The Transportation Revolution

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Light Rail is About to Become Obsolete

If we build the Durham–Orange Light Rail currently being sold to the public by GoTriangle, we will be spending billions of dollars on a system that will be outdated years before it fills one train car. It will likely never come close to carrying the number of passengers that the transit group is predicting for 2035.

We now stand on the precipice of a revolution that will bring the most dramatic changes in ground transportation since the introduction of the Model T Ford. That transformation will take off just as ground is broken for the construction of our shiny new money pit, and will hit full speed before the time the rail system has time to reach the 11,500 passenger-per-weekday load that GoTriangle is predicting to happen in 2035.

Driverless cars will be introduced to the American showroom in 2020, if not sooner.

Think that’s unlikely? Knowledgeable companies are betting on it, and on it having a massive impact on how we get around. The list includes major auto manufacturers, some of the most successful technology companies in the world, and top-name business analysts and investment advisers. Here are a few examples:

Mercedes will start its change over this coming March, 2016, with the introduction of a car that can drive ‘autonomously” (i.e.: without a driver’s involvement) on highways. Highways are easier driving for the new “AVs” (autonomous vehicles).

Nissan announced early this decade that it would be introducing an autonomous vehicle in 2020. A little earlier this year Nissan’s CEO announced that the company’s development is on-schedule for the 2020 release date. He encouraged state governments to start working on the policies governing how these vehicles are to be licensed and insured.

Your Car Becomes Your Second Office

Once we get over the giddy novelty of watching the road while the car drives itself we’ll turn to other activities. If you’re on your way to work or school, then you’re most likely to start by pulling out your laptop and going through your email. Or maybe you’ll work on the report that’s due later in the day. For many people commute time will be productive time, with less distractions than they run into when at home or at the workplace.

Others will pick up the phone right away. The commute will be a great time to connect with a parent, friend, or business associate. Some will browse the web, or catch up on the news, or read a book. Or order a book from Amazon. Or nap. Listen to music. Listen to an audiobook. Study. Or Text!

With door to door service and a wide range of options on how to spend your time, why would anyone choose to get dropped off at a rail station? Instead, get dropped off at the door of your destination, then let your car go park itself.

But what if you can’t afford a car? No problem, there’s always…

A Driverless Taxi!

Uber, the cheap “everyman’s” cab, is already experimenting with driverless alternatives. Travis Kalanick, the Uber CEO, can’t wait for the autonomous vehicle revolution to start and has already said he plans on ordering 500,000 of the vehicles as soon as they’re available.

Why? Because driver pay is 75% of Uber’s cost of doing business.

Uber is an inexpensive alternative taxi service that’s shaking the cab business to its roots. Instead of using dedicated cabs and full time taxi drivers, Uber contracts with everyday car owners who want to use their cars to work part time driving others around for pay. Customers who have an account with Uber can summon a car with an app on their phone. It’s significantly cheaper than a traditional taxi, and yes, it’s available now in the Triangle. Check it out at www.uber.com; it may come in handy if your car breaks down.

Bill Gates, multi-billionaire philanthropist and founder of Microsoft, thinks Uber will be the number one company to benefit from driverless cars. Driverless ‘cabs’ owned by Uber will probably be the first really big move towards autonomous vehicles, along with driverless shuttles at places such as airports and theme parks. These autonomous “utility” vehicles will help introduce the public to the concept; they’ll give us all a chance to try out the new tech without buying into it right away. They’ll be public transport “lite”. That easy introduction will also help fuel early sales.

Once the concept catches and our initial mistrust fades, autonomous vehicles are expected to quickly become the standard. This will be like the Model T Ford replacing horse driven carriages, only faster. And if you have access to a self-driven vehicle, why on earth would you have it take you to a commuter train station?

Why would anyone in Chapel Hill or Durham transfer to a train when they could, in less time, be dropped off at the door of their home or workplace?

In future years public transit departments across the country will either adapt by moving to autonomous vehicles and modifying their processes, or they’ll be become irrelevant. Wake county will have the flexibility to keep up because they’ll still be on a bus system, the easiest type of transport to adapt to the new reality of ground transport.

But Durham and Orange counties won’t be able to keep up. We’ll have made our tremendous financial investment in a 19th century technology, and we’ll be spending a huge portion of our transit funds on maintaining and operating it.

We’re about to spend almost two billion dollars on horse-drawn carriages!