We can’t forget about mass transit when we talk about the ‘future of transportation’

May 14, 2018

 

Maybe it was the smell of oil and machined metal coming from the jetpack on stage, or maybe it was because I was listening to the 10th different speaker in under three hours. But I was a little dizzy by the end of the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Transportation event that took place on Wednesday in Manhattan. When I got back out on the street and cleared my head, though, the first thing I thought to myself was: “wait a minute, did no one really talk about the future of public transportation?”

 

Don’t get me wrong, it was an engaging morning full of bright minds with relative disciplinary diversity (gender not so much — there were just two women guest speakers to eight men), ranging from space exploration to the aforementioned jetpack to the head of General Motors’ global program for electric vehicles. But for an event that was supposed to be about the “future of transportation,” and part of a broader week-long festival about the “future of everything,” it was oddly focused on personal — not public — transportation.


That’s a shame, because this has been a problem for a while now, and it doesn’t seem to be changing much. After all, across the country at the very same time Uber was kicking off the second day of its second-annual “Elevate” conference, which is dedicated solely to the idea of air taxis capable of vertical takeoff and landing. (Or by another, more contentious name: “flying cars.”) More broadly, this has been a demonstrable trend for years. When we think about the capital F future of transportation, we often skip right to the stuff of dreams.

 

Why is that?

 

Maybe it has to do with the obstacles that stand in the way of making public transportation better. Typically, public transportation involves citywide systems that are complex and require a lot of money to be operated. They’re already deeply embedded — literally, in the case of New York’s subway system — in the infrastructure of cities, which makes optimization and electrification and disruption and all of the other buzzy “-tion” words that Silicon Valley and the tech industry love more difficult. Fixing public transportation requires cooperation, planning, and the acceptance of the community. Ideas are voted on. Careers are wagered. That sometimes makes it hard to separate the ideas from the politics.

 

Click here to read the full article: https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/12/17346014/future-of-transportation-public-buses-pedestrians-jetpack

 

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