Thursday, May 2, 2013

Auckland's transportation problems [rant]

Okay, for years now we've had local and national government arguing over the future of Auckland's transportation infrastructure (similar arguments are taking place in many other cities as well). Is it more roads and cars, or lots more buses, or light rail and trams, or a rail loop, or a combination of all of the above? Then how is it all going to be paid for? Time and time again everyone in the debate makes apocalyptic predictions about the total grid lock that will happen in 20 years time if we do nothing.
    It's essential to prepare for the future, but to do so you must have an accurate idea of what the future will look like. Current planners seem to be completely ignoring the profound impact that self-driving cars will have on the need for transport infrastructure. Now you may be thinking that I'm just another geek predicting robotic vehicles and personal jet-packs. But you'd be wrong. I'm not going to quote articles from scientists or show video of Google's driverless car. I'm going to quote from a recent report by KPMG, called "Self-driving cars: The next revolution."

"An essential implication for an autonomous vehicle infrastructure is that, because efficiency will improve so dramatically, traffic capacity will increase exponentially without building additional lanes or roadways. Research indicates that platooning of vehicles could increase highway lane capacity by up to 500 percent. It may even be possible to convert existing vehicle infrastructure to bicycle or pedestrian uses. Autonomous transportation infrastructure could bring an end to the congested streets and extra-wide highways of large urban areas. It could also bring the end to battles over the need for (and cost of) high-speed trains. Self-driving vehicles with the ability to “platoon”—perhaps in special express lanes—might provide a more flexible and less 
costly alternative."

   Yes, KPMG are predicting up to a 500% increase in road capacity and less need for expensive trains. Basically it seems as if our politicians and planners are like people in 1905 planning how many horse stables will be required in the city in 30 years time and are worried who will collect all the horse pooh! I highly recommend the KPMG report - it's not science-fiction we are on the cusp of a revolution. The car dramatically changed the nature of our society in the 20th Century and will do so again in the 21st. Please wake up politicians and start planning for a future that will actually happen.