet as soon as you stretch PRT to outskirt levels, the rise in cost will outbalance its benefits.
        • Dec 2 2012: First, in one aspect you are absolutely right. We did economical studies that show that the denser the population, the higher the return. In another aspect, when you mention that other systems have similar performance, I need to correct that. First, with this system you don't need to change trains or bus routes etc... Secondly, it takes you from origin to destination nonstop. In a subway system most of the time you spend decelerating, accelerating and stopping. This usually triple the travel time. Add to that, change of trains and longer walks between stations and you get a huge difference. Economically, as I mentioned before, it costs 1/10 of subway to install and 1/4 to operate. There are only 2 systems in the world that do not require subsidies - Hong Kong and Tokyo. All other systems are subsidized by government. It is especially costly during off peak hours where they reduce the frequency, this lowering demand even further. PRT operates on demand 24/7. It runs only when you need it from any station to any other station nonstop. Its cheaper by orders of magnitude and faster by orders of magnitude as well as much safer. This system doesn't need government money. It actually can make money having the potential to attract private equity. Since it operates on demand one can program a ticket (a bar coded plastic card) to run only to a couple or more destinations (your choice) and give tickets to younger kids, The charging system could be similar to EZ pass with unbelievable possibilities. Because of the small size of vehicles, stations could be inside buildings, and malls. The guideways cross section is only 3' X 3' with posts 60' apart and could and be easily attached to existing bridges. You really have to go into it to understand the amazing potential.

          BTW - the average speed of a car in Manhattan during daytime is 3 MPH. The PRT system is 35 MPH.
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        Dec 2 2012: 'You really have to go into it to understand the amazing potential.'

        Most likely this is, yet lets turn my cluelessness into your chance to convince me, so far, I still resist. ;o)

        Taking you by the first part of your idea to '... not try to improve the car', your solution does not offer an all purpose alternative, so that by not improving the car any further, we hit climate change even sooner.

        Also I did not mention that 'other systems have similar performance', I said, that it would have to compete against existing systems of mass transportation with only a small benefit of time savings.

        Not 'similar performance', therefore 'existing systems', which is different and crucial for what comes next:

        Because these systems already exist, the cost advantage becomes irrelevant as the installation of your system generates 1/10 of the cost ON TOP of an existing subway. And so are the operating costs, because the subway will not be closed down to make your calculations work.

        And even if it would be closed down, the PRT would have to make up for its original cost as well, because otherwise it was a loss of investment.

        So against existing infrastructure the stated benefits in cost are fictitious.

        They only work for a city build from scratch, maybe somewhere in China, where those things happen occasionally.

        Another downside I see in your concept is, that it is railbound. By this it could easily be replaced by an automated, car based system, in which a flotilla of autonomous and electric driven vehicles are using the given infrastructure of streets by which they replace the whole individual traffic and taxis to cope with all those problems in one stroke. So without the need of 1/10 of the cost of a subway for a railsystem, the higher price of those vehicles at same low operating costs would form a very competitive alternative.

        ... to be continued
        • Dec 3 2012: In my initial text and subsequent answers there are already many answers for your last comments. For instance you continue to say that " that it would have to compete against existing systems of mass transportation with only a small benefit of time savings." I have showed you many times that it is not so. Maybe I didn't prove it yet, but some serious engineers have conducted studies that show that it does save a lot of time. There is no point in continuing to counter argue if this happens.

          You are right when say that others systems exist. To this I have two answers: First, they don't exists everywhere. There are still densely populated areas with poor transit. The investment on this idea doesn't have to be all or nothing. Why not make a small pilot to test it? This pilot could be a "feeder" to other systems (rail or subway). The systems could work together. If this idea is indeed better, it will win by natural selection.

          The automated car system that you are suggesting is a good idea. But this one is a system that separates pedestrians from the traffic, so the automated system doesn't have to worry about that. Yes, it is rail based but it is a special rail based.
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        Dec 2 2012: ...

        The fact that more and more cities are blocking downtown for general traffic anyway, would gain a lot of space on empty streets for such a installation.

        Autonomous driven vehicles are under development and electric car technology is already there. So it is just a matter of time when these competitive alternatives become available.

        Another aspect is, that your economical studies already prove, that the return of your system gets lower as more necessery it actually becomes - at the outskirts, where the population density flattens and number of cars increases.

        Any technology, which does not provide what it aims to substitute, will have problems to pass reality check.

        On top of that, each privately financed car does not cost any tax money it even generates tax money, by motor vehicle - and gasoline tax. So as more and more private cars your system substitutes, as less tax-flow it will generate, and this permanently. Given this 'hidden' fact and on total calculation even the last 'virtual' benefit of lower operating cost of your system goes skyrocketing.

        So why would I won't such a system? So far, I still resist. ;o)
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        Dec 3 2012: It seems we are going in circles, so the only thing I can do at this point is to wish you good luck in the realisation of your idea, in case you are going to set out to do so.

        Whenever I am going to use your concept set in place in the future, I will remember this conversation, happily knowing to have failed to 'talk you out of that idea'... ;o)

        Good Luck!
        • Dec 3 2012: Thank you very much. I am not involved in it any more. Too difficult. But may people are continuing that. There are many ways to do it but very few to do it right. Raytheon tried to implement it in Cincinnati many years ago, when I was still in college, but they assigned to the project fringe engineers that killed the concept by making it Group instead of Personal (GRP instead of PRT). There is a weak attempt doing it wrongly now in Heathrow Airport, In Tel Aviv, it seems they are about to implement a version of this. This one maybe successful.

          This is a good website - watch the video http://www.taxi2000.com/images/movies/echo.swf
  • Dec 1 2012: With a vast number of alternatives,and with one not necessarily precluding another Do the best you can.
    • Dec 2 2012: That's correct. This system would be an addition and not a replacement, although I predict that if something like this is installed, the vast majority will use it especially due to its scalability and the ability to easily and affordable increase the number of miles and number of stations.