Douglas Newby

Principal and Founder,


This conversation is closed.

Will more use mass transportation through improved 19th century technology- fixed rail or 21st century technology- smart road grid system?

The success of mass transportation is determined how many people use it and how the transportation affects the environment. A majority of people are in favor of mass transportation for other people to use but are not that keen on using it every day in their own lives.

The current government transportation goal is to spend $50 million on fixed rail high speed trains. Would it be better to spend money on developing a standard for a smart road grid system in which scientists and designers could develop smart vehicles, smart parking, smart traffic signals,smart traffic lanes, metered by demand toll roads, buses, linked vehicle cabins, hybrid car-trains where at any train stop cars could decouple and go on individual route.

One of the main attributes of mass transportation is that it cuts down on pollution. Does fixed -rail become less desirable if a smart road grid system is more successful in reducing total pollution per all passenger miles.

Should the future of U.S. transportation be fixed -rail because of the past success of fixed -rail in Europe?

The average speed of high speed trains is only 50% faster than train speeds in the early 1930s. How much more improvement can we expect in the speed and efficiency of trains in the future?
Can self driving cars closely spaced reach the same 124 mph average speeds on designated uninterrupted stretches. Do cars become virtual trains if traveling in a designated group?

Once 50 billion dollars is spent on fixed- rail high speed trains does that pretty much finish the conversation on mass transportation for 50 years?

Is it better to force people to use mass transportation through regulations or is it better to entice people to use mass transportation by providing a better transportation system?

Is it better to plan all future development around fixed rail or is it better to plan future mass transit around evolving development?

These are some of the issues to consider when determining the future of mass transit

  • thumb
    Mar 16 2011: Even if you love trains, you might not love the plans to build light rail systems. This article explains why:
  • Anand R

    • +2
    Mar 6 2011: Indian Railways operates about 9,000 passenger trains and transports 20 million passengers daily across twenty-eight states and two union territories.. I believe this data would give more clarity on Indian railways.. I hope the geography of each country decides the best mode of transport.
  • Mar 6 2011: At present time, in USA, the cost for either is a mote point. The population is too large for smart roads & cars, while the fixed rail is not only too costly but Americans have a great love of the "open road" & to get there on their own & stop when they wish at any given spot. Both ideas must first be presented in such a way to appeal greatly to the public-enough so they want to give up their 4 wheel freedom & gas eaters.
  • thumb
    Mar 25 2011: I am pretty sure that I read somewhere that Warren Buffet is investing in railroads again. I sure would use them if they were competitively priced, clean, efficient and available.
  • thumb
    Mar 25 2011: Our approach and attitude of how we address our national transportation and environmental goals determines our success. In 1961, Presidet Kennedy addressed to Congress declaring his belief in a national goal of "landing a man on the Moon". In 1914, we completed building of the Panama Canal, one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. We have turned unfathomable ideas into technological reality. Americans have continually pushed the line for innovation and created the standard of measure. Why should we stop now?

    Europe’s High speed rail was the envy of the world 50 years ago. In the 21st century, fixed rail does not represent American ingenuity. How many manufactures are out there playing catch-up with Apple’s new iPhone and iPad. Playing catch-up creates average products. Innovating for the future will create the next iPhone or cause the next moon landing. Knowledge is increasing thanks to visionary thinking by people in the early 1960’s who saw great potential value in allowing computers to share information. Technology has achieved a better standard of living for all income groups around the world.

    The idea of building smart cars on a smart grid system is a perfect representation of American ambition. How many futuristic fiction novels or movies do you watch where people are getting on and off trains? Fiction writers are bound by no physical law or limitations. They create in their mind for our reading pleasure the easiest and most user friendly world. It is our continual challenge and identity as Americans to turn those good ideas we read and hear into a reality.
  • thumb
    Mar 16 2011: While the concept of high speed rail and mass transit is good in theory, there are still too many obstacles to overcome that would make it beat out a smart grid system. The Atlantic and New York Times article, When Rail Becomes Ridiculous, sums it up nicely. The reality is that while high speed rail can take you from Point A to Point B, you then have to worry about transportation when you get to Point B. A smart grid system would allow you to travel high speed "on the grid" and still give you transportation when you arrive at Point B.

    The world wide web is the information super highway. I think a smart grid system can do for transportation what the internet has done for information and communication. The internet works because the United States innovated and created the standards for the internet. I'd like to see the US focus on a standards based smart road grid system. This would ensure ensure the success of future mass transportation.
  • thumb
    Mar 10 2011: Following Cindy Gallop, I responded to the talks by Bill Ford, Dennis Hong and Sebastian Thurn. Dennis Hong designed a smart car for the blind, Sebastian Thurn designed the self-driving Google smart car. Cindy Gallop said, "The solution to global gridlock is not smarter cars, it's smarter public transportation." I said, "I think the TED community has the influence to demand that standards be developed for a smart road grid system that will accommodate the cars Dennis Hong and Sebastian Thurn want to design and Bill Ford wants to build."

    Both Cindy and I were calling for smarter mobility. Smart cars, smart roads, smart traffic signals, smart parking spaces and smart traffic lanes are just a start. A smart road grid system would provide a platform for scientists, engineers and designers to fully explore and develop technology that would give us smarter public transportation.

    Bill Ford was not clear on this point. Cindy Gallop thought Bill Ford was only interested in designing better cars, I thought he might be interested in totally rethinking the way we approach transportation.

    What do you think?
  • thumb
    Mar 9 2011: CINDY GALLOP – from main TED stage in last session responded to Bill Ford's TED talk. Cindy was kind to send me her remarks.

    "Bill Ford: your ancestor said if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.

    You're telling people we want a smarter car.

    The solution to global gridlock is not smarter cars, it's smarter public transportation. Which represents a fantastic opportunity for the Ford Motor Company to reinvent your business and your business model, and to be the future of mobility, not the future of cars."
  • thumb
    Mar 7 2011: I wouldn't be too concerned with government numbers. Afterall, they are buying their own nation products...hopefully and the range of which they pay for services vary greatly.

    Would people use mass transit , they have just initiated a higher-mid end train system through the northeast. Would I use it sure, but even those who do know its rare for travel purposes. Very few have reason to continuously use it and those who do kind of would know their the exception.

    So the question becomes where in mass transit is appropriate and its almost always personal vehicles. Even with public transportation which is enjoyable when used moderately, in many cases, it is likely it does not run in many areas and therefore isn't effective for many. Especially in America not placing vehicles in each persons capable hands is seen as a failure, Unfortunately people are willing to live with an IQ under any circumstance to believe its OK to have random birth-rates and therefore are able to create a situation where vehicles aren't available for Americans. Due to their correlation and ability toward retaliation such as ostracizing education and creating a deformed version of appreciation in individuals. The tactic has become to create many as the exception which makes the world seem highly political. Whats worse is the people they may be able to create such a situation typically don't realize they have little if any of the basic essentials to be in comparison to the people with assert to defend.
  • thumb
    Mar 6 2011: Anand, You are absolutely right that each country should develop transportation systems that work for its geography and population. I would even go even farther and suggest that each state and community should decide the best mode of transport.

    I do think that it would be beneficial to have a standard for smart roads so that the innovations that come from India could easily be exported to the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • thumb
    Mar 6 2011: Gale, do you think that strategically placed initial smart roads could be implemented that could be used by a limited number of smart car owners and for smart busses. My understanding is that smart cars would still have a driver feature so the car or bus would be then able to exit onto a non smart road.

    One of the interesting things is that the first users of smart cars will be the very people who are the least likely to use public transportation
    • Mar 6 2011: Don't get me wrong Douglas, I like the idea of smart cars & even fixed rail systems, but getting our economy back on track (no pun intended) is more important. Once we are out from under the oil companies and new innovations can get a head start then smart cars & fixed rails will stand a chance. The ones who are least likely to use public transport are not the ones to convince. The average American is facing huge gas prices that they are not used to nor budgeted for. Not to mention the pay scale will not cover the prices.
      While Smart Cars maybe the next great innovation in transportation I want to help get the American public back on its feet.
      • thumb
        Mar 6 2011: You are right Gale, getting the economy back on track is more important than a huge outlay of public money right now on mass transportation. This is one of the reasons I question the government goal of spending 50 billion dollars on fixed rail in the near future. Another reason is that economically, fixed rail transport cost several times as much per passenger mile than do cars. Last year i heard Randal O'Toole speak outlining the cost per passenger mile of different modes of transportation. He had good ideas on how to reduce gridlock. While I have not read it, his book is" GRIDLOCK, why we are stuck in traffic and what to do about it"

        I do think now is the time for the government or community to develop standards for a smart grid so engineers and scientist can invent with confidence.
  • thumb
    Mar 6 2011: I love riding trains and live in an urban neighborhood but think smart roads are a much better platform for mass transit innovation than fixed rail.