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Self-Driving Buses Could Really Reinvent Transportation Systems

Congested cities, troubling unemployment due to the absence of transit, and environmental issues from automobile pollution all point towards the need for much greater development of mass transportation. Even as transit ridership is growing to all time highs, the US is short on extensively developed systems that reach the many who could benefit from affordable transit.

While the idea of self-driving cars has excited millions, a recent Quartz article points to the use of self-driving buses as opposed to self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars will improve as technology is improved. At this time, the glitches and problems of the autonomous cars tested show the drivers are still needed. Situations such as road construction are not handled and the need for an extensive system of very detailed maps is daunting. The question is do individuals really need large pieces of steel and metal separating them from everyone else — or is there a more advanced means of transit that better suits our needs.

google self driving car prototype

Greg Lindsey and Anthony Townsend clarify nicely that we are looking at the wrong issue. They note: “Google’s greatest shortcoming isn’t its technology, but how it has defined America’s transportation challenge. Our public transportation systems are running near historic highs in ridership, while using technology and business models from the 19th century. We should be upgrading these, not trying to fix America’s auto-dependent suburbs.”

Well, yes, US public policy needs to look at public transportation and get it to and in the suburbs as well. Urban sprawl combined with inadequate transit infrastructure, as I just wrote, has created isolation and paralysis of unemployment. The shallow stigma in this country of the bus needs to change and change fast. In Latin America, things are moving with bus rapid transit. The systems are energy-efficient, cheap, and more flexible. Large numbers of commuters now use these convenient buses in Latin America avoiding cars.

Lindsey and Townsend continue that rather than cars, self-driving buses might be on an avenue of increasing change. They may change perceptions. “Now what if those buses—like the private automobile “platoons” envisioned by the auto industry—could travel safely only feet apart at top speeds?”

Quartz points out a study and recent estimate for Princeton University indicating that with autonomous buses “the bus lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel, connecting New York City to New Jersey, could accommodate over 200,000 passengers per hour, more than five times today’s throughput.”

London Bus Lightspeed

London Bus Lightspeed


A Guardian article, “Buses are the future of urban transport. No, really,” offers a hardy agreement with any effort to increase bus use. The Guardian notes that Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, brought about a sweet revision of stereotypes. It points out that he is “the man fond of defining an advanced city, not as ‘one where the poor move about in cars [but] where even the rich use public transportation.’ ”

With all of this said, self-driving cars are coming into view. Technology will advance, and self-driving cars will improve, computing power will unfold and increase. Other than Google many breeds of self-driving cars are emerging. Recently, California and Nevada granted autonomous licenses. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors’ Cadillac division, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model D, an electric sedan with semi-autonomous features. Here is a post by Gas2 with a video of BMW making autonomous driving look fun. Let’s just hope that with self-driving cars, or even ahead of them, self-driving buses come along and make transit look even cooler than it already is.

Related Articles:

Google Self-Driving Car & Its View (VIDEO)

Electric Buses Overall Best For CO2, Health & Price; Hydrogen Worst

Classy Intercity Buses Make A Comeback

Image Credits: Google; Simon & His Camera (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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