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Cars (again)

I'm getting ready to go to Novacon (taking tomorrow and Thursday for the trip down), a round trip drive of around 650 miles, and I'm not looking forward to it. Yes, I have a co-driver, and yes, we're not doing it in one run; but the A1/A1(M)/M1 from Edinburgh to Nottingham and back via a family visit in Leeds isn't exactly enjoyable. At this time of year the light up here is fading — it gets dark by 5pm — and the weather is likely to involve clouds, and rain. There are stretches of single carriageway along the A1 north of Alnwick (yes, this is the main highway connecting Scotland's capital city to England in the 21st century: why do you ask?) where one gets stuck behind slow goods vehicles and/or tractors towing tanks of pig slurry. There are stretches further south, where the road rises to the status of motorway (two lanes plus hard shoulder in each direction until you reach Englandshire), and then the happy fun fifty kilometres of roadworks monitored by average speed cameras. I have eyeball-related medical issues that make driving an exercise in applied paranoia, and even when I go sit in the passenger seat I can't read a book — I get motion sickness if I read in any vehicle that weighs less than twenty tons.

The only reason I'm putting up with it is that the alternatives are worse ...

Catching a train from Edinburgh to Nottingham is expensive, limits the amount of baggage we can take, and involves at least one change of train (there are no direct services). Flying from Edinburgh to Nottingham is ... well, there are flights from EDI to East Midlands Airport, which is trying to rebrand itself as Nottingham's airport, causing mirth and hilarity among those who might actually want Nottingham to have a real airport rather than one that's nearer to Derby, but it's not so much use if you're carrying suitcases and looking to save time. Driving, despite the high cost of fuel (petrol currently costs around £1.17 per litre — that translates as US $7.11 per US gallon), is the cheapest way for more than one person to get from Edinburgh to Nottingham, albeit not quite the fastest. (Edinburgh to Leeds can be driven in just under four hours without breaking the speed limit [much]; Leeds to Nottingham is another 90 minutes — the train journey can be done in four and a half hours, including one change.)

Driving may be cheap, but it's fatiguing, blocks you from doing anything else with your time, and is dangerous — much more so in terms of deaths and injuries per passenger-Km travelled than rail or air travel. Why do we put up with it?

The automobile industry spends a lot of money advertising their products (US $31Bn in 2007 — that's $100 per person in the United States per year). As the automotive industry is a mature sector, car marketing is based on market segmentation, pushing different vehicles at specific target audiences by appealing to lifestyle choices and personal self-definition. A lot of advertising relies on the myth of autonomy and freedom; car ads don't show vehicles stuck in traffic jams on the motorway, or commuting to the office, but position them as the means of escape from such mundane aspects of life.

Meanwhile, the death toll mounts. Over 90% of injuries and fatal accidents on the roads are the result of human error, almost always driver error. If you drive, you've doubtless had run-ins with empty-headed idiots who had lost situational awareness, or murderous clowns who had mistaken the public highway for a race track. The accident rate for males suffering from testosterone poisoning (age range: 16-24) is an order of magnitude higher than for those who are old enough to have an appreciation of their own mortality. Here in a nation where we see fit to tightly regulate the ownership of firearms we nevertheless hand out driving licenses to anyone who wants one and can pass a proficiency test simple enough that most 17 year olds pass on the first attempt — even though these vehicles pack as much kinetic energy as an artillery shell (with inevitable consequences).

The death toll is not small. The UK, despite having an excellent road safety record, sees more people killed on the roads every year than died during the entire duration of the Troubles in Northern Ireland; "According to the World Health Organization motor vehicle collisions are the 6th most common cause of death in developed nations, with an average rate of 20.8 per 100,000 populations in the year 2000 (30.8 for males, 11.0 for females). African nations have the world's highest road traffic injury mortality rates." (Wikipedia on traffic-related death rates.) 1.2 million were killed and 50 million injured in road traffic accidents in 2004.

Want a yardstick to put that last figure in perspective?

During the first world war, there were 9.7 million military deaths, 6.8 million civilian deaths, and 21.2 million surviving casualties, over a 4.5 year period. That's an average of 2.15 million dead per year ... but today we have better medical care, and a much higher probability of surviving a bullet or a car crash. If you compare the total casualty rates, then we have one and a half times as many people injured in road traffic accidents every year than were wounded or killed during the entire first world war.

I am all in favour of sporting or recreational driving — as long as it's on a closed track separate from roads where pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers are trying to get from A to B without injury, death, or delay. But it'd be a very good thing indeed if we could decouple the cultural associations of escape, romance, and autonomy from our transport vehicles. And it'd be an even better thing indeed if nobody in possession of a car was forced to operate the controls and pay attention to the roads if they didn't want to.

While the basic automobile is a mature technology, autonomous vehicles — specifically, self-driving cars — are not. However, they're clearly coming along by leaps and bounds. And unlike human drivers, computers don't generally suffer from lapses of attention, have heart attacks at the wheel, drive home from the pub after a couple of pints too many, or plough into cyclists while texting their girlfriends.

Shortly after (not if, but when) we see autopilots become standard equipment in cars, we can expect to see insurance premiums start to rise sharply for people who insist on driving themselves around on the public highways — especially for third-party insurance.

(Remember, it's not about you: it's about the guy in the pick-up behind you who's had six pints of beer, or the gal in the SUV bearing down on the pedestrian crossing who's paying more attention to the friend she's chatting to than the kids crossing the road. You could be that guy or that gal; or you could be scrupulously attentive the whole time. Your insurance company's computer can't tell until you have an accident ... that's the problem with Baye's Theorem.)

Longer term (I suspect a generation after that point) we'll begin to see pressure to ban humans from driving on the public roads. By this point, the cost of electronics required to upgrade a vehicle to self-driving capability will have fallen so much that it's ubiquitous, even in the developing world.

By around 2050, I'm fairly sure that the human-driven automobile will be a specialised race-track toy for gear-heads, much as horse-drawn carriages in the developed world are a quaint hobby or a deliberate affectation demanded by certain cultural groups (I'm thinking Amish here). Privately owned cars will exist, but will function more like a chauffeur-driven limo. They won't even need to be parked by your house; whistle and it'll come when you need it. Poor folks won't have their own car, they'll just have fractional reserve part-ownership of a vehicle — after all, even at peak rush hour, 95% of the UK vehicle fleet is parked up; we don't need one car per person, we just need available wheels whenever we want to go somewhere. By 2110, I figure driving a manually-controlled car around will be looked on the way we'd look on someone carrying a sword in public; at best it's a weird and archaic affectation, and at worst — call the police!

What are the (science fictional) consequences of assuming we get self-driving vehicles (but not, say, teleportation)?

First, the automobile industry will shrink somewhat. Right now it's still expanding, as the developing world demands mobility — China and India are rolling out vast tracts of concrete and their new middle-class populations are looking for wheels and places to go. But if we look past the climate change and energy crunch politics of the noughties, an end is in sight: a fully developed world and people who are used to having robot chauffeurs rather than doing it for themselves. Ultimately I expect the automobile industry to show the same kind of demographic overshoot as the human population, but to dwindle rather more steeply as it makes a parallel demographic transition into a different kind of technological expression of the human will to motion. I don't know what will power the automobiles of 2110, but if they are self-driving vehicles providing transport for a world of 9 billion humans with a roughly middle-class lifestyle, there will be a lot fewer of them (about 80-90% fewer) than a straight extrapolation from today would indicate.

Secondly ... over a decade, 12 million fewer deaths and 500 million fewer injuries. (We're getting into WW2 territory here.) If we see the shift to autonomous vehicles complete by 2050, then by 2110 there will be 70 million more people than would otherwise have survived, and 3 billion fewer injuries. If the financial cost of treating a road traffic injury is 's extrapolated from the cost of motor vehicle injuries in the contemporary USA ($42Bn for 268,000 survivable injuries in 2005; $158,000 per person) then we're looking at 400 trillion dollars, about ten years planetary GDP or double the value of the entire sunk infrastructure and real estate of the UK — even accounting for the vastly inflated price of medical treatment in the USA, eliminating (or reducing by two orders of magnitude) the damage caused by road traffic injuries would save unimaginably vast amounts of money by the end of the 21st century.

Thirdly: changes in driving culture. Right now, drink-driving is a crime; talking on a mobile phone while driving is a lesser offense in many jurisdictions: we expect drivers to possess a certain degree of health and visual ability, and to be of age. If cars are automatic, however, there should be no problem with driving home from the pub after a lengthy session — as long as the human in question is sitting in the back and the car is making its own way. Ditto, kids: why wait until age 16-18 and take driving lessons and a test, when the car can give anyone old enough to crawl and talk a ride to wherever their parents are willing to let them go?

Fourthly: changes to the structure of cities (which are where, by 2110, the vast majority of the human population will live). If we have autonomous cars, we don't need to park them next to our front door; they'll come when we call them. Much better to park the expensive asset on the outskirts of town, in multi-story facilities with guards to keep an eye on them and car wash, valeting, refuelling and maintenance bays on the premises. This makes life much nicer for those of us who live in cramped but walkable pre-automobile cities, and means new residential developments can be designed that have better local amenities and permit walking and use of shared public spaces while not forcing residents to give up their precious four-wheeled sense of autonomy.

This is going to have long-term social consequences: what happens if we re-acquire a local sense of community while retaining the distributed global communities we gained from the internet and the ability to travel point to point that the automobile brought along?

382 Comments

1:

> Privately owned cars will exist, but will function more like a chauffeur-driven limo. They won't even need to be parked by your house; whistle and it'll come when you need it.

I've suspected that this is the long term goal for Streetcar et al. They've already got the payment infrastructure and client base in place, they just need the actual cars now...

2:

I think your also ignoring the changes to trade that things like this will cause - a vehicle that drives yourself is a vehicle that will deliver your shopping/amazon package/misc at a time of your choosing. Expect UPS, Fedex and the rest to offer this kind of thing wholesale (and with an epaper-like overlay for the vehicles body they may even be able to rebrand on the fly...)

3:

But...but...but...what about population control?! ;-) With a growing population for the Earth, with its limited resources especially food and water, a growing population isn't a good thing and with much lower death rate due to the advancement of cars like you describe, it lead to a faster growing population.

Therefore we need wormholes. And planets. Ideally quite soon.

4:

Have you considered/tried taking the M74/M6 instead of the A1/M1? I used to have to drive between Leicester and Dunfermline on a biweekly basis (don't ask) and I soon learnt to prefer the slightly longer but oh-so-much-easier drive down the M6 instead of the horror of the A1 (actually, I even preferred the A68 to the A1 at the time). According to Google Maps, Edinburgh-Nottingham is 24 miles longer via the M6 than the A1, but I bet it's a much smoother trip.

Caveat: you live there now and probably know more about it than I do, having left 7 years ago, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

I wonder whether our automated car overlords will be exchanging similar tips in the future...probably be Java middleware exchanging XML documents ;-)

5:

Population control is a late 19th century colonialist chimera. Here in the 21st century, we've noticed an interesting coincidence: if you improve the status of women (and educate them and give them access to family planning advice) they have far fewer children. The rate of population increase is trending downwards everywhere, even in places you wouldn't expect it; TFR dropped from about 5.5 children per woman to 1.6 in Iran from 1980 to 2100, for example.

Adding an extra 0.1% to the planetary population over 60 years -- survivors of road traffic accidents -- isn't going to challenge that. Personally I'm hoping that by 2200 we'll have a comfortable, well-developed and managed planet (a bit crispy about the edges, alas) with a population of less than three billion, all of whom are comfortably off and well-educated and safe. Ahem.

6:

An interesting ramble, but two things spring to mind.

The car is currently a status symbol, and tends to be personalised by the owner. So even if we had autonomous cars, people will still like to own "their" car.

Also, wouldn't having a big car depot on the outskirts lead to more traffic movements, as cars not only need to transport people, but they also need to return to base afterwards? I'm sure that the overall system would try her best to reduce the number of empty journeys, but probably wouldn't be able to remove them completely.

7:

Personally I am all in favour of rail travel. Partly due to being a train driver and having worked in Scotrail for the past 20 years but mostly because it keeps people off the roads. Add to this that the more people use the rail network the more likely I am to have a job in the future and I am bound to be sold. However it is just far too bloody expensive for Mr Joe Public to use these days and the privatisation has resulted in an overly complex and confusing mess. Just ask anyone you know who works in the UK railway industry and they will tell you all kinds of horror stories.

Sadly what should be a realistic alternative to car usage has not materialised and has suffered from lack of investment for more than 60 years. The future does not look much brighter I am afraid. Public spending cuts mean less money to upgrade our rail network into the 20th century, never mind the 21st. So we are all more or less forced to use cars.

The only reason I still use trains at all is that as an old BR staff member I still get free travel on all of the network not just the company I now work for. Otherwise I would myself be forced to drive to various events and take my life and the life of my good lady wife in my hands. The next one will be the SFX weekender in Sussex, which a rather long drive from Dumfries. But even the train is in its own way stressful, I will have to change trains in London, get an underground to St Pancras, then wait til after 9am before I am "permitted" to use my free pass to get to Camber Sands. And I am lucky to even get that. I feel sorry for anyone who has to pay for the rather shoddy service currently provided.

Good luck with the drive Charles. You have my sympathies.

8:

Ofcourse, this driverless car business does kind of assume some sort of all-encompassing infallible computer system, and we all know how likely that is...

Apart from that, this on demand centrally parked chauffeur driven car malarkey already exists: They're called cabs.

9:

#4 - I'd agree, with the following note. I'd go M8 - M73/74/6 to M6 J36 (and plan to stop at Tebay services, the best in the UK), then take the A65, A629 and A650 over to Bradford. That cuts about 50 miles (and probably between 1 and 2 hours) off the M6/61/60/62 route.

I'd leave planning beyond this to Charlie, cos he knows exactly where he's making for, and probably knows Leeds traffic better than I do.

Oh and incidentally, that route above is the one I (and several friends from the West coast) used going to the 2009 Eastercon.

#6 - I'd agree, and that's also my issue with the "taxis are environmentally friendly" lobby.

Charlie, with the note that I don't know exactly what your eyesight issues are, if you have problems with driving in the dark, look into 50% brighter quartz-xenon headlight bulbs. They really do make a difference to how far you can see on an unlit road.

10:

Thankfully your problems are solved, just get one of these
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_XT
a little under 20 tons but it should do
and one of these to steady your iPad
http://www.amazon.com/AutoExec-WM-01-Wheelmate-Steering-Wheel/dp/B000IZGIA8/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
This saves space on the dashboard so that you can put your laptop there!

11:

"The car is currently a status symbol"

Yeah, at least in the US, this is going to be a huge hurdle. People here like having their 400hp Zo6 Corvette, and being seen in it, and knowing it is theirs, and knowing you know that it's theirs.

12:

Not really. Most of the Research and testing that I can find that has gone on so far has not relied on such a system.

13:

Streetcar is exactly what I first thought of. It's something that should scale well - the more street cars available, the closer will be an available one.

If we dropped to - say - 10% of the current car population, we could have depots every few hundred yards in an urban environment. That would be almost as close as parking outside the door, and since the car could start for your door before you got up out of your chair, as convenient as owning one.

The big city-edge depots would still be needed, but they'd be for cars that need to refill, to get washed, to be checked over mechanically. Your autonomous vehicle would head for one when it needed to.

Those city-edge depots would also be useful as an equivalent of the Park&Ride - visitors arriving could drop 'their' car there, and continue into town on public transport.

The effect probably wouldn't be to reduce road traffic that much, but it would be smoother without humans doing that stop-start jerking around. Also, with no kerbside parking, there'd be more room on many of the existing roads.

The downside is the way people don't value what they don't own. I really wouldn't want to be the first in that car on a Saturday morning, after someone had had a bit too much the night before.

14:

Taxis return to base?

Surely many will be directed by a dispatcher to the next pickup, and dispatchers tend to prefer the closest car. Either that, or the destination has been somewhere with a taxi rank, and the cab waits there till next needed.

(A lot of the posited environmental friendliness is making better use of the embodied energy.)

What proportion of the taxi's total mileage is with passengers would be an interesting question. Assuming no taxi sharing, I can see a worst case of 50%*, and that achieving 100% would be quite difficult. However, for shortish distances, the fact that the cab is already running and therefore doesn't have cold engine inefficiencies to deal with will be useful. (My mpg doubles when I drive a long distance rather than my daily commute, purely for this reason.)

As for the headlights, that's a good point. They have been getting much brighter in newer cars, and I suspect that the upgrade to the old tank will have brighter lights.

*I assume no stupidities such as driving 50 miles to pick up a passenger, driving them 10 yards, and driving back again.

15:

The difference between automated cars and cabs should be obvious, the autos (hah!) don't need a driver, who uses up space/fuel, can't be left by the side of the road for three hours in the middle of the night and expects to be paid as well as not robbed.

I don't think it'll change driving culture as much as our gracious host expects, for at least several decades drivers will be expected to at least be able to take over the wheel if the automated systems fail IMO.

Also, I think we're still quite a bit away from a marketable system that can drive a car safely from e.g. Edinburgh to Nottingham in January. Road conditions as well as bone-headedness of other drivers needs to be taken into account. And it will require a massive amount of trust-building to persuade people that the system is safer than their own driving skills (however true it may in reality be).

16:

I thought that by 2110 the solution would be that our personalities would be uploaded as needed, and a body instantiated at the far end by printer. Reintegration of the personality on return is the tricky part. Population laws may require recycling the source-end body.

C'mon, it's a singularity, people!

17:

If you prefer science fiction of the dystopian sort, consider that the prospects for mass surveillance, crowd control (via induced congestion), and so forth. Governments will after all insist on back-doors into all of these doubtless networked automotive computer systems.

One might imagine a government remotely instructing your car to bring you to the police station (or a hacker impersonating the government instructing your car to bring you somewhere else entirely). Automotive rootkits would allow script kiddies to DDOS particular businesses, districts, or even cities by surrounding them in immobile or outright murderous automated vehicles -- not a good time to be in a politically unpopular line of business or ethnic cluster!

18:

But Charlie, you live on a tight little island. I'm out here in the wide open spaces, and believe you me, we need individual transportation. Rail isn't practical except along heavily traveled corridors like the one between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. (And our local newspaper ran a half-page section of letters howling about the fact that the very useful Rail Runner costs! Taxpayers! Money!!! (I'm shocked. Shocked! I tell you!))

It sounds as if your local rail is run the way our airlines are: cattle car style. But yes, actually, railroads make a lot of sense in the U.K. from all I can see. And of course the main highway obviously needs to be upgraded. Is the state of your highway and rail a case of Scotland getting the short end of the stick?

Just curious,

Pat in Albuquerque, NM (USA)

19:

I'm not in favour of either of those routes - both pretty slow at distinctly over the five and a half hours mark.

I'm surprised tho at Charlie's choice of the A1. Even on the motorbike, that's the slowest way for me to hack south or north if I'm aiming at the east side of the UK.

I'd suggest the A68, A69, A1(M) combo. Good fun road, decent amount of passing, just make sure you've a full tank of fuel. Seems, according to Google Maps, to come in at around 5h 20.

20:

#13 - Yes, at least for values of "base" that assume that they are not always boarded at a rank, and travel from the drop-off point to a rank where they are likely to obtain another fare rather than to the nearest one.

Ignoring the case where the taxi is in a rural area like mine (when I can see dead running being as much as 2/3 of the total), and considering a case where Charlie wishes to go to his mate's party in Sighthill at 10:30PM local but does not wish to walk to the taxi rank,, even there I can see the dead running being over 50% since the driver will proceed from the rank to Charlie's close, from there to Sighthill and drop him at his mate's place, then almost certainly return to central Edinburgh unless hailed in the street en route.

Of course, this also ignores the fact that taxis tend to be heavy and use old-tech engines, so aren't as fuel efficient as a similar age diesel car will be.

21:

I'd much rather take the train on that journey - largely because the section from Edinburgh to Newcastle is one of the best railway journeys in the UK, and secondly because you can DO a lot more with 4 hours on a train that you can from 4 hours in a car (listening to Radio 4 aside).

On the wider subject - a colleague of mine did some work in the early 90s on autonomous cars, and they found a huge problem with the part-autonomous model (i.e. motorway driving is a relatively solveable problem compared to urban driving). The problem being people didn't seem to be able to make the adjustment from auto-to-manual that well. So I think this is largely dependent on full automation (which means a bit more AI than we have right now, in terms of being able to guess the likely intent of other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians in an urban environment).

I'm all for it - I'm already a carless city dweller who gets groceries delivered, hires a car for long journeys when required, etc; the Streetcar model, on the other hand, is ridiculously overpriced (it is pretty much always cheaper to take a full 24 hour hire from a traditional car hire firm). But I think something like it is the future (shared ownership in local pools??).


22:

One piece of vehicle utility you forget as you imagine a car-share future, Charlie, is for storage. There are many items that I carry at all times in my car that would be unfeasible to pack along for self-carriage. A full change of clothes, small toiletry kit, 25 ft of ethernet cable, a powerstrip, a wireless router, and two small toolkits (one for auto repair and one for electronics) are in my car 24/7. Throw in my golf clubs, fishing pole, and baseball bat and glove to maintain some spontaneity in my leisure time and my car (a '03 Ford Focus) becomes a small, mobile, man-cave.

In addition I fill the car with all sorts of things "necessary" for driving, especially in Iowa winters. These include a sleeping bag, a tent, a blanket, a collapsible shovel, jumper cables, and a 30 lb tube of sand.

While all of those extras I cart around are either unnecessary or could be part of a standard share-car emergency kit, it's difficult to imagine how the shift in thinking from car-as-a-mobile-room to car-as-a-transport-convenience will progress.

23:

paws4thot: the M8 and M6 feature nowhere on my destination -- I'm going straight down the east coast, not wandering over to the west! Driving Edinburgh-Leeds by the route you suggest works out at about 270 miles. The A1 route is about 210 miles. (There's a shortcut via A roads through the borders that joins up with the A1 at Scotch Corner and shaves 30-odd miles off the main route, but as I hate driving on narrow twisty country roads I'm not going that way. (Note for Americans: when I say "A" roads I mean single lane in each direction, no central divider or hard shoulder, no street lights if it gets dark, and a 60mph speed limit. Some people call this "fun", I call it "terrifying".))

24:

Pat, Without bothering to write a full history of the development of British Rail, the system was developed (both routes and available services) that all people in Edinburgh would wish to go to somewhere in Scotland, or to one of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, York or London. Result, as Charlie correctly says, you have to change in York to get from Edinburgh to Leeds.

25:

J.G. Ballard's essay The Car, the Future predicted roughly the same things for 30 years ahead in 1970. Also, have you read Bruno Latour's Aramis, or the Love of Technology?

26:

Alan, I hate the A68. It terrifies me. Your definition of "fun" is my definition of stress. (I have only half the visual field in my right eye, and the fovea in my left eye is fucked. I am legal to drive, but having an expanding blind spot for a month without knowing about it while commuting to work daily about 20 years ago left me perpetually paranoid when driving.)

27:

Designated Driver: stopping overnight in Leeds is a non-optional part of the itinerary. (Family visit.)

28:

Tebay is useless for the other driver, who is vegan. We need to use the services that have an M&S Simply Food as that's the only place that seems to want my money.

29:

Iain, I wouldn't be confident in staying in your job, or at least the exact one you do, for a very long time. Trains are a lot easier to make driverless than cars, as the steering is already determined by the track, not the driver while tech like ERTMS is already reducing the driver's job to simply following the speed set by the computer. What's more, the French TGVs are beginning to knock on the door of speeds where human reaction times just don't cut it anymore.

Of course, that doesn't mean there won't be human staff on the trains anymore. I think it'll be a while before we pax are comfortable without a person in the cab, just as we aren't with aircraft, a transport mode that has been capable of full automation for a long time now. But ultimately, I sexpect the DLR's "train captain" model will start to appear on the mainline too.

30:

"...available services) on the assumption that all..."

31:

+1 for M74/M6

Its counter intuitive, what with heading across the country and back again, but I usually find its a much more pleasant drive and faster

The road A1 is an f****'in nightmare

32:

I didn't actually know that, and would be surprised if Westmoreland Farm Shops wouldn't at least try to make something available for you if you asked them. They're not cut from the same cloth as the big chain MSA operators are, which is part of why I recommend them. Ok?

33:

I would kill for an autonomous vehicle. Four to six times a year we visit my family, most of whom life in a town 300 miles south of here. Another four to six times I'm off to some remote location for volunteer work that requires a 4+ hour drive. I'd love to be able to leave after work (6PM) and work, read or nap for most of the 5.5 hour drive. Traffic congestion? Not near as much of a problem when it only affects arrival time, not peace of mind or risk.

34:

That was my thought too; I find the A1/M1/A1(M) ouvre stressful to drive, and that's with 20/20 (with vision correction) eyesight.

Incidentally Charlie, that's also why I didn't suggest going over Carter Bar; that's a road for an enthusiastic driver, which I already knew you're not.

35:

IMHO there's a couple of other big wins that come up with autonomous vehicles. One is car trains. Things are a lot more efficient aerodynamically, etc, when a long chain of folks going in the same direction can tuck in nose-to-tail and all drive the same speed. In addition, it allows a much higher density of automobiles-per-highway-km, which significantly reduces infrastructure cost.

I've always though there could be great savings via automobiles that literally link up like train cars, coupling and decoupling automatically as conditions apply. But that would require some country (China?) make an appropriate infrastructure and manufacturing commitment. To be effective, some fairly high percentage of the vehicles on the road would have to be doing it.

36:

I'd second this - if there's one services operator that might pay attention to such a request, it'd be Westmoreland Farm Shops.

37:

And a third comment, because I had three things to say, and wanted to make threading easier:

The NYTimes reported recently that US consumers may be making long-term changes to their behavior. Unfortunately I can't find the relevant article. If I recall correctly it stated that the re-employed were not returning to their old spending patterns, and the general populace is spending more than they did two years ago but still less (statistically significantly less) than they did prior to the slump.

If that's the case, we're likely to see the criteria for automobile purchases change. I'd expect fewer cars selected as status symbol and more selected as cost/effectiveness.

38:

"But yes, actually, railroads make a lot of sense in the U.K. from all I can see."

Railways here are subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of something like 11p per passenger-mile. And they're STILL more expensive than car travel; a large component of the cost of which is fuel which is currently running at about 70% tax.

"There are many items that I carry at all times in my car that would be unfeasible to pack along for self-carriage."

Likewise -- flat shoes, shopping bags, shopping list reminders etc. I've even taken to carrying board games around in the boot so I don't have to remember to pick them up every time I go out to a games meet.

39:

You missed the massive hidden subsidy to car travel that comes from the road network.

40:

A Loughborough University study

http://magpie.lboro.ac.uk:8080/dspace-jspui/bitstream/2134/2452/1/PUB467.pdf

on the costs of accidents in the UK gives £1,312,260 for a fatal accident, £147,460 for a serious accident and £11,370 for a slight accident, with an average over all casualties of £42,850, but those figures include "human costs" which are defined as what people would pay to avoid the pain, grief, loss, etc, which I find a bit dubious as a genuine cost.

If you take that out, you get fatal ~£452k, serious ~£28k and slight ~£3k, for an average of ~£11k. As OGH is really talking about fatal + serious accidents, that's a cost of ~£68k per accident, or ~$108k. That's a tad lower than OGH's estimated cost (US medical treatment is *expensive*) but near enough.

41:

not really theirs though is it? the bank owns it

42:

You mean Little Chef isn't vegan-friendly? <vbeg>

It could be worse, though; you could be worrying about not food preferences, but food allergies, while travelling (and it's worse in the US than in the UK). There's nothing like feeding a four-year-old a serving of pasta alfredo in the middle of a 650-mile drive only to discover that the restaurant uses cottonseed oil, resulting in a horrifying rash and sloughing skin at 70mph in the middle of Ohio farm country.

Or, I suppose, it could also be worse if you were a Vogon and unable to find a poetry slam...

43:

I concur with those who state that autonomous vehicles will not be as ubiquitous as Charlie thinks:

1. Status. If this is to be circumvented, it will have to be achieved with different status cars that reflect wealth and a shift to other items conferring status.
2. Reliability. I can see them working OK on freeways, but not on urban and country roads subject to unexpected conditions. Won't there need to be times to go to manual? So still no drunk driving.
3. Vandalism. Both of the vehicles themselves (who wants to get in a vandalized or filthy vehicle?) and from outside (Saturday night fun disrupting auto cars).
4. Car as personal space. Look how much people hate 'hoteling' at offices, why should cars be much different?

There is definitely a role for shared vehicles, c.f. Zip Cars in San Francisco, but as a general shift? Call me skeptical.

44:

@ 17:

But Charlie, you live on a tight little island. I'm out here in the wide open spaces, and believe you me, we need individual transportation. Rail isn't practical except along heavily traveled corridors like the one between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. (And our local newspaper ran a half-page section of letters howling about the fact that the very useful Rail Runner costs! Taxpayers! Money!!! (I'm shocked. Shocked! I tell you!))

Well, why are you living out there anyway?

That's not snark. That's asking about living patterns and lifestyle choices for the 21st century on. And it's looking more and more like those rural and low-density suburban are luxuries rather than necessities.

Don't get me wrong. Rural living is great. But urban residents shouldn't be required to subsidize rural communities. If people want to live out in the middle of nowhere, they should have to pay all the attendant costs. Of course, that's another big wedge in U.S. politics :-(

45:

The automated taxi system has been a staple of sf for as long as I can remember. One of the nice things a system like this would be good for is to match the car to the trip. I don't see electrics as ever being able to reasonably compete with the automobile on purely performance issues, for example. But for most trips, electric cars work just fine. Dispatch those for trips of less than 20 miles, and use gas or hybrids for anything longer.

46:

Alex, bear in mind that in 1910 typical British middle class status indicators might include: tailored clothing, number of servants, and ownership of a horse and carriage.

Two of these things are obsolete, replaced by different indicators. Specifically: horse/carriage combos have been replaced entirely by the car as a practical means of transport, and servants ditto (at least, for a definition of "middle class" that doesn't include families earning over £100K a year). Meanwhile, clothing ... unless we're talking about someone who's homeless, wearing dirty or torn or ill-fitting clothes isn't a class indicator: clothing is so cheap that (except at the very high end) it has become a voluntary signalling mechanism.

I wouldn't be surprised to see different status indicators take hold in a century's time, but I'm not sure what will prevail. (Outward signs of discretionary gene therapies? Will being physically elderly be a symptom of poverty?)

47:

> I wouldn't be surprised to see different status indicators take hold in a century's time, but I'm not sure what will prevail. (Outward signs of discretionary gene therapies? Will being physically elderly be a symptom of poverty?)

Given the reductions in labour required for manufacturing, movement from shops to delivery based services, etc its entirely possible that having a job would be one such indicator.

48:

Roy, I hear what youre saying and I would be worried apart from one small detail. The rail industry in the UK simply will not spend money. At the moment my immediate boss has to make a request to the Managing Director just to get the staff new kit bags or high vis safety vests. So the thought of my company spending potentially millions to develop tech that would then pass onto whomsoever wins the franchise next is just... well, laughable. The one big tech advance they did make, the Train Simulator Suite (which is pretty awesome), they sold off and now lease back from HSBC.

Also it has to be borne in mind that the network in the UK still struggles under semaphore signalling. See Wiki link, as to the layman this means nothing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railway_semaphore_signal

This is Victorian technology that is controlling quite a large portion of the UK trains. As I said, we need a major cash injection just to drag us kicking and screaming into the 20th century. The French and Germans did it after WW2. We didnt. Now we are reaping the whirlwind of poor investment, shortsightedness, and insane privatisation. If anything the driverless trains will be active in Europe a good 20 to 30 years before they are here. Oh the docklands light railway doesnt count ;)

49:

On the subject of not being able to read when you're in the passenger seat: do you also have a problem watching video? What about listening to audio, with or without your eyes closed?

Myself, even though I'm an American, I've managed to reach the age of 42 without ever learning how to drive. I can't really imagine why I'd want to. I spend a reasonably high amount of time commuting, but it's not *wasted*, since I have no problem reading or watching video or listening to podcasts during my commute.

I'm guessing that in the future you're imagining, more people will live a bit more like I do. If the cars are self-driving and don't park near your home, what's the reason to *own* them privately at all? Why not instead have a mix of subscriptions to a variety of transportation services?

That's what I have today -- there's a public transit service I use to get to and from work and some kinds of shopping, optimized to transport a large number of people between a small number of endpoints at one end (business districts, shopping districts) and a large number of endpoints at the other end (residences). And there's a more expensive personal transit service (taxis and the like) that I use when I need to get to a destination that's not well serviced by that larger, cheaper one.

People go on about the "freedom" that driving offers, but myself, I don't really see it much. I mean, I've been able to walk out my front door in one city, get on various forms of transportation that I don't have any ownership in (busses, Amtrak, et cetera), and walk into the house of friends or family in cities hundreds of miles away, without having to worry about storing or protecting some big expensive asset (a car), and I've been able to get *work* done while traveling this way. I suppose there are in theory some things I can't do, but I haven't really been stopped from doing anything I've *wanted* to do, and as the vehicles become autonomous, the cost of "on-demand" transport services (like taxis) *should* go down relative to the cost of "pre-programmed" transport services (like the subway). Some drivers like to pretend they have the freedom to do things "without depending on anyone else", but they're certainly dependent on refueling stations, and to some extent also on EVERY OTHER DRIVER SHARING THE ROAD WITH THEM -- I really just don't see it.

(Well. YMMV, obviously. That's my take on it.)

50:

Will being physically elderly be a symptom of poverty?

What makes you think it isn't now? Looking around at the people I see in London, N19...

51:

Two notes:

1. Do you really expect mankind to have the energy resources to supply everyone with a 4 passenger autonomous runabout in 2050?

2. If a car is fully autonomous, why should it even run on rubber wheels and MacAdam? A simple narrow gauge autonomous streetcar, with wireless communication to arrange switches up ahead, is safer, more energy efficient, simpler, and makes for an easier burden for local authorities to maintain.

52:

Even if cars were self-driving, they still cause remarkable amount of pollution, sprawl that leaves folks dependent on whatever today's high-priced fuel is. A world accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists, with more rail is far nicer thing to consider than a world of self-piloted cars (that only the rich will be able to afford for rather a long time, meanwhile nowadays, in the States at least, $500 can net you a junker that will run for six months, and $500 for a vehicle in the States although it is a sizeable sum, is comparatively acessible. I say this after seeing a $500 car run six more months than a $1000 car).

53:

Roads also carry coaches, buses, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles and freight-hauling lorries transporting goods to your front door and to stores, factories etc. They enable people to travel to work, to hospitals, to airports etc. even when large parts of their journey are undertaken by rail. Rail systems only carry trains carrying passengers from station to station and freight from goods yard to goods yard.

That limited rail operation I describe presupposes the track is actually functional when it is often out of service due to accident or scheduled repair -- the flat I live in overlooks a main-line railway station. Every Sunday the station's car park is occupied by a steady stream of coaches carrying "railway" passengers to their destinations since the railway track is out of service being repaired or upgraded.

54:

Do you really expect mankind to have the energy resources to supply everyone with a 4 passenger autonomous runabout in 2050?

That's a very interesting question, because it hinges on a lot of assumptions.

If you're thinking in terms of contemporary 2010-grade SUVs and pick-up trucks a la Americaine, then the answer is clearly "no". But the 4 passenger criterion is itself being relaxed; even today, the number of SMART ForTwos in this city is rising noticeably.

I'm fairly sure that the constraints on car design imposed by materials science (making them mostly out of steel, welded or bolted together) and propulsion technology (the old four-banger or eight-banger) contribute enormously to the fact that a car today typically weighs 850-1600Kg. And a lot of folks want to buy heavier, bigger SUVs and trucks because they feel safer in them. The safety craving is going to hange with the roll-out of autonomous vehicles: with better-than-human reflexes they're going to be inherently safer. At which point we may see ultralightweight cars gain in popularity (cheaper to run) or alternative fuel cycles (for example, compressed gas expansion engines for short range -- 10-20Km -- urban commuting; similar range to electric batteries, but ultra-rapid recharging possible).

Underlying all this is the elephant in the room: carbon pollution. But I think the signs are already clear that we're going to make a transition to carbon-neutral base load power -- via a combination of nuclear, wind, tide and solar power. If we make it work, then there's no reason why we can't all have cars ... just not gas-guzzlers that pump carbon into the atmosphere.

55:

Living arrangements like these aren't just simple lifestyle choices. For one thing, there's a huge amount of inertia. Those exurbs are not going to go away. They may turn into slums, but the housing stock is going to be there for a long time to come. Also, at least where I live, there has been an accelerating collapse of the inner city. Land in the suburbs and (increasingly) the exurbs is cheap. Businesses are now moving there, so there is more point-to-point in the exurbs. Part of the reason that this stuff is cheap has to do with externalities: we can push the costs of society (taking care of the poor, sick, and not-fully-integrated) onto the city-dwellers, and escape paying for that burden by moving out.

There's also a huge cultural component, that I don't pretend to understand. Compare the US population distribution with that of Canada and Australia. I don't know if it's just that the geography was more comfortable for settlers, but USians are much more evenly spread (even taking into account the unpopulated wide open spaces scattered around). If you can figure out how to change that, maybe you can figure out how to get us gun control, too! ;-)

Even if this was just a lifestyle choice, good luck getting people to pay for their lifestyle choice in a society where that lifestyle choice is the one taken by the majority (at least of voters).

IMO we're going to have to figure out how to live with the lifestyle choices we've got....

56:
if you improve the status of women (and educate them and give them access to family planning advice) they have far fewer children.
It's not just that.

It's also an economical evolution.

In agrarian societies, and, to a lesser degree, in early industrial era, a child was a familial asset. After a short period, each of your children would join you in the fields, or be sent off to the factory to join the teeming masses, and provide additional income to the familial unit. More children meant more money.

But, as productivity rose, the age of peasantry passed away, while the age at which a child can work efficiently rose (try to put a 8-year old to make a car or a laptop. No, try it).

Today, a child is no longer an asset to the family : by the time he starts being able to bring money, he/she's old enough to leave the familial unit. In addition, the investment required to make your children in an economically enviable position (20+ years of education) are an enormous drain on the familial unit.

The third factor is, of course, the entrance of the woman in the workforce. Not only are children autonomous financially much later, but they also both have to establish a stable career - something that requires more and more delaying your first pregnancy until you're closer to thirty than twenty. And when you're not "young" anymore, you tend to avoid having too many babies : adding the unpaid work of raising children to the paid 5-7 work takes its toll.

It's not just education and parental planning - it's the economy.

57:

@ 50:

If a car is fully autonomous, why should it even run on rubber wheels and MacAdam? A simple narrow gauge autonomous streetcar, with wireless communication to arrange switches up ahead, is safer, more energy efficient, simpler, and makes for an easier burden for local authorities to maintain.

This is where I make my usual plug for smart roads: Replace them with something not made out of oil, and in the process, bury all the necessary infrastructure inside them. Why have big over-sized batteries when your car can get it's power via induction through a cable buried in the road? You could also have all sorts of signaling and sensory equipment embedded in the road as well, making automated driving that much easier and safer.

58:

@ 54:

Living arrangements like these aren't just simple lifestyle choices. For one thing, there's a huge amount of inertia. Those exurbs are not going to go away. They may turn into slums, but the housing stock is going to be there for a long time to come. Also, at least where I live, there has been an accelerating collapse of the inner city. Land in the suburbs and (increasingly) the exurbs is cheap. Businesses are now moving there, so there is more point-to-point in the exurbs. Part of the reason that this stuff is cheap has to do with externalities: we can push the costs of society (taking care of the poor, sick, and not-fully-integrated) onto the city-dwellers, and escape paying for that burden by moving out.

That's exactly my point. Those exurbs and rural tracts can exist only because they are subsidized by those effete and unself-reliant city-dwellers. I have no objection to people living there if they wish; certainly it's an attractive lifestyle for many. But people like me shouldn't have to pay for it. This drag will only get worse as time goes on. If you think that living that thinly dispersed is expensive now, wait till oil starts selling for $200/barrel.

There's also a huge cultural component, that I don't pretend to understand. Compare the US population distribution with that of Canada and Australia. I don't know if it's just that the geography was more comfortable for settlers, but USians are much more evenly spread (even taking into account the unpopulated wide open spaces scattered around). If you can figure out how to change that, maybe you can figure out how to get us gun control, too! ;-)

Oh, that's easy: Make these people bear the actual costs of living in their preferred setting ;-)

As I said, one the biggest wedges in our dysfunctional American political system. It's not the south or the midwest vs. the coasts so much as it is a rural/urban split. Unfortunately, the rural types with their parasitic lifestyles have disproportionate representation in Congress. And while they might admit what's really going on in private (and actually, many do), there's no way they'll willingly let go of their ill-gotten goodies.

59:

I've given some thought to these kinds of questions as well.

When it comes to status symbols, the transition away from car-as-status will be arrived at through many stages of automatic-driver cars of various luxuries. The ability to warehouse a privately owned vehicle will increasingly be a status symbol, one that the car companies will aggressively push. The relative luxuries of the private car (or the ability to time-share a luxury car) will go just as far as it does now; the sophistication of the in-car entertainment system as well as speed of wireless networking abilities go towards this as well.

Another status symbol the car companies will find a way to market is the sophistication and sensor suite complexity of the auto-driver system. When not working with a central driving authority, such as driving 200 miles to another city, the capabilities of the in-car auto-driver itself will go a fair way towards providing market segmentation. Outward styling indicators will mark vehicles equipped with these systems (A Lexus looks different than a Toyota). Car makers will resist making the computing systems of their vehicles open systems, but in the end the OEM software system will be marketed as premium over after-market systems.

I fully expect insurance companies to start providing real disincentives to maintaining a human driver on private-car policies. In the US legislation may prevent this from happening, but it will be a serious temptation.

And finally, all of this depends on the liability environment surrounding auto-drivers to reach a point where fatality accidents don't put companies out of business every time it happens. Yes 90% of accidents are driver-fault, but that last 10% will be a serious problem for the makers of auto-drivers. It'll be this issue, not the technology itself, that'll provide the delay to widespread usage.

As a post-script, having had this conversation before I know that there are people out there who see these auto-driver systems in light of social issues. Professional drivers (a.k.a. Taxi drivers, limo-service drivers) will have their business seriously reduced in an environment where such systems are wide-spread. The more socialist areas may see slowed adoption due to this.

60:

@ 54:

Whups! I'll try again:

Living arrangements like these aren't just simple lifestyle choices. For one thing, there's a huge amount of inertia. Those exurbs are not going to go away. They may turn into slums, but the housing stock is going to be there for a long time to come. Also, at least where I live, there has been an accelerating collapse of the inner city. Land in the suburbs and (increasingly) the exurbs is cheap. Businesses are now moving there, so there is more point-to-point in the exurbs. Part of the reason that this stuff is cheap has to do with externalities: we can push the costs of society (taking care of the poor, sick, and not-fully-integrated) onto the city-dwellers, and escape paying for that burden by moving out.

That's exactly my point. Those exurbs and rural tracts can exist only because they are subsidized by those effete and unself-reliant city-dwellers. I have no objection to people living there if they wish; certainly it's an attractive lifestyle for many. But people like me shouldn't have to pay for it. This drag will only get worse as time goes on. If you think that living that thinly dispersed is expensive now, wait till oil starts selling for $200/barrel.

There's also a huge cultural component, that I don't pretend to understand. Compare the US population distribution with that of Canada and Australia. I don't know if it's just that the geography was more comfortable for settlers, but USians are much more evenly spread (even taking into account the unpopulated wide open spaces scattered around). If you can figure out how to change that, maybe you can figure out how to get us gun control, too! ;-)

Oh, that's easy: Make these people bear the actual costs of living in their preferred setting ;-)

As I said, one the biggest wedges in our dysfunctional American political system. It's not the south or the midwest vs. the coasts so much as it is a rural/urban split. Unfortunately, the rural types with their parasitic lifestyles have disproportionate representation in Congress. And while they might admit what's really going on in private (and actually, many do), there's no way they'll willingly let go of their ill-gotten goodies.

61:

To make driving easier, I would humbly suggest two or three tweaks.

Firstly, for driving in low light conditions, use glasses with Zeiss iScription lenses. These not only correct myopia and astigmatism, but also third-order eye defects; they make low-light driving somewhat easier.

Secondly, in full daylight use Drivewear lenses. These are a combination of polaroid filters, yellow tint and variable yellow-brown tint; they reduce road glare and make long-distance driving a good deal easier. They're useless at night or in twilight, so don't even try.

Finally, put a water repellent on your car windscreen. I use one which is a combination glass cleaner and repellent; dead easy to apply, and it means that in rainy conditions water beads up on the screen, rather than spreading out. It makes it easier to see in rainy conditions.

62:

I don't drive often enough for it to be worth getting special purposes lenses. (My annual mileage is currently around the 3000 mile mark.)

63:

@ 59:

When it comes to status symbols, the transition away from car-as-status will be arrived at through many stages of automatic-driver cars of various luxuries. The ability to warehouse a privately owned vehicle will increasingly be a status symbol, one that the car companies will aggressively push.

I'm not completely sure about this one, but the transition away from cars as status symbols has already been going on for some time now[1]. To be sure there are very broad classes of vehicles which (kind of, sort of) serve as some sort of class or status markers, but not to the extent they were when I was a preteen. I'd guess that first, using an automobile as a status symbol is already an intrinsically lower-class thing, and second that as cars have become depersonalized (in my youth,not being able to work on your own car was something of an oddity), they serve rather more poorly as personal emblems. Most people I know seem to regard a car the way they would a toaster or a TV - necessary, but not necessarily a symbol of individuality.


[1]For a real hoot, look at some of those old car commercials from the sixties on Youtube. Then compare them with their modern counterparts.

64:

I don`t see where the problem is with the status symbol. You can have an expensive, luxury, privately owned automatic-driver car, which will drive you around and park itself in the central depot.

65:

If I look at the problem of transport from an Efficiency perspective, the thing that jumps out at me as a major problem is Speed. Look at the energy it takes to reach a certain speed, and the energy lost due to drag, and other losses; they are proportional to the Square of the speed. Double the speed, quadruple the losses. I know about regenerative braking methods to capture some of the energy normally lost in braking, but that can only do so much.

Previous commenters have mentioned ways of improving effiency e.g. "road trains", but I'm still wondering how we can do without Speed in the first instance. The most obvious: don't make the trip. (Duh!) Less obvious: do it more slowly. This helps bolster the case for automation: if you must travel to work, you'll be in less of a hurry if you can let the computer do the driving and get some work done during the trip. Ditto for freight: slow down and let the computer do the driving. What about fresh produce, you ask? I would question the wisdom of transporting fresh produce thousands of miles anyway, if you can grow it more locally.

66:

I seem to recall a study from a few years ago about subsidies from cities to suburbs in the USA, mostly in the form of road, water, and sewer installation and maintenance. IIRC it came to something like $300 per suburban resident per year -- notable for sure, but hardly enough to reverse housing patterns even if the subsidies ended. Also, when considering the rural/urban balance of transfers, keep in mind that city residents are on average higher-income than rural residents and so rightly should be subsidizing rural residents if you believe in progressive taxation. The things that get my hackles up are transfers to already-well-off rural dwellers and infrastructure subsidies that make no distinction of need.

How does product liability sit in the UK? In the USA, I can see lawyers salivating over autonomous cars because even if they're safer on average than human-driven vehicles, an accident is an opportunity to extract payments from billion-dollar companies instead of Joe Motorist.

67:

I don't know if you've gone through some of them before, Charlie, though we talked about it, but answers to pretty much all the questions in the comments here can be found in my collection of essays on the future of such cars at http://robocars.com

One key thing I talk about a lot is the dramatic impact on energy. Today most people buy a car to meet their maximum needs, almost always a 5 passenger sedan, often a minivan or SUV or truck. Robocars allow you to buy a car that meets just most of your needs, or to buy no car at all, and thus more frequently take the right vehicle for the trip.

The right vehicle for most trips is a short range, single-person electric city car, something we already know how to build (but nobody would buy because it is so special purposes.) Turns out that little vehicle is not just cheap and space-efficient in traffic, it's also lower energy per passenger mile than the transit systems. 10x more efficient than U.S. transit systems, 2x more efficient than Japanese ones.

As such on top of the millions of lives, the trillions of hours of otherwise-productive time, and other massive costs, robot cars let us cut transportation energy use massively.

68:

One effect of autonomous vehicles: drink driving. Or at least pubs.

In recent years we've had a very successful anti drink-driving campaign here in Ireland. The kind of behaviour that my fathers generation would not blink at is no longer condoned - and accident levels have dropped accordingly (annual deaths being down now to what they were when records began in the 1930s!).

This had a huge effect in a largely rural country - the death of pubs, since people can't get there / home. Going to the pub has dropped off dramatically (despite pubs laying on minibuses to get people home, etc). Off licenses and supermarkets have stepped in to take the trade, leading to more home drinking (and supermarkets selling alcohol below cost price to drive other custom in).

More are now drinking at home, having home parties (a side effect of our property bubble - lots of spare rooms for friends to stay over, but we can't afford to go out ...). Will autonomous vehicles reverse that?

69:

Americans may wish to have a look at this post, which discusses the employment implications of driverless vehicles.

For the tl;dr crowd, the big effect will be on truck drivers (2.4 million of 3.6 million driving jobs). The impact is understated because off-road driving (in mining, agriculture, industry, etc) is not considered.

#65 > wisdom of transporting fresh produce thousands of miles

It's not that simple. Which is better in environmental terms: a tomato grown in a gas-heated electrically-lit greenhouse transported 40 km, or a tomato grown in an unheated sunlit greenhouse, transported 6000 km? The answer is: the latter.

Atmosphere control for transporting fresh produce is fairly well understood these days; the produce can, in most cases, be put into a state close to suspended animation. Not a problem.

> grow it more locally

That depends on the opportunity cost of using the local land. People might be better off, overall, if it was a railway station or hospital instead.

70:
Ditto for freight: slow down and let the computer do the driving. What about fresh produce, you ask? I would question the wisdom of transporting fresh produce thousands of miles anyway, if you can grow it more locally.

If the computer is driving, it can slow down and still complete a long haul faster than a human due to driver regulations. In the USA,

"Commercial truckers transporting property (the rules for passenger trucks are a bit different) are subject to daily and weekly limits on the number of hours they are permitted to work. Generally, drivers are permitted to work no more than 14 consecutive hours. Of that time, only 11 hours may be devoted to driving. (The remaining time may be devoted to paperwork, loading and unloading, etc.) After exhausting these limits, drivers are required to spend a minimum of 10 consecutive hours off duty.

Drivers are subject to weekly limits as well. The regulations prohibit driving after the driver has been on-duty 60 hours in 7 consecutive days, or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. Drivers may restart the 60 or 70 hour clock by taking no less than 34 consecutive hours off duty."

The legal human driver duty cycle is less than 40% on average. Computers can go to 100%. You can cut vehicle speed in half*, deliver produce just as far, and reduce fuel consumption and labor costs simultaneously.

*Probably not in half, since that would impede traffic. But you can go well under the posted speed and beat humans to the destination by never sleeping or stopping for anything but loading, unloading, refueling, or vehicle maintenance and repair.

71:

@ Alastair McKinstry - Ireland: annual deaths being down now to what they were when records began in the 1930s!

Unfortunately, that does not immediately sound a great result. By comparison, records show that in the UK in 1930 there 7,300 road deaths and just over 1 million cars on the road. In 1939 there were 8,272 deaths with two million cars.

Deaths were down to 2,222 in 2009, so a third to a half of the 1930s figures, despite there being about 34 million vehicles nowadays.

72:

A figure I turned up some time ago: from 1939 to 1945, there were 44,307 people killed in accidents on British roads, and 44,355 seamen killed on active service in the Royal Navy.

(Perhaps a more directly comparable figure: 60,000 were killed in the UK by bombing during the same timeframe. So an active attempt to attack the civilian population still only led to a third more than the background level of traffic deaths...)

73:

These on-demand personal cars remind me of the 'Eggs' from Julian May's Saga of the Exiles (they were obviously only ever mentioned in the parts set in Galactic Milieu-time). I think Elizabeth took one to get to the Gate. They were (deliberately) not described in any great detail.

But that was effectively a post-singularity society, of course.

74:

There are two additional advantages to completely automated driving:

  • The faster reaction time and more uniform driving behavior will result in faster average speeds and less congestion for a given maximum cruising speed. Some of the reasons:

    • more efficient merging of traffic streams, both at high-speed road entrances and exits and at choke points in urban traffic

    • closer following distance, meaning more cars for a given length of roadway

    • less chance of gridlock as a result of cars blocking intersections or otherwise open lanes, even with high congestion

    More uniform cruise speeds mean higher fuel efficiency, which reduces carbon emissions; lower trip times increases rider satisfaction, especially for commuting or other routine travel.

  • Removing the outlier distribution of high-speed vehicles1 will disproportionately reduce both tire particulates in the air and on the road, and wear and tear on the road surface, since they're in part proportional to the temperature of the tire material at the road surface, which increases more than linearly with speed.

Reducing the average weight of vehicles could also significantly slow down road wear, since wear increases as the 4th power of axle weight.


1. Not necessarily an outlier. The last time I was in Louisiana to visit my son, in 2007, I rented a car and drove from the airport in New Orleans to his house in Baton Rouge, about an 80 mile trip, almost all of it on a 75 mph speed limit two-lane each direction divided highway. For most of the trip I was doing 80 mph and being passed by almost all the rest of the traffic, some of it probably nudging 100 mph.

75:

I think you are missing something here. Even if there are proven technologies for "driverless" cars, it is currently a criminal offence to be "in charge" of a vehicle but not "in control" of it, even if it isn't moving. There have been cases . . .

On t'other side, the question will of course arise, sooner or later but probably sooner, of who is responsible if the vehicle crashes (e.g due to Microsoft Road Traffic Manager(tm) crashing, or if the "user" fiddles with something while the car is trying to do something else - make your own hypothetical here)

It will require a legislative revolution just to get driverless cars onto our (UK) roads, at least in big numbers. That will take time, which we delay the increase of such vehicles to ubiquity, possibly for a decade or more, which pushes back the timescale for democraaphic and societal shifts, and so on.

76:

I wonder if the aviation industry will achieve this before the automobile? With UAV technology progressing as fast as it is its not inconceivable to imagine a fully autonomous airbus or boeing (not including the people who bring you peanuts). But would people want it? it might be hard to convince people to get over their prejudice and get into a plane with a computer pilot.
Im slightly inclined to believe we will see autocars before autoplanes...slightly

77:

Cyclists would likely have to be banned from roadways, and pedestrians strictly segmented from it. Not because autocars couldn't avoid hitting them, but precisely because they could do so far more reliably than human driven cars. If they knew for sure that cars would stop if they jumped out in front of them, extremists like Critical Mass could trivially perform a DDoS on a cities transport infrastructure.

78:

@63 You are not wrong, here.

The status-symbol indicator is still alive and well in certain circles but not nearly as universal as it once was. Long, long gone are the days where your first car was a Chevy, your mid-career car a Buick, and your end of career car a Cadillac, where being 30 and driving a Caddy was seen as having Made It You Lucky Bastard. These days we have the more-green-than-you symbol (hybrids, electrics, SmartCars in the US), the faster-than-you symbol (declining, but still there), the whole array of bigger-than-you symbols (extended-axle crew-cab XDuty pickups, Hummer anything, Cadillac Escalade), and the persistence of the richer-than-you symbols (denoted by brands such as Lexus at the bottom and increasing up through Porsche, and on into the boutique makers).

Which is to say that car status-symbols these days act more as tags on a blog than the high-water mark you made on the social ladder. I don't imagine that changing much in a robo-driver world. Your ability to own/rent/time-share a particular category of vehicle indicates things to others who care about such things. That said, for those of whom a robo-car is just a really small bus it could mean even less than car brands now.

79:

Politics will rear it's nasty head. Does just one company supply this service? In Chicago we got Cable TV years after other Cities because the Aldermen had to be "Wined & Dined" first (allegedly). I'm sure "Big Auto" will want a Smooth-Long-Transition as well as all the service industries involved. Third world countries may come out ahead of us on this one.

80:

@A figure I turned up some time ago: from 1939 to 1945, there were 44,307 people killed in accidents on British roads, and 44,355 seamen killed on active service in the Royal Navy.

(Perhaps a more directly comparable figure: 60,000 were killed in the UK by bombing during the same timeframe. So an active attempt to attack the civilian population still only led to a third more than the background level of traffic deaths...)

And this is at a time of highly rationed civilian driving lol.

81:

@ Ryan - I am sure even on fully-automated airliners there will still be someone responsible for monitoring systems on board and wearing a for-show visually-comforting uniform. (But a rare emergency might be such a surprise they would instantly be enough out of their comfort zone as to be useless.) Even now aircrew on long-range flights are apparently more systems managers than hands-on pilots - a far cry from my father's flying days in the 40s-70s, though even then there were autopilots.

The Docklands Light Railway has no driver, so people watching CCTV cameras in a control room have been called on to decide whether or not to run over someone who might or might not have been on the track. Unfortunately, the chap was indeed on the track, and the decision - based on not seeing him - was to carry on (and kill him).

http://www.rail-reg.gov.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.10090

Presumably in that case a more automated on-board system with a body-on-track sensor would have been better. Or a human. But then kids would be leaping onto the tracks all the time, not just the extremists and saboteurs Michael Kirkland mentioned, as a dare. It might be that reintroducing human fallibility to these systems would discourage such caarnduncan behaviour.

82:

Ironically, perhaps, given its supposedly in part about the abilities of drivers, its in the world of motorsport where a fair number of the initial steps towards the self-driving car have come about. Not so much the car driving itself, as various bits of technology being used to minimise the chance of driver error. Traction control (started I think in Formula 1, now banned there but common to more expensive road cars), various clever computer controlled differential technologies see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differential_%28mechanical_device%29#Active_differentials)that enable driver to pitch into a corner at only roughly the right speed and have the diff takes care of ensuring the car stays on the road (used in rallying a lot), semi-automatic gearboxes that enable a driver to retain control of the gear ratio they use while ensuring that a driver never 'misses' a gear by accident... (debuted in F1 back in the late 80s, found its way into road cars a few years later)

83:

@54 "I'm fairly sure that the constraints on car design imposed by materials science (making them mostly out of steel, welded or bolted together) and propulsion technology (the old four-banger or eight-banger) contribute enormously to the fact that a car today typically weighs 850-1600Kg."

Generally it is greater safety standards that adds to weight. The original Mini weighed 830kg and had an antiquated (even by 1959 standards) cast iron engine. All of the safety advances - airbags, ABS, stability control, crumple zones, interior padding - either add weight directly or increase the overall dimensions leading to weight gain. It doesn't help that people have got bigger over the last fifty years and a Mini can no longer be described as "fitting four average English adults". For all of their extra size and weight the BMW version is faster, safer and cheaper to run than the original, but then so is every other small car on the road.

@55 "There's also a huge cultural component, that I don't pretend to understand. Compare the US population distribution with that of Canada and Australia. I don't know if it's just that the geography was more comfortable for settlers, but USians are much more evenly spread (even taking into account the unpopulated wide open spaces scattered around)"

Mostly geography determines where people settle, then politics. In Australia the lightly settled areas are deserts or have poor quality soil. The majority of the country is either not suitable for agriculture at all or is suitable only for cattle grazing on large scales (i.e land is measured by the square kilometre, not hectare). All of this was true before we got the "Climate Change" decade where the extremes got ramped up another notch.

84:

Yup. Consider this. Suppose a company releases a driverless car, and that everybody in Australia switches over en masse within six months. Within the following six months, 200 people die as a direct result of this new system.

They'd be sued into oblivion, in spite of the fact that the current road toll in Australia is of the order of 1000 per annum (500 in 6 months, on average.)

Also, speaking as an IT professional, I'm not sure that I'd want to trust the code that goes into such vehicles; the number of systems that I've seen that are held together with spit and string ...

85:

@ Andrew Gray - 1939 to 1945, there were 44,307 people killed in accidents on British roads [...] an active attempt to attack the civilian population still only led to a third more than the background level of traffic deaths

Ob MontyPython - Eric Idle's father "served in the Royal Air Force and survived during World War II, only to be killed in a hitch-hiking accident on Christmas Eve 1945"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Idle

86:

And consider this... supposing we all did get our personal jetpacks and could give up cars, the only downside being that every single day about ten people plunged out of the sky in flames to horrible but well-publicised deaths. I wonder if people would want to go back to cars, even though the daily death toll, from Charlie's quoted figures, is over 3,000 per day.

In rail terms, in the UK rail deaths - of which there have been 50 in the last ten years - get far more attention than road deaths, of which there have been 30,000 in the same period, or more than 50 a week.

87:

Jusst a quick note--we already have driverless trains going through crossings (or at least the signs warn you about it) in our local area, which is fairly rural (our combined population is 40,000, and we're the Big Town in a circle with more than a 100 mile radius). But then, we have two different rail companies going through here as well.

We've all adapted, and have very few accidents (the last one I know of was the usual two young male teens decide to be stupid variety).

But robocars would be tremendously interesting; we're more into carpooling when gasoline is really high.

88:

The Germans and the French also had the crap bombed out of their rail lines. Why reinstall old technology when you can plan for the future with new technology?

Large swathes of the U.S. and Canada have similar problems.

89:

The fine southern U.S. state university I'm currently attending (as a mid-life foreign student) has a couple of computer science and engineering development projects in progress for "driver-assist" detection devices.

One project nearing completion is parallel parking assist (being an item that a lot of people find difficult to do) with another being following distance detection and adjustment. I don't know if if random object detection in driver's blind spots is on the list yet.

You won't have a driverless car right away; rather, you're going to first see additive driving technologies on high end cars, designed to help drivers with the most common driver errors. The first should be rolling out in under five years.

We have the technology - it's just a matter of at what price point.

90:

Let's not forget the other parts of the death toll:
In Wisconsin, most of the deer deaths happen not from hunters, but from car-deer collisions. I don't have the stats on hand, but cars are responsible for a huge number of animal deaths.

I'd also add in the costs of going to war to maintain the flow of oil. How many trillion was that again, Mr. Bush?

There's also the huge second and third-order problems with building and maintaining roads. Under my environmental hat, I get to deal with that mess all the time, and you can add another few billion there as well.

91:

Well, the shift to shared cars doesn't have to wait for driverless cars; it seems to me that the economics of car ownership doesn't change a whole lot between StreetCar(UK)/ZipCar(US) and a hypothetical RoboCar.

We have car-sharing services where I live. I can't say they've revolutionized the driving patterns of the city, but they have some effect. We don't use them very often, and where we are it's not practical for us to use them exclusively. (It might be different if we lived in the central city.) But they (along with the public transit network) do help ensure that we don't need to own more than 1 car, and that we can size our car for the average space need rather than the maximum space need. (The majority of times we've used the service is when we've needed to move something too big for the car we own.)

For the most part, we use public transit to get to and from work and school, and our own car to get most other places. Cabs are also available, but we hardly ever use them. I'm not sure how much things would change with robo-cars, at least initially.

92:

What? No one has mentioned the Google self-driving car??

Regarding the car as status symbol - plenty of multicar families have a status symbol car and a commuter car. Make the commuter a self-driver. I'd LOVE this... If I wanted to have some extra drinks I could, I could surf the net on long trips, I could recline and nap... are you kidding? Want. Now.

93:

(side note on Bush is no longer in office, get over it)
Last time I checked, Obama is in office now, and seems to be continuing "the war for oil". Now, if we were actually still fighting a war for oil, then where is the subsequent reduction in the price per barrel which accompanies the old adage "to the victors goes the spoils"?

Anyway, back to the discussion of cars...America doesn't manufacture anything these days as it is. And what vehicles we do manufacture, do not hold a candle to vehicles manufactured elsewhere. I own a BMW and love the fact that while some may consider it a status symbol, I actually bought it for the engineering that went into it. (And 10 years on and 188K miles, it still get 32mpg highway, which I appreciate because I live in what could only be considered rural America) Ford, the only American automobile company to come through the recession relatively unscathed, still makes cars that can't match German engineering. After 100K miles, according to a Ford regional sales manager I met, you had better start looking for a new car. And don't forget to factor in road conditions, as I used to live in California where the bad roads cost me ~6mpg...There is also the distinct fact that area-wise, the USA is a lot bigger, hence more miles to drive.

(side note on rural living)
Personally rural living is wonderful, despite scentofviolets' rant to the contrary. (bordering on jealously I might add) And if that gets me the boot from this website, so be it, I'll still be buying the next installment of the Laundry.
I raise my own food, have my own well, and a lot less stress. You'd be surprised how many rural homes have ponds (generally stocked) but they also serve another purpose. A good supply of water in case of fire.

94:

Possibly disability could be the initial point for that, but in any case it's not such a big problem to change the law. It's just a societal decision.

There's another aspect of the legal side — currently the driver's licence system is set to pass everyone, and license revocations are on the order of months, because driving is just so indispensable (not to everyone, but to many). As soon as driverless cars become commonly available, the licensing and court systems can take the worst 5-10% of the drivers off the road.

95:

Charlie,

Thanks to the unique mess that has been made of the UK rail system and its pricing, you might find it worthwhile to investigate 'split ticketing' to reduce the extreme cost of get from Edinburgh to civilisation via rail.

For long journeys, particularly if you are forced to travel during peak hours, you can often find 40-50% reductions in the cost for exactly the same trains, seats, etc.

That's basically down to shorter journeys not being ripe for the same level of rip off as longer ones - you split the journey tickets into a chain of lower priced bits between stopped-at stations - and just stay on the same train.

There are automated tools out there (eg http://splityourticket.co.uk/routes/Edinburgh-to-Leeds-Route.aspx ) but none of them are as effective as the manual method and a sneaky mind.

For Edinburgh to Nottingham I can get it down to £92 in 5 mins, no advance tickets used.

96:

We are forced to put up with it, because railways are STILL unfashionable, and have been screwed (much like our national defence) by successive guvmints.
It all started with an unbelievable crook called Marples, who OWNED a construction company, which made a lot of money building motorways.
So he appointed a hatchet-man, called Beeching, to close down as much of the railways as possible, and got away with it.
The incoming Labour guvmint promised to stop the rot, but they were lying....
Then came Serpell - even more dangerous than Marples/Beeching: he was a flying-mad civil servant. His proposals were so insane, that even our guvmint rejected them (after a lot of campaigning)
The the tories privatised the railways, using the worst possible model, so that the tracks and trains BELONGED TO DIFFERENT businesses!!!
The incoming Labour givmint promised to rectify this, but they were lying .... (again)
Now we have petrol-head Hammond as Transport minister, the railways are expensive, and overcrowded, and the ONLY people who have the right idea are ...
The Scots!
Who are re-opening lines, and electrifying them.
How long before this sanity spreads to England, if ever, is anyone's guess .....

@24
You missed out Edinburgh or Glasgow to Carlisle ...
Part of the old Waverley route re-opens in a few years time - should never have been shut North of Hawick, in my opinion - Marples/Beeching again.....
A lot of routes were closed completely, when they only needed trimming - it was an all-or-nothing, completely mad (as well as corrupt) exercise.

@38 Our subsides are, themselves, inefficient.
DB and NS and SNCB cost a lot less to run, and give a much better service....

@ 40
A very valuable point.
A road casualty costs £1.7m, a rail one is PRICED at £10m ....
There's another hidded road-subsidy for you!

@48
WRONG
Very little of the Brit railway system uses semaphores any more - only the lightly-trafficked sections. I have a professional signal engineer as a close friend, and the control systems are as good as anyone's...
ETRMS incidentally, has some significant problems, and DLR only works for relatively low speeds, and sometimes not even then Oops.

Cars as status-symbols.
Well, mine is, but in a different way - I hope never to have to trade it in for another one - its a Land-Rover, and it's crumple zones are OTHER CARS.
Oops, again.

97:

I'm aware of both those items already existing.

I'm sure Toyota / Lexus has a car that can parallel park all you need to do is to line up next to the space and press a button.

Someone I worked with 8 years ago had an cruise control function that adapted to the speed of the car ahead of them. I'm not sure it would do an emergency stop but it did make the majority of his horrendous journey to work (Birmingham to Crewe) more bearable.

98:

You say that like it's a *bad* thing. Personally, I'm in favour of roads that are safe for all users -- including pedestrians and cyclists. If you aren't, I suggest you reconsider your priorities.

(More to the point, as driverless vehicles are likely to be a lot less inclined to attack other road users - pedestrians or cyclists - the political pressure motivating the Critical Mass demonstrators would fall off. Demonstrations are inconvenient for the demonstrators, too - most of whom have other things they'd rather be doing - and tend to fizzle when the underlying social irritant goes away.)

99:

Vic, who is this "us" you speak of?

Hint: this is not an American blog, and I'll thank you for keeping your national parochialism in check here.

100:

All of the safety advances - airbags, ABS, stability control, crumple zones, interior padding - either add weight directly or increase the overall dimensions leading to weight gain.

You're not thinking this through.

Those safety advances are there to deal with the problem of accidents caused by control error. Take away the source of control error -- the human drivers -- and the accidents will almost all go away. At which point, you don't need the air bags and crumple zones any more.

The small (single digit) percentage of accidents that are due to maintenance errors is going to diminish as well, as autonomous vehicles are going to require sensors to provide feedback on internal state -- and presumably refuse to drive anywhere but the maintenance depot if the brake pads are dangerously worn or there's a hydraulic leak.

You're also going to see a gradual shift away from the mentality that thinks "I need to drive a monster truck in order to be safe on the highway" once people start to take being safe on the highway for granted.

101:

To add to that, if your cars break pads are wearing down and go beyond its in built safety limit perhaps it will pull over and automatically call you an AA car and a truck for itself to carry it to the mechanics. and inconvenience but again maximises safety.
As for the monster truck mentality, if cars are self-driven then they can go faster (mainly on the motorways). With every car going over 100 lighter more aerodynamic cars may be more popular

102:

The November 2010 issue of Scientific American had a newspiece of an automatic car, which made me rant about the same thing yesterday to my wife.

Engadget has a story about that, too.

We're getting there. I don't really need a car, but it makes some trips more bearable. I don't like driving on obstacle-infested routes that much so I'd like an automatic one.

103:

it's crumple zones are OTHER CARS.

Ah yes.

It's unfortunate when the other cars aren't around and you run into that bridge/tree/off the road. Though given it's a Landie, your real lack of need for a crumple zone is because of the low speed. Modern cars can achieve much higher top speeds: that 70 mph average cruise on a motorway is something that wasn't there when they first opened.

All of which makes the falling death rate from accidents the more remarkable. Cars are easier to drive, and survive impacts better.

104:

#96 - Ok, I'll conceed to having forgotten the Waverley line, but I was treating Carlisle as a "Station in Scotland" anyway because you can get "Scotrail" (localish) services from Glasgow Central that terminate there, as well as "intercity" (never mind branding) services that call there. Oh and I didn't consider the "West Coast Main Line" because it's not relevant to Edinburgh - Leeds.

Also, 20 years ago, and somewhat bizzarely, you could get an intercity service that routed Edinburgh - Newcastle - Manchester - Birmingham - Bristol - Penzance, but didn't call at Leeds despite physically going through the city!!

105:

I say private cars will go away. A company running a fleet of auto taxis will be able to get economies of scale against private cars, and so owning one will fall from popularity, which means that the infrastructure for owning one will close down, feedback loop against popularity. The end result will be nothing but auto taxis except for the rich hobbyist.

This puts pressure on the auto companies to design for a different customer - someone who cares more about efficiency, safety and longevity than a narrative of freedom on the open road. Thus strike all the SUVs and the sporty look in favour of wind tunnel optimization. Also, there will be no need to over-provision (four seats is for the rare case you have a full car, mostly they are empty) so a majority of cars will be sized for a single occupant.

Simple market forces will make it something of a greentopia, everyone in small efficient single occupier cars, and much fewer of them total.

106:

More relevantly, it's also at a time when there was a blackout.

107:

Do we know how many of those accidents were after dark when a black-out becomes relevant?

And as mentioned, road usage was depressed due to petrol rationing - so really, how did accident rates change between (say) 1938 and 1940?

108:

I did think there were direct Edinburgh-Leeds trains still; but direct Leeds-Nottingham services mostly ended in the 1980s. Part of the reason for Nottingham's lack of direct train services goes all the way back to the origin of railways in the area: the main line into Nottingham, the Midland Counties Railway was built as a Y-shaped route serving both Derby and Nottingham. That company was then merged to form the Midland Railway, centred on Derby, so Nottingham ended up rather left out.

If you look at railway signalling development since privatisation, there has been a big change: projects involving new on-train equipment have been greatly reduced. The last *really* radical change to British signalling was the RETB (Radio Electronic Token Block) system, used in the north and west of Scotland, which dispenses with controlled signals and points and replaces them with "Stop and proceed [under conditions]" signs, verbal instruction via radio, and packet radio equipment in the cab which receives a secure cookie (the "electronic token") to confirm the verbal instructions. That was designed in the mid-80s. Most signalling innovation since has concentrated on the means of controlling the signals, replacing electromechanical with solid-state equipment. The most recent system that involved new on-train equipment was TPWS, a "stop trains passing red signals" system that was an incremental development of earlier systems; development of TPWS started before privatisation, and its post-privatisation introduction was forced by legislation.

109:

Given that in winter in the UK it gets dark around 4 in the afternoon and gets light around 9 in the morning (and it is overcast and raining for a lot of the time) then the blackout and the mandatory use of shuttered headlights would be a major cause of road deaths.

There would be fewer private cars on the roads, yes but there weren't a lot of private cars around at all at that time. There would be buses and trucks in the big city centres with lots of people crossing blacked-out roads and given the war effort there would be a lot of military transport shuttling backwards and forwards between supply dumps and bases, troop movements etc.

I'd say that during the war there was probably *more* total road traffic in the UK than before the war. For safety and security a lot of the movement of war materiel would be done at night to avoid it being spotted by photo-reconnaissance flights which would exacerbate the problem.

110:

One issue on cars is that they are losing weight, steel is being replaced by carbon fibers and plastics. This helps on economy of cars. also when using RoboCars (tm :) ) you could get rid of stearing wheel and stearing column and such, which also reduses weight. People brobably wants to still own their cars, because its cabacity as a storage room and a "man-cave".
About roadkills (humans), it has a quite effect on our evolution. It kills the young before they have children. I do not know what raits are good at driving and surviving in traffic, but there is bound to be something.
ps. if I have made some typos, just blame me on being lazy.

111:

If the guys on Top Gear can't make that work; I sure wouldn't want to try it!

All I've been thinking of, reading the blog and comments, is Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll" and the Top Gear episode of Jeremy racing to Scotland via train as a stoker (at least that's what we call them here) with the boys on the road.

As to rural living, it takes some getting used to. I lived in the seaside town of Santa Monica, California for 62 years, bus transportation was cheap and easy, and we shared a car, putting about 12K miles per year on the thing. In our retirement (ha, ha, thanks Citi), we moved 45 minutes outside of Atlanta. It is beautiful, we are able to grow our veggies; but any trip out, save to the corner market (3 miles round trip) is a 1/2 day excursion, admittedly through a beautiful landscape I have never known. As I write this, I realize how much I miss my beach and Indian Restaurants!

112:

I've been looking forward to the autonimous car for years but I think that the fear of litigation is going to be a major issue. The public won't stand for deaths caused by software malfunctions even if they are at a significantly lower rate than human error caused deaths. The car companies will be sued for selling "faulty deathtraps" as soon as the first accident happens that isn't obviously caused by the human driving the other car.

113:

One nice side-effect of automated vehicles might be co-use of light rail tracks, potentially coupled.

Trains use solid steel rails to avoid energy losses in the rubber/air of inflated tyres. If you have a second set of retractable wheels (see rail maintenance cars for example), you can drive on rails. You normally wouldn't, in order to avoid hitting trains. But if you synchronise the automated systems, you can share the tracks with light rail / trams. Or vice versa.

114:

I don't know why people persist with the fallacy that 90% of vehicular fatalities are caused by human error. The only thing that kills is mass times velocity. Velocity is THE overriding factor in every fatality. You don't get pedestrians killed in 15mph collisions (well not often) or a family of 4 wiped out when rear ended at 10mph.

Human error is the cause of accidents (though we now term them collisions as accidents infer no blame) but speed is what kill and injures. Kill the speed by means of a proven GPS limiter and you'll kill the fatality figures.

The human error thing reads to me like an automobile version of "guns don't kill people, people do."

115:

Well Charlie, you already wrote about car-hacking in Halting State. Heck, why should we worry about who (or what) is driving our cars? What could possibly go wrong?

Let's see: in the US, we could contract out driving to a government contractor who uses a proprietary operating system to keep the terrorists out. Probably the US (hopefully not the UK) will implement this on the state level, so people will no longer be able to drive across state lines without buying multiple, expensive operating systems, and manually rebooting their cars at the border (such as halfway across the Mississippi on a crowded bridge).

Of course, if we use open source car software, some script kiddie will figure out a way to drive a car as if it was a 3-D printing head, back and forth, back and forth. Fun to watch, perhaps. In a cartoon.

Heck, why not wire our door locks to the internet too, why don't we (oh wait, they're doing that too).

116:

@ 103
I can do a steady 65-73 on UK motorways, because I have a third (overdrive) gerbox in my L-R.
Cross-country average speeds are suprisingly high - probably because it corners very well (permanent 4wd+limited-slip diff...)

Ther are through Leeds-SHeffield-Derby (noit sure about Nottinham) trains. You just have to look carefuul.
Bring back "Bradshaw"!

117:

I'm sorry to hear that the A68 terrifies you so. Statistically it's the safest road route out of Scotland (yesterday's smash at Carter Bar notwithstanding). A nice road, minimal gear changes required, not too many nut jobs, relatively quiet.

Of course I'm biased as it's part of my daily commute and to be honest the only Edinburgh-Englandshire route I've not had a fatality on is the M74.

118:

You should send this out to the guys at Top Gear - their reactions would be hilarious to watch on camera.

A recommended book should be Traffic: Why we drive the way we do and what it says about us. Facinating read on driving in general, and I think that there's a couple of points that should be highlighted:

1- The permission and liscencing for drivers should be far more rigorous than it already is. Anywhere you go, there's idiots on the road, and I often wonder at how they got the license in the first place.

2 - infrastructure needs to be changed. For places like the US, we need to have alternatives for high speed rail and public transportation to bypass gridlock, but changes need to be made to the roads as well - we need fewer of them, better upgrades to what we have, and so forth.

119:

On the subject of alternative routes, there's certainly a trade-off between time and distance between ordinary main roads and motorways. Whether there's a difference in energy use is harder to tell. You're gaining on air-drag, losing on acceleration/deceleration, with the shorter ordinary road.

Where I used to live, it could be easier and quicker to take the motorway, rather than the more direct route, when heading for Derby. The direct route took you through Lincoln, Newark, and the fringes of Nottingham. There were miles of stop-start motoring.

The balance shifted. Lincoln and Newark acquired bypasses. The A46 was converted to dual-carriageway. The average speed shot up.

And remember, Liverpool is as near due south from Edinburgh as makes no difference. It doesn't look silly to suggest the M6, not from a map.

From where I live now, local knowledge, I'd use some quite odd-looking routes to some places. But not after dark (my eyes are getting older too).

120:

Let's see: in the US, we could contract out driving to a government contractor who uses a proprietary operating system to keep the terrorists out. Probably the US (hopefully not the UK) will implement this on the state level, so people will no longer be able to drive across state lines without buying multiple, expensive operating systems, and manually rebooting their cars at the border (such as halfway across the Mississippi on a crowded bridge).

Of course, if we use open source car software, some script kiddie will figure out a way to drive a car as if it was a 3-D printing head, back and forth, back and forth. Fun to watch, perhaps. In a cartoon.

Ah the old proprietary/open source security fallacy.
Actually looking at the track record, Open Source applications have always been more secure that Security Through Obscurity.

121:

I like the idea that the vehicle size arms race might be reset with autonomous vehicles. I suspect it won't, because there will not be the sharp discontinuity that would be needed to separate the vehicle types.

122:

Whilst I am all for technology in principle, I do have at least one issue with the autonomous car idea.

Most of us here will be some kind of game player or internet junky type of cyberpunky person. We all love our little boxes of electronic high tech wizardry. I do myself, not the unrepentant luddite am I. I love the whole technological revolution. However, as a part of it, I have seen how often software has to be rewritten. Often after its release with a patch. Which is meant to fix a glitch. Often it does but then gives rise to an unexpected protocol which gives rise to..... another glitch. So another patch is issued, which fixes the glitch caused by the patch to fix the previous glitch. You can see where this is going cant you?

Autonomous computer controlled systems are really all well and good, however they do not in any way remove human error as a human being is involved in its inception and development. The human is still there and is still prone to error. That error is deeply hidden and may not show up for quite some time and possibly with some seriously dangerous results.

123:

In the US, we'd better hope that automated cars come around sooner than later. The baby boomers are starting to hit retirement age. With age comes an increasingly impaired ability to drive, and having that large of a population all needing to get the grocery store is going to present Problems.

124:

I got burned by too many promises of driverless cars "less than 10 years from now" for nearly forty years. I started believing in PRT systems instead. There are all kinds, running on rails, elevated or not, based on dual use (track and regular road) or single use (track only), based on a monorail or on two rails, or based on a smart, dedicated road with no physical tracks.

All the ones planned for development in the US are doomed from the start (like any future driverless vehicle there) because of liability laws and the over abundance of liability lawyers in the US. As poster number 66 pointed out "In the USA, I can see lawyers salivating over autonomous cars because even if they're safer on average than human-driven vehicles, an accident is an opportunity to extract payments from billion-dollar companies instead of Joe Motorist"

But...

It so happens that you have all the elements for a successful PRT system running in the United Kingdom, the ULTRA system. And you don't have problems with liability laws in the UK, right?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ULTra_(rapid_transit)

You could call it a PRT system since it has all the basic attributes.

You could also call it a smart road system since it is rubber tyred and does not physically touch any tracks or gudeway. The guidance is entirely electrical and electronic.

The system was based on a successful autonomous airport vehicle from the Netherlands and was tested for years on a Cardiff tests track.

125:

More to the point, I think it would be very hard to measure which is better.

126:

There has been research showing that cars are a status symbol for people who have to spend a significant chunk of their income to run one. For many of those who get payed enough that owning a car isn't a big sacrifice then there isn't much status attached to them. It seems that if everyone you care about assumes you could afford a car (or a better one) then there is no pressure to get one. For anecdotal evidence compare the cars parked in poor and middle class neighbourhoods.

As for the difference in coverage for rail and road accidents it is another example of only needing to worry about things which aren't in the news. Road crashes are too common to keep the audience's attention, but a rail or air crash is rare enough to be interesting.

Cars which semi-automate parallel and reverse parking have been in production for several years. Search youtube for "parking assist".

And finally someone mentioned rural ponds. Around here swimming pools on farms get claimed as an expense for tax purposes, being needed as a source of water in case of fire. Another subsidy from the cities.

127:
All of the safety advances - airbags, ABS, stability control, crumple zones, interior padding - either add weight directly or increase the overall dimensions leading to weight gain.

You're not thinking this through.

Those safety advances are there to deal with the problem of accidents caused by control error. Take away the source of control error -- the human drivers -- and the accidents will almost all go away. At which point, you don't need the air bags and crumple zones any more.

I suspect you're wrong here. (Although I don't see airbags on busses, our current passenger-not-in-control road transport, so...) It's very hard to roll back safety features, especially legislated ones. And regrettably some regulation is written to mandate a particular mechanical recipe to achieve an end instead of mandating the end itself.

Fortunately some of this stuff doesn't add much weight. Airbags are small and light. And ABS is getting common even on motorcycles, where weight is a high consideration (in the non-cruiser markets, anyway). Crumple zones? What do tiny things like the Smart cars do in that area?

[...snip...] You're also going to see a gradual shift away from the mentality that thinks "I need to drive a monster truck in order to be safe on the highway" once people start to take being safe on the highway for granted.

There is still the crowd of people who justify their land barges as safety for their kids.

128:

In a future where we have developed "self-driving vehicles (but not, say, teleportation)" it's not unreasonable to assume we might have developed the technology for flying cars, ditching one of the largest constraints: roads.
I wonder how this would affect your predictions.
My initial instinct was that it would affect them quite a lot... then I thought perhaps only the to the extent of how the structure of cities would change. But even that could go as you describe, except for a proportion of land being reclaimed that's presently used for roads. Even then, roads will still have their uses.

129:
I like the idea that the vehicle size arms race might be reset with autonomous vehicles. I suspect it won't, because there will not be the sharp discontinuity that would be needed to separate the vehicle types.

I was thinking about separation, and the thought occurred: bus lanes!

Of course this is somewhat a city centric approach, but in Sydney Oz at least, taxis, hire cars and motorcycles can use "bus lanes" (but not "bus only lanes", which as normally very short special purpose bits). There's a motorway here with a dedicated full length "bus only lane" up the middle (not the outsides). Allowing autonomous vehicles obeying a common cooperation protocol on such special purpose lanes would be a good transition step. Of course it doesn't solve the drop-you-to-your-home issue, but it may be more flexible than busses.

130:

I speak for a lot of people when you can take my steering wheel and manual shift from my cold dead hands. I recognise there is a place for autonomous vehicles and I'd even make a use of them, leaving driving as a recreational thing, but there is going to be hardcore resistance to making human controlled driving illegal.

I think having human control but with a computer-controled accident prevention backup is a better solution. In otherwords if the car thinks the driver is leading the car into an accident it will lock out the driver and take control - likely out-performing a human. Already many cars have stability control which can react like a racing driver.

Any ban on human drivers will piss a lot of drivers off, and make enemies of a industry with deep pockets, then this kind of emergency only intervention is a good compromise. If people are so incapable of finding injury and death a adequate motivation to watch their driving, then I imagine they'd at least tend to drive to avoid having auto-drive kick in and control snatched off.

If your car goes out of control in some way, a distress beacon could alert nearby cars in real time.
Imagine a whole column of traffic slowing down instantly, rather than the typical nose to tail pile up. I'd sign up for that. I hate tailgaters with a passion.

But this is all silly. The real problem with modern cars is they are overglorified sensory deprivation tanks that do everything possible to hide the senesation of inertia, velocity, lateral acceleration, energy consumption - anything which is actual driving. Modern cars MAKE us drive too fast, because anything else 'feels slow'. Most of these flying couches have steering that doesn't feel connected to anything, mushy brake pedals, soft suspension and the result is 5000 lbs of SUV will accelerate briskly and quietly with a feather touch of the accelerator. No sense of the increased danger to others, the lower margin of error for yourself, and the lower safety ratings of such vehicles.

I notice I corner alot slower when I drive cars with less lateral support in the drivers seat, acceleration and scary body roll, and I tend to not use unecessary acceleration after competition modifications to my engine and exhaust made it much louder. Also stiffer suspension means I tend to slow down on rough B-roads. A modified braking system also had much more feel - you could actually feel the inertia of the metal coffin your in more.

Also people drive around with their foot on the floor then complain about the price of fuel at the pump - lately filling up my tank just about makes me cry, I quickly learned to stay off the gas.

People want comfort, but I don't see why a car couldn't provide meaningful feedback by returning some auditory and sensory cues to a driver if it was exceeding reasonable speeds, cornering rates and fuel-wasting acceleration.

Some key reasons behind computer control of cars are compelling though. As a rule of thumb a human takes a full second to go from identifying a hazard and taking correct action. At highway speed thats 30m / 100 feet.
A computers response could be less than 100ms - that's not just life saving but would put an end to accidents. It could also wirelessly instantly communicate it's situation, in real time detail, with it's peers on the road. Cars could behaving like flocks of birds or herds of animals. They don't have problems with accidents?

But IMHO full autonomous driving in a variety of conditions won't happen until there are computers around at elast as capable as a human brain (2020-2030 by Kurzweils thinking). We'll have other problems if that eventuates anyway.

131:

Another alternative would be Windows Auto - gives Blue Screen of Death real meaning, doesn't it?

132:
Oh, that's easy: Make these people bear the actual costs of living in their preferred setting ;-)

As I said, one the biggest wedges in our dysfunctional American political system. It's not the south or the midwest vs. the coasts so much as it is a rural/urban split. Unfortunately, the rural types with their parasitic lifestyles have disproportionate representation in Congress.

Bah, easy: every city with over a million population becomes an independent state. And the really big ones split into several states. Split New York into the five boroughs and make each one a state.

133:

#72 the 44,000 RTA deaths in WW2 were mostly due to the blackout (with elements such as bomb damage, the removal of road signs and the services suddenly adding hundreds of thousands of barely trained testosterone-fuelled youths to the driving population also playing a part).

In fact if you read enough novels, memoirs and biographies of the era it is constantly surprising how many people die from RTAs either during or immediately after WW2 (I could name several dozen generals starting with Patton frex).

134:

Me too. I had 2857 miles the last year.

135:

Yeah, right. They'll never have enough available for those of us with different requirements because of our disabilities.

136:

@ 73:

These on-demand personal cars remind me of the 'Eggs' from Julian May's Saga of the Exiles (they were obviously only ever mentioned in the parts set in Galactic Milieu-time). I think Elizabeth took one to get to the Gate.

And the Okie cities had something similar with their automated taxicab system.

The point I've been sidling toward is there seem to be a lot of technological advances that work perfectly well in high-density urban areas, but which aren't so hot in the suburbs or the boonies.

So, for example, light rail, streetcars, etc. which work well in New York and which really are more sustainable in the terms of the type of energy they consume as well as the amounts are simply unacceptable in rural areas. In those areas, people simply refuse to give up their cars and their cheap gas, and if it takes a few wars and a few hundred billion dollars paid by other people to keep gas cheap, well, that's what is going to happen.

I can see the exact same sort scenario being played out in terms of any of a number of different advanced technologies, be it broadband connectivity, automated motorways, or what have you.

137:

I too think that autonomous vehicles are coming, and will eventually become ubiquitous. The benefits will be enormous. One of those benefits will be the almost total elimination of conventional urban mass transit. No one is going to bother with buses and trains when for the same price or less than they get a faster, more comfortable, more private, more convenient door-to-door ride in a driverless electric taxi. Everyone should read Brad Templeton's excellent set of "robocar" essays mentioned earlier.

As for suburbs and exurbs, suburbanization and sprawl have little or nothing to do with "subsidies." They are a global phenomenon that has occurred in every country that has become rich enough for mass ownership of private automobiles and that has enough land suitable for development.

138:
As for suburbs and exurbs, suburbanization and sprawl have little or nothing to do with "subsidies." They are a global phenomenon that has occurred in every country that has become rich enough for mass ownership of private automobiles and that has enough land suitable for development.

Your second statement is orthogonal to your first. How is it evidence for your claim? (And the fact of this subsidization is pretty well accepted - you can argue about the justifications for the them, economic and otherwise, but you can't argue that they don't exist.)

139:

"So, for example, light rail, streetcars, etc. which work well in New York and which really are more sustainable in the terms of the type of energy they consume as well as the amounts are simply unacceptable in rural areas."

The idea that urban rail transit is green or "more sustainable" is largely a myth. Again, see Brad Templeton's articles. On average during revenue service, only about 20-30% of the seats in a subway car or light rail vehicle are occupied by passengers. So most of the energy is spent hauling around empty seats rather than providing useful transportation. Of course, car seats are often empty too, but when you average it out per passenger-mile rail is only modestly more energy efficient than today's passenger cars. And it will almost certainly be much less efficient than the electric cars of 20 or 30 years from now.

Even the New York subway, which is one of the most energy-efficient rail transit systems in the world thanks to New York's density, is actually less efficient than the Nissan Leaf, a first-generation 5-seat mass market electric car that will go on sale next month. The NYC subway consumes about 0.2 kwh of electricity per passenger-mile. The Nissan Leaf has a 100-mile range on its 24 kwh battery. That's 0.24 kwh per vehicle-mile. At an average vehicle occupancy of 1.6 passengers, that's 0.15 kwh per passenger-mile. About 25% less energy than the NYC subway.

140:

"Your second statement is orthogonal to your first. How is it evidence for your claim?"

The second statement wasn't really intended as evidence for the first. You haven't presented any evidence that cities do, in fact, subsidize suburbs. And as others have already pointed out, even if your assertion is true it may be just be a consequence of income and wealth differences. Rich people, who pay higher taxes, may tend to live disproportionately in cities.

141:

Surely good grocery deliveries will solve that problem?

142:

There is quite a lot of evidence to show that driving behavior is riskier with cars that have more safety features or feel safer, confirming your experience.

143:

>Another alternative would be Windows Auto
At least we'd be able to drive where we like rather than 'Apple iWay' only....

144:

Autonomous cars may be closer than we think. Google has accumulated over 140,000 miles in cars where the human is a hands off back up system required for liability. The real issues seem to be cost and legal.

from this NY times article

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/science/10google.html?scp=1&sq=autonomous%20cars&st=cse
...
With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.
...

145:

@ 139
assuming your figures are correct (I don't believe it, actually) ...
There's another problem with cars in cities - crowding/congestion.
No large city (1 million or over) can work without an urban rail system-and-Metro. Or work in a vaguely civilised fashion, at any rate.

@ 137
And where are you going to park the things?
With rail, you don't have this problem.

146:

I see what you are saying about opposition but in reality its not going to happen in an all or nothing transition. Sure if tomorrow somebody invented a 100% safe and cheap self driving car there would be mass opposition to making it mandatory but they wont and there wont be.

Cars may first get some accident prevention software like you say, perhaps talk to each other in a flocking mode. one day cars that self drive on the motorway may exist, you drive onto the motorway (and the car acknowledges its on one) and with the press of a button it drives itself to the desired exit. This technology will integrate gradually. Eventually when a fully self-driving system emerges many other systems will already be in place (as described) that dont make it feel strange. but the biggest factor will be if getting a self-drive car gives you benefits like driving in bus lanes and lower insurance. over time the manual car will die out not because of legislation but because of market forces.

147:

Contrarywise - talking about "vehicle collisions" infers a degree of deliberate planning to hit another body that is usually if not always absent. "Accident" refers to an impact which was not planned, so is a perfect term for an event which was caused by an error of judgement.

148:

Alain@124: It so happens that you have all the elements for a successful PRT system running in the United Kingdom, the ULTRA system. And you don't have problems with liability laws in the UK, right?

Nope, we have no-win, no-fee lawyers here just like in the US, and in some ways our "Health & Safety" culture is just as bad, perhaps even worse: you only see workers in hi-vis jackets in the US who actually need them, unlike here where they're sort of becoming a badge of office for anyone who works outside of a shop or office.

ULTra is interesting but it's worth noting that the Heathrow installation has been in "testing" with an opening date of Real Soon Now for getting on for a year. I lived in Cardiff for a while, and one of the reasons why the test track was there was because they hoped to sell it to the Welsh government to link the Cardiff Bay National Assembly complex with the main civil service buildings in Cathays, a few miles away. That never transpired and the little one-car rail link between the city centre and the Bay keeps shuttling backwards and forwards. I used to commute on it and it was never even close to full.

Having said that, I can't help but feel that ULTra and its ilk at least point the way to what a driverless car ecosystem might eventually look like. They are sort of 50% there, with the main difference being they run on segregated (but simple concrete) track so they don't have to worry about pedestrians and other road users.

149:

Crumple zones? What do tiny things like the Smart cars do in that area?

You've noticed that a "Smart" (used advisedly; they're made by Swatch, yes the watch people) is very high for its length and ground clearance? This is so that the energy of the impact can be passed around the safety cell, which works very well as long as the likelyhood of a significant Ke impact between 2 "Smarts" is low. If that likelyhood becomes high, at least some of the Ke will have to be passed to the occupants of one or both vehicles, rather than being mostly absorbed by the non-"Smart".

150:

Your argument that "safety features encourage riskier behaviour" was used by a former colleague; he insisted that wearing a bicycle helmet encouraged risky cycling, and that the rearview mirror on his cycle was his best defence. He also chose to cycle with his headphones on, listening to music, and insisted that hearing wasn't as effective a safety cue as his mirror...

I commuted to work across Edinburgh by bicycle for a decade with only a couple of "reasonably distant misses" and no accidents; I wore as much reflective and brightly coloured clothing as was possible, and the bike was "largely reflective" (that tape is good stuff).

Edinburgh has one advantage in that much of its disused light rail system was turned into cycle paths in the 1980s/90s; the problems are that it was a circle line around the centre, with no real radial spokes, and the southern part is still in use for freight-only traffic.

...meanwhile, I'd go with the rest and advise on the A701 to Moffat (far less traffic than the A702, straighter roads, better sightlines), then M74/M6. Further, but quicker and less stressful than the A1.

151:

"Hard hats" for staff engaged in marshalling ferry traffic. Ok, they will keep the rain off, without affecting your hearing or vision, but when was the last time you heard of anyone dropping a spanner on the head of someone in a flat parking area? (I'm agreeing with the point about Elvin Safety)

152:

Ah, well in that case ignore the bit about Drivewear lenses. The iScription ones are nice, though, if rather pricey. I was commenting from the perspective of one who does about 32 thousand miles a year (give or take a bit; I tell the insurers 35K to be on the safe side) and for whom driving glasses are somewhere between a very useful luxury and a near-necessity.

153:

Dropped spanners? Probably not very often. Around a port, it's more likely to be a dropped pallet, or something dropping off an overhead load.

However, I would posit that there just may be moving vehicles around in your parking area. The safety helmet is designed to protect against head injuries while (as you noted) not obscuring vision or hearing, and it's possible to get knocked over in the car park (or struck by someone trucker's wing mirror - especially on the Channel routes where the traffic is mixed LHD/RHD, and in the process of changing road sides). In such cases, the safety helmet may still be the best solution to the risks.

But let's assume it's strictly speaking unnecessary in that car park. Even so, there's very little point in taking the damned thing off when you're in the parking area and putting it back on when on the quay - just put it on when you start work, take it off when you finish. It saves mislaying it, or having to go back to a locker to retrieve it when switching tasks.

154:

Yes, I want one too.

Due to the UK's gibberingly stupid house-building and fiscal policies, combined with moronic + evil house trading regulations (lots of legal hurdles plus a transaction charge), I am living about thirty miles from where I work. I travel sixty-odd miles per day, every working day, just to get to and from work. I don't have the money (or the car parking space) to buy and run two cars, so I'm doing that mileage in a Toyota Avensis, getting about fifty miles per Imperial gallon of diesel.

Allowing for other costs, that's about 15 pounds per day just to get to work and back, and for the 2.5 hours or so of the commuting (did I mention grossly sub-optimal road networks?) I'm doing nothing but drive, and listen to music or radio. What a bloody waste of time!

Of the hour or so from home to where I work in Manchester, ten minutes takes me from home to the main roads (and thence to motorways). Twenty minutes and one roundabout later, I'm at the edge of Manchester. I then have a further twenty to thirty minutes fighting and rat-running my way through a traffic system seemingly designed to get in my way, including fifteen sets of traffic lights and half a dozen pelican crossings, then I'm at work.

This is such a bloody waste of my time and money, and indeed everyone else's time and money. For a start, how's about the councils of Britain collectively deciding that actually, since most people use cars as transport they're going to make the cities vaguely car-friendly, so synchronised traffic lights, 40 MPH through-ways, non-blocking pedestrian crossings and a decent provision of inner-city car parks would be a very welcome start to this.

155:

"all of whom are comfortably off and well-educated and safe."

I always find this an interesting contradiction in science fiction - which always seems to paint the troubles of the past onto the furniture of the future.

156:

Your right there but unfortunately the police want us to refer to Road Traffic Collisions (RTCs) instead of Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs). That said the term RTA is thoroughly ingrained in ambulance service usage and I suspect it will be a few years before we stop using it.

Here is an example of the kind of GPS limiter I saw trialled a few years back.

Australian GPS limiter trial

157:

Or perhaps rather than a central ssytem directing all the cars (I agree) they will be autonomous, but talk amongst themselves, locally on the road, a little wider in the few blocks and along their proposed routes, and updating a central repository about traffic conditions _and plans_.

Add in a dash of intelligence about the cycle of the day and about significiant gatherings, and you get something that minds itself, acts oddly on occasion, and degrades gracefully.

158:

On the first point, Police =/= "always right", despite what they wish you to believe.

On the second point, thanks and interesting. A "speed limiting" system that will allow you to accelerate "firmly and assertively" past slow traffic irrespective of the posted limit, but not allow you to "drift" more than a few mph over the limit I could live with.

159:

No cranes, and these areas are all "public access". Ferry company employees (and some HGV drivers) are the only people required to wear hi-vis and/or hard hats. You did know that I live on an island, and use ferries regularly?

160:

Yes, I wear a helmet on my bike. Why? It cost about $20 or $30.

I've also had a concussion. It cost about $2000 about 20 years ago, and that was after insurance.

I look at it as a savings in cost, plus I have a smaller probability of those lingering after-effects that concussions are notorious for. But then again, I'm not normal, because I've had a bit of education in risk calculation.

AFAIK, safety features encourage unthinking behavior, rather than risky behavior. These two categories overlap, of course, but they're not quite the same.

Civilization in general encourages unthinking behavior. In general, civilized people don't need to know how to hunt, gather, grow their own food, dress and animal, or even light a fire. Take away our infrastructure, and we die quickly. Is this a good thing or bad thing? Generally it's a good thing (if you value civilized pursuits, such as writing), but it means that we'd better invest in maintaining that infrastructure that allows us keep not thinking. The fact that we don't properly invest in sustainable infrastructure could properly be called risky behavior, IMHO.

161:

"With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control."

Obviously a good start. So are the vehicles in the DARPA challenges. But they also show the problem. If the vehicle can drive itself even for 99% of the time, and randomly need driver attention just 1% of the time, the driver has to remain alert and sober for the whole trip. This seems to defeat the attraction of autonomous vehicles for me. I cannot ride in the passenger seat and read/sleep/ride intoxicated.

162:
"So, for example, light rail, streetcars, etc. which work well in New York and which really are more sustainable in the terms of the type of energy they consume as well as the amounts are simply unacceptable in rural areas."


Even the New York subway, which is one of the most energy-efficient rail transit systems in the world thanks to New York's density, is actually less efficient than the Nissan Leaf, a first-generation 5-seat mass market electric car that will go on sale next month.

An apples and celery comparison. It's not light rail vs. electric cars; it's light rail vs. gas hogs. Unless you can convince that electric cars are the norm out in the sticks.

163:
But this is all silly. The real problem with modern cars is they are overglorified sensory deprivation tanks that do everything possible to hide the senesation of inertia, velocity, lateral acceleration, energy consumption - anything which is actual driving. Modern cars MAKE us drive too fast, because anything else 'feels slow'. Most of these flying couches have steering that doesn't feel connected to anything, mushy brake pedals, soft suspension and the result is 5000 lbs of SUV will accelerate briskly and quietly with a feather touch of the accelerator.

I want my George Jetson flying car with the inertial dampers and the bubble canopy! Somewhere along the way, the look of the future lost the transparent dome stylings, which I take to be a devolution of sorts[1].

But more importantly, the other side of this experience is the roads themselves. I drive a Corolla more than ten years old; it still gets +28 mpg in town and theoretically something like 34 mpg on the highway. I say theoretically because the condition of the roads being what they are, driving my little pizza delivery vehicle through the minefield of cracks and potholes that is the interstate in Missouri feels more like riding in a 19th century stage coach. I'm guessing that driving those large vehicles in part intentionally masks the poor condition of our highway system.


[1]Is there some site that has a nice review of the aesthetic of the future as visualized by various contemporaries? Art Deco is obvious enough, but I'm shaky on what goes before and after those particular stylings (and which still look like the future to me, btw. Same for those Colliers Moon and Mars ships.)

164:
Obviously a good start. So are the vehicles in the DARPA challenges. But they also show the problem. If the vehicle can drive itself even for 99% of the time, and randomly need driver attention just 1% of the time, the driver has to remain alert and sober for the whole trip. This seems to defeat the attraction of autonomous vehicles for me. I cannot ride in the passenger seat and read/sleep/ride intoxicated.

I'm guessing that the 99% figure is not evenly distributed. On more heavily traveled roads (i.e., in an urban environment) you could have a much more elaborate sensor coverage as well as some sort of network that could talk to the vehicles and over-ride unsafe actions the on-board pilot was unaware of.

On poorly-maintained roads carrying a mix of human and machine drivers with an inadequate sensory coverage (i.e., away from the cities) accidents would in all probability be more prevalent.

165:

Other reasons for getting a car include the changes in employment over the last 30 years (due in part to the war of the rich against the non-rich) which mean that you more jobs and less time in each job, and have to be prepared to move. Rather than move house every 3 years to live near your work, easier to drive 30 miles each way every day. Well, maybe not, but it feels like it.
Furthermore, without a car, getting that job down in Sheffield (for example) is a lot harder, since like many modern people you have accumulated consumer goods and stuff and its easier just to pack them into your car and drive there. (Although obviously you can also hire a van, but see next point)

Finally, once you have a car, why not use it since you are paying for it. Right now a return ticked from my nearest station to Edinburgh costs about a pound or so more than the cost of the fuel I would burn to do the same trip. Therefore, there are times when it is easier just to drive into town, arriving in 40 to 50 minutes, rather than walk 15 minutes to the station, get train for 30 mins, walk 10 minutes to my destination. This is also why out of town shopping centres have increased, and I'm sure there are all sorts of feedbacks going on which meant that once enough people had cars, it was worth building out of town shopping centres and more people found them good to go to and they could fit their entire weeks shopping in the car boot. Then the high street shops found they couldn't get enough customers and, well, you all know the rest.

If car insurance rises any more I can imagine that even before the introduction of cheap autopilots there will be even more insurance avoidance, and thus more law and order issues going on.

Having cars in 2110 kind of assumes we'll find way's of making roads which last beyond peak oil, CO2 release issues and so on. Hopefully by then we'll have appropriate nano-wibble tech, but I wouldn't be on it.

Having centrally available cars would hopefully lead to fewer cars in existence at all (apart from the few million old cars kept because they are old). Possibly we'll have done away with commuting as well, so instead of 26 million or more cars, there'll only be 15 or 20 million. All too many cars spend most of the week in a garage or driveway.

166:

Plus other cars don't mess with you - when I had a volvo 340, I distinctly saw a couple of drivers drive as if they were about to do something silly, then they paused when they saw me driving my old tank like car, then decided that no it wasn't worth running the risk of getting hit by it and not do whatever they were thinking of doing.

167:
Even the New York subway, which is one of the most energy-efficient rail transit systems in the world thanks to New York's density, is actually less efficient than the Nissan Leaf, a first-generation 5-seat mass market electric car that will go on sale next month. The NYC subway consumes about 0.2 kwh of electricity per passenger-mile. The Nissan Leaf has a 100-mile range on its 24 kwh battery. That's 0.24 kwh per vehicle-mile. At an average vehicle occupancy of 1.6 passengers, that's 0.15 kwh per passenger-mile. About 25% less energy than the NYC subway.
Not quite an apples and oranges comparison, but not apples and apples either. You're comparing the battery discharge of the Leaf to the actual usage of the subway. To get apples and apples, you need to include the lossage from the Leaf charge cycles and differences in electricity delivery lossage to the NYC subway vs. the Leaf charge point. The second of these may go in the Leaf's favor, but off the top of the head I doubt it - the subway is industrial-level connection, most homes aren't. The former is usually but not always more efficient.
168:

I seem to recall a study from a few years ago about subsidies from cities to suburbs in the USA, mostly in the form of road, water, and sewer installation and maintenance. IIRC it came to something like $300 per suburban resident per year

I can believe that road costs are higher in the suburbs, but sewer and water? I live in suburban North Carolina, and having municipal water and sewer means that you are probably already living within city limits. In the suburbs, most people have private wells and septic systems, and if they fail, tough luck. The owner has to pay the full cost of repair. NC State says that more than 50% of NC homes have septic systems and wells.

It's possible that city dwellers are subsidizing our use of a municipal sewage treatment plant when our tank is pumped, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is already folded into our county taxes or the price we pay to have the sludge hauled away.

169:

re: deer

That would be an interesting technical problem. When I see a deer standing motionless at the side of the road, I slow down, because I anticipate that it may dart into the road unpredictably. I don't slow down for similarly sized rocks, trees, pedestrians, or domestic animals behind fences.

A computer driven car would need to be able to reliably distinguish among those different things, even if they were 20 feet of the side of the road and not moving. If it can't do that reliably then in much of the eastern seaboard of the U.S., manually driven cars would be safer.

170:

Actually, Smarts aren't made by Swatch and never were, and Swatch's input into the originals was almost entirely in marketing. They're made by Mercedes, as it happens.

A lot of the crumple-zone-equivalent (there is a small crumple zone at the front) in Smarts is, as I understand it, taken care of by the plastic panels themselves, which pretty can much vapourise in collisions and absorb a lot of energy in the process.

171:
I can believe that road costs are higher in the suburbs, but sewer and water? I live in suburban North Carolina, and having municipal water and sewer means that you are probably already living within city limits. In the suburbs, most people have private wells and septic systems, and if they fail, tough luck. The owner has to pay the full cost of repair. NC State says that more than 50% of NC homes have septic systems and wells.

I don't know where those other figures are coming from, but it's a pretty uncontroversial fact that these subsidies flow outward from the urban core:

While the results may not be unexpected, they demonstrate for the first time in Indiana the disparity in state tax collections and distributions among urban and rural counties, IFPI President John Ketzenberger said.

“The outcome is not surprising, but it does show what has long been suspected,” he said. “And there’s some value in that.”

Overall, taxpayers in 46 metropolitan counties paid 82.5 percent of the taxes, or $11.3 billion, and received 76.7 percent, or $10.5 billion in expenditures, the study said.

The disparity is equally pronounced in the 10-county Indianapolis metropolitan area. Residents there paid 33.5 percent, or $4.6 billion, of total state taxes and received 28 percent, or $3.8 billion, back.

Still, William J. Rieber, an economics professor at Butler University’s College of Business, said the method in which states distribute tax dollars is justified.

“Rural areas don’t have the same infrastructure as urban areas do, so they often need additional help,” Rieber said. “To some extent, we’re in the same state, and we’re all in this together.”

The Indiana study is consistent with the results from other states that examined the distribution of state government finances, the fiscal policy institute said in its report.

There's bunches of this stuff out there; as I said, one might argue whether these subsidies are justified, but they do exist.

172:

An apples and celery comparison. It's not light rail vs. electric cars; it's light rail vs. gas hogs.

It is your comparison of light rail to "gas hogs" that is apples-to-celery. As I said, the NY subway is one of the most energy efficient rail transit systems in the world. It is much more efficient than most light rail systems, because of its relatively high load factor (ratio of demand to capacity) and very high total passenger volume. And yet even the NY subway is less efficient than the Nissan Leaf, a 5-passenger first-generation electric car. It is not plausible that light rail will be as efficient as the typical car of 20 or 30 years from now, especially the typical car in urban areas. Light rail is barely more efficient than the typical car of today.

The population is certainly becoming less rural. It is also becoming more suburban and exurban. Suburbs and exurbs have long been growing faster than central cities. In almost every metropolitan area, the share of the population that lives in central cities is declining, and the share that lives in car-oriented suburbs and exurbs is increasing. Many central cities are still actually losing population. This trend has continued even in the wake of the housing bubble and recession. Dense central cities have their place in our society, but like rural towns and villages, they are mostly in decline.

173:
It is your comparison of light rail to "gas hogs" that is apples-to-celery. As I said, the NY subway is one of the most energy efficient rail transit systems in the world.

Sigh. I probably shouldn't encourage you any further but . . . just where are all these electric vehicles hiding in suburbia and rural outlands?

You've got one chance left. One.

174:

You seem to be conflating different questions. The report you cite does suggest that urban areas (counties inside metropolitan areas) subsidize rural ones, at least in Indiana. But it contains nothing indicating that cities subsidize suburbs or exurbs, rather than the reverse. Perhaps you're not aware of this, but metropolitan areas consist mostly of suburbs and exurbs, not central cities. Most of the people who live in a metropolitan area live outside the central city, in the suburbs, and get around mostly by car.

I don't think it's terribly surprising that urban areas subsidize rural ones. I suspect that rural areas on average have significantly higher rates of poverty and unemployment, and significantly lower incomes, than urban areas.

175:

You've got no chances left. None. You claimed that "light rail, streetcars, etc." are "more sustainable" in terms of energy use. But "light rail, streetcars, etc." are barely more energy efficient than the typical car today, and will almost certainly be considerably less efficient than the typical car of the near future. The idea that urban rail transit is "more sustainable" than car travel is largely a myth.

Even if rail transit were vastly more efficient than cars, it could not plausibly substitute for more than a tiny fraction of car travel, so your point would be moot even if your factual claim were true. In the United States, all forms of mass transit combined (transit buses, subways and metros, light rail, commuter rail, demand response and ferries) provide only about 1.5% of total passenger-miles of surface transportation. Private automobiles provide about 96%. In Europe, mass transit's share is slightly higher, but still only a tiny fraction of the share of cars. The only plausible way of significantly reducing energy consumption in the passenger transportation sector is through more efficient automobiles. Mass transit is a distraction.

176:

Okay, that's it, I've had it. If you want me to talk to you at all ever again, you're going to have to admit that you're not reading what I'm writing, nor are you attempting to make any substantive response. You're gong to have to apologize. And you're going to have to promise to behave better. If you don't do all of those, I'm not going to bother to respond to anything else you write until you do so, and if I detect the slightest bit of reticence - and I will be the sole arbiter of that, not you - I will deem that not making proper amends.

If you think I'm doing this to make you grovel, that I'm being deliberately hard on you . . . you'd be right. But I've had a long day and a long semester of dealing with people like you, and I've had it. Now, this ain't my house and it's not my place to threaten you with any sort of reprisals if you don't alter your behaviour. But I still get to decide who's worth responding to, and who's just not worth my time. Right now, you fall into the latter category. Other posters may feel differently of course and how they treat you is up to them.

177:

You're comparing the battery discharge of the Leaf to the actual usage of the subway.

No, I'm comparing actual usage to actual usage. According to Nissan, a full charge of the Leaf's battery requires 24 metered kwh of electricity. That's electricity consumption measured at the point of delivery from your wall socket or charging station, not as measured internally to the car's power system. And the average distance you'll be able to drive on that 24 kwh of metered electricity is 100 miles.

178:

@ 166
Exactly
Seeing a 1996 lwb Land-Rover, on which I deliberately only wash the windows and lights, produces quite interesting (shall we say) reactions from BMW & Mercedes drivers on crowded town roads. In the country, it's even more fun, as they assume I'm a local .....

@ 168
You mean, just outside "city limits" you DON'T HAVE properly connected water-and-sewerage?
Here, you have to be right out in the sticks for that to happen.
Are you admitting that the US infrastructure is a] crap ... and b] even that not paid for properly?
This would explain thew T-party-&-rethuglican screams about "socialism" - meaning a decent basic standard of living.
Ughhhhh.
Or am I wrong?

@ 170
I regard "Smarts" as inherently dangerous. It is the short wheelbase. I've been doing 65-75 on the M-way, and been PASSED by these things. You look at the forward-and-back rockinghorse motion whilst it does that (pitching) and it is truly scary.

@ 174 & 175 & 177
"Most of the people who live in a metropolitan area live outside the central city, in the suburbs, and get around mostly by car."
WRONG
In Europe, at any rate. There may be more passenger-journeys by car, but the big passenger-km winner is public transport (Rail, Metro, Tram, Bus)
The USA is NOT the world, and I suggest you remove your head from wherever you've stuck it.....
You claim that rail transport is less efficient than cars.
COMPLETELY WRONG, especially if you take TOTAL energy-conversion AND the problems of mass-transit and parking-spaces into account. Which you are carefully ignoring.
You aren't related to Marples, are you?

"Actual usage" but NOT total efficiency, I see.

Look, I live near the outer edge of London, and I have a car, in which I do about 3500 miles a year, almost always AWAY from the city.
Going into town, I get the train or the UndergrounD, and so does everyone else, because driving is NOT an option.
The same applies in Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Paris, Berlin, Köln, The Randstaad, etc.....
Time to join the real world.

179:

#167 Even the New York subway, which is one of the most energy-efficient rail transit systems in the world thanks to New York's density, is actually less efficient than the Nissan Leaf, a first-generation 5-seat mass market electric car that will go on sale next month. The NYC subway consumes about 0.2 kwh of electricity per passenger-mile. The Nissan Leaf has a 100-mile range on its 24 kwh battery. That's 0.24 kwh per vehicle-mile. At an average vehicle occupancy of 1.6 passengers, that's 0.15 kwh per passenger-mile. About 25% less energy than the NYC subway.

I can't find anything earlier discussing the point I want to address. Your domestic 110v or 240v AC (delete as applicable) system that you're charging your Leave (sic) with is less than 1/3 efficient, so the leave will only do about 0.75kwh/vehicle mile from power generation to wheels. Meanwhile, a reasonably modern and "smallish" (say VW Golf/Jetta size) turbo-diesel car can do about 0.66kvm, and the subway with its more efficient power transmission system will be managing about passenger 0.5kvm.

180:

I live in the country, but my Mum lives on the edge of a major conurbation. Unless I'm expecting to buy big bulky or heavy items, when I'm going into said conurbation, I drive to her place and leave my car their, completing the journey by train. If not for the cost of parking in said conurbation, it would still be cheaper for me to drive the whole way than to do this though!

181:

Guys, you're missing the 440-pound gorilla: The battery. (Lithium production is somewhat limited.)

That and the associated embodied energy of the battery and all the other materials millions of cars and the roads they are driving on are made of - vs embodied energy of lightrail/tram/trolley buses whatever you try to compare it with. Plus maintenance for each.

Next, you have to consider scaling. Given a certain road infrastructure, it may not be worthwhile changing it to rail for decades. But it may be worthwhile to build a tram/light rail system to cope with additional needs for transport that would otherwise require excessive additional road infrastructure.

You have to consider all that stuff on a case-by-case basis and it so happens that that is the way it is in a non-centrally-planned economy (which would be overwhelmed by such a task).

In general, it's a real bad idea to generalize. ;)

182:

Other battery technologies are available. Of course, this can just drop us into things like the level of pollution associated with making nickel-based cells instead.

183:

(On vacation)

Guys, you're missing the 440-pound gorilla: The battery. (Lithium production is somewhat limited.)

Nonsense. Lithium isn't essential. Remember, your average car journey in the UK is less than 5 miles? So what's wrong with single-seat runabouts with lead-acid batteries? Or flywheels? Or compressed gas (I believe there's a car on sale in India for urban use that gets comparable mileage between charges to an Li-polymer battery powered car: it runs by venting compressed air through a series of pistons)?

If all you need is short-range commuting, energy storage isn't a problem. What I'm waiting to see -- for addressing the range issue -- is electric cars with a towable diesel generator pack for ferry journeys. When you're at home you can use it as an electric runabout in town without having to carry the parasitic weight of the internal combustion generator, but for long road trips you can hook up the generator trailer and run it as a diesel hybrid, with corresponding range and flexibility.

184:

Light Rail, trams, and trolley-buses.

These are all good ways of providing urban and some suburban/exurban transport using non-battery electrical power.

Light rail and trams overlap. With good system design a tram (rail on ordinary streets) can also operate on light-rail systems. An example I know is Sheffield, which for most of the run from Meadowhall to the city centre is light rail, before becoming an on-street tram. The tram system in Grimsby, long gone now, had an extension to Immingham which could have been called light rail.

Trolley-buses use an electric motor, and a more complicated overhead system providing both live and return, but are otherwise a conventional rubber-tyred bus.

All of these systems need a differently skilled maintenance infrastructure than conventional roads.

All of them need considerable investment before they can even start making a return on that investment, with at least some backing from government.

The societies which first developed these systems, in the Victorian Age, did not have mass use of personal transport. If you didn't have a horse, which was expensive, you walked. Umbrellas, spats, trench coats, perambulators, and men in hats, are all products of a society which walked.

The modern suburb is not.

If you want to make a new society that walks, you're going to have to do more than make encouraging gestures about kids walking to school. You're going to have to put shops within walking distance of people's homes. You're going to have to add sidewalks/pavements to established developments, and in some places change the thinking of cops.

And none of that will help Charlie in his travels. Politically, we have a dread of spending money that will actually do anything useful. And the economies of scale which make the supermarkets depended on externalising the transport costs. I pay less in the supermarket, but spend the money on a 14-mile round trip.

It's a pity, considering the creative effort I've put into some things, that Web 2.0 businesses depended on not paying people who make the "user-created content". So many of us have to spend so much time working just to cover the transport costs. Our societies are going to have to do more than learn to walk again.

185:

A towable generator trailer? Hmmmm. I can see a few possible issues with that. Ok, a trailer with 300 kilograms mass on it is pretty heavy, but manageable. But it would be easy enough to steal, and you'd have to store it somewhere sensible when not using it, a bit tricky if you live in central Edinburgh.
It sounds plausible enough, but why not make the engine pack mountable in the boot or front, on wheels so that you just open the top and bottom lids, push the engine unit until it engages with the rails, then push it in again until it clicks into place. Connect the cables, open the air vents and put the storage trolly away. Of course that assumes you have a reasonably flat surface to put it on and a sensible storage place for it.

186:

The National Household Travel Survey of 2001 states that 61% of the car trips in the US are 5 miles or less. That is a highly ineffective distance for a car, so we might assume that there is a transportation option missing for those distances.

In the Netherlands, where I am from, we tend to use bicycles for trips averaging two miles. Yes, I know, using a bike for transport sounds crazy, but that is just how we-the-non-anglo-saxon-world are.

I assume that in Charlie's model, where you have to wait for a car to deliver itself, driving a car a short distance would be even less attractive.

That is why it would be more logical to close off roads for cars rather than bicycles. (Although I guess in that model neither would happen, because there would be far less car traffic, and cars would no longer be a cycling deterrent.)

187:

#184 - I'm afraid this is partly BS. Trolley buses (UK speak; as Dave says, basically a mains electric version of a normal bus) just require the addition of a cantenary system to normal roads. Similarly, there's nothing I can see that an "off-highway" tram track can do that a "guided busway" running conventional and/or trolley buses can't.

#186 - I've stayed with friends who were working in NL, and your infrstructure is engineered "ground up" to handle a main road with pavement, cycle track, 2 IC vehicle lanes and a tram track running each way. Have a look at St Vincent Street in Glasgow, or Shandwick Place in Edinburgh, or Oxford Street in London, and tell me where you think you can put cycle lanes or tram tracks without compromising the road's ability to handle pedestrians or IC vehicles or both.

188:

I guess we have to define more precisely what you mean by "right out in the sticks" and I mean by "suburbs." What distance from the city center puts you out in the sticks? I consider my home suburban, because I'm 10 minutes drive from the center of a city of about 230,000 people and a major university. But our "neighborhood" consists of five smallish (by local standards) houses about half a mile from the closest through-road. Would UK authorities hook up houses in a similar low-density situation?

To put it another way: UK population density ~255/km^2. NC population density ~64 km^2. Your "out in the sticks" might be my unremarkable suburban neighborhood.

190:

Thanks for he kind of info that doesn't usually make it to the specialized articles I read. I've been looking at Ultra (and other PRT technologies in Denmark and elsewhere) for years but had never run across rundowns from the locals.

191:

Sure, there's already a company in Wakarusa Indiana, EMAV, that's building such a generator trailer, if I'm to believe one of Wired's Autopia blog entries for Nov 1st, (8 AM), and quite a few other blogs.

http://www.wired.com/autopia/page/4/
http://green.autoblog.com/photos/emav-trailer/
http://www.nextcars.net/emav-thinks-up-the-pru-a-sleek-power-trailer-for-your-electric-vehicle/

But to me this is pretty irrelevant since in my view the future of robotic cars lies in dedicated roadways. A dedicated roadway can be a source of electrical power, in an uninterrupted constant way through the track or induction loops, as the designers of most PRT systems (or dedicated smart roadways) envision it, or in a chronic way by means of fast-charging flywheels or fast-charging capacitors (as the UK's ULTRA designers envision it) that get juiced up at the passenger stations, while people embark and disembark from the vehicles and during a wait for riders.

I think that most people in Computer Science (and just about everybody in AI) underestimate the amount of machine intelligence needed for a robot vehicle to function perfectly safely on general public roads. I think that when we do manage to build a machine intelligence smart enough to do this and keep its software absolutely bug-free all the time, then that machine intelligence will be smart enough to file complaints at the ACLU in the US and to join any given number of lorry driver unions or taxicab driver unions in the UK.

This kind of sentient machine will not want be considered as cheap labour, so it really wouldn't be economical to replace regular cars with really smart robot cars, on public roads.

On the other hand if you keep the robot cars on dedicated roads (which could gradually replace the regular roads like railways replaced most canals in the UK and elsewhere)with less chances of collisions with non-robotic cars and lorries and pedestrians and deer or other mayhem, then you don't need that much machine intelligence for those cars and you can get a fairly economical ride.

192:

Ah, I stand corrected. Thanks.

193:

I am not sure what you mean by "engineered 'ground up'".

For streets in Amsterdam comparable to the list you offer, see "Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, Amsterdam", "Kinkerstraat, Amsterdam", "De Lairessestraat, Amsterdam". Note that these are tram centric, but that's just a choice of one form of public transport over the other. Also note that I don't like cycling on any of them, but that cycling is still the easiest way for me to travel short distances.

Wrt Glasgow: I am not familiar with that grid structure, that is to say not from my own country. Perhaps you'd better ask New Yorkers and Barcelonese how they manage to bike such streets. Still, if you look at the traffic calming measures they took in nearby Gordon Street, I imagine the Glaswegians themselves have some ideas of how to make streets liveable.

Wrt Edinburgh: I don't really see a problem there. For large chunks that street is already fairly spacious. But man, look at how the city planners have gone out of their way near Atholl Crescent to make that street look like a race track! And rip out those silly bus lanes. And don't put the only bus stop in the narrowest part of the street, even if that is where all the shops are.

Wrt London, David Hembrow has got that one covered.

194:

Relevant to the weight-of-cars issue: a month and a half ago, former Formula 1 designer Gordon Murray announced a three-person city runabout that weighs 575kg, of which only 60kg is steel. The rest of the frame is recycled composites. 74mpg, apparently, but no word on range.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11301831

195:

I'm surprised to see Critical Mass described as "extremists": as I understand it they just want to ride on the public roads, which seems pretty moderate to me. They don't want to DDoS the traffic, they want to be part of it. "We are traffic", as their slogan has it.

Then again, the only time I tried to go on a Critical Mass ride hardly anybody turned up and it didn't happen.

196:

Cycling is hands-down the best way of getting around Edinburgh, even with the hills and poor road surfaces. Glasgow's not so well-suited to cycling, largely due to the more aggressive drivers and the insane one-way system in operation in the centre of town. But I'll still take my bike over any of the other options.

197:
I think that most people in Computer Science (and just about everybody in AI) underestimate the amount of machine intelligence needed for a robot vehicle to function perfectly safely on general public roads. I think that when we do manage to build a machine intelligence smart enough to do this and keep its software absolutely bug-free all the time, then that machine intelligence will be smart enough to file complaints at the ACLU in the US and to join any given number of lorry driver unions or taxicab driver unions in the UK.

This kind of sentient machine will not want be considered as cheap labour, so it really wouldn't be economical to replace regular cars with really smart robot cars, on public roads.

The machine doesn't need to function perfectly safely to be useful, only more safely on average than human drivers.

I doubt that there is a meaningful "amount" of machine intelligence, or any intelligence for that matter, that can be expressed as a scalar quantity. One of the most illuminating effects of AI development is that we've seen that the psychologists' "general intelligence," G, generalizes only among humans. Positively-correlated markers of intelligence among humans are not expressed the same elsewhere. The idea that a really good driving computer will inevitably develop natural language skills and political consciousness as a side effect is as far fetched as the idea that a champion chess computer will do the same, or that a blender struck by lightning will be possessed by an evil spirit.

198:

In an attempt to ease Charlie's Horrors of Travel - ' getting there is half the fun ' - with the horrors of transportation, along the lines of 'It could be Worse ' ... why the fixation on Mechanical Solutions to the Travels Travails?

Hereafter an early attempt at Engineering people .. nothing post human sophisticated but rather something perfectly possible in a South American Marching Powder sort of way for Pedal Powered - when all hope of High Tech Rocket Packs personal transportation is gone ...


"Energy Gel substitutes

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I never used energy shots till recently and found they work pretty good. They hit your system fast and allow for that extra energy factor for the rest of the ride. They are kinda pricey if you think about it, 25 bucks for 24 ounces. They are convenient and work well.

Then, I was thinking the other day that the Energy Gel shots may be very similar to maple syrup. So, I check the specs. It is very similar in terms of carbs and higher in sugar. Some energy gels have caffeine, sodium, and potassium. The Clif one I use has no caffeine. The caffeine in most is normally about a 1/2 cup of coffee. The sodium and potassium look very little like 40mg which is very small amount when you can get way more from almost anything else.

Here is the breakdown for Clif Energy Shot against Aunt Jemima Original Syrup

Clif Energy Shot Chocolate

1.1 oz = 100 calories
25 grams carbs
8 grams sugar
40 mg of sodium
60 mg of potassium

Aunt Jemima Original Maple Syrup

1/8 cup = 1 oz appoximately = 110 calories
26 grams carbs
16 grams sugars
60 mg sodium
0 mg potassium "


Note the " Aunt Jemima Original Maple Syrup " What might that stuff have contained ?? !!

http://forums.mtbr.com/showthread.php?t=654224

199:

True.

I guess I still had the wrong part of my brain caught up in a recent argument, where it was claimed that electric cars were just around the corner now that an electric car drove some 600km with some charge to spare. (Though on further research it seems that I overestimated the amount of Lithium such a battery needs by at least an order of magnitude.)

Why not use air-powered cars? Efficiency. They'd lose at least 2/3 of the energy needed to compress the air. Although that too depends on the weight of the rest of the car, but I can't imagine this comes anywhere close to a factor of 3 or so.

As for other battery technologies (though not all that practical for cars): I'd love to see power-station sized NaS batteries - to the tune of gigawatt hours. There's enough sodium and sulphur around for everyone and it could make quite a few peak-load plants redundant.

200:

You're assuming that everybody can walk or bicycle. Nineteen percent of people in the US are disabled (and not in an institution). Some of the disabled can't drive by themselves much less go anywhere by themselves, but most of us have something that keeps us from dealing with non-car transportation.

I'm one of the 8.9% who can't walk three city blocks. I also can't use steps, curbs, and escalators. (I fall over too easily.)

201:

Bayes' theorem. Not Baye's.

202:

I think the specification was for pavement, 2 bike lanes, 2 tram lanes and 2 car lanes, which is frankly impossible along most of the city. We're talking a town so un car friendly that it has 4 lots of dual carriageways into town, all of which at various times narrow into single carriageways, creating bottlenecks and problems. You could just about run it from the bottom of Leith walk through Princes street to the Gyle, but even then it has some weird junctions. The rest of the city is hopeless, with hills, junctions and what have you.

203:

interestingly, the Chevy Volt uses a similar approach. There's a small gas engine that isn't there to provide power, but to provide charge to the electric engine. AS a battery gets low, the engine comes on, providing enough power so that the electric engine can move the car. I believe a charge will tak you 80 miles without the engine coming on, so for many uses it's a pure electric, but for longer trips you have a backup. It also removes the "what if I run out of charge on the highway?" worry.

204:

serial hybrid-- its the way to go, gets rid of that silly 16th century clockwork gearbox

205:

Cycling is hands-down the best way of getting around Edinburgh, even with the hills and poor road surfaces.

You're young, healthy, and fit. Yes?

If you're not all of the above, cycling around Edinburgh is a great shortcut to a coronary. Certainly the oldest cyclist I know is a fit and wiry fifty year old; it's not a feasible means of transport for anyone who is older or not in top cardiovascular ondition.

And even if you are all of the above, I couldn't recommend cycling to anyone who doesn't like tap-dancing around car and truck drivers driven to psychopathic fits of road rage by the traffic congestion.

206:

@ 187
You haven't thought about it.
Trams/light rail (they are actually THE SAME THING) are faster, and can easily carry A LOT MORE PEOPLE than Trolley Buses.
As for guided Pus-Ways, forget it.
In spite of them being a disaster everywhere, the anti-rail nutters at D(a)fT have insisted, against the wishes of everyone local - who wanted a light-rail/metro solution - to install these in Cambridge-St. Ives, and Luton-Dunstable.
it's been an expensive disaster. Because of engineering fail.
The Edinburgh tram problem is mainly because the Lawyers were let loose on an engineering problem [ AAARRRRGGHH! ]

@ 193
Antwerp is even better.
There are (metre-gauge trams running down 8-metre-wide late-mediaval streets in the centre.
Great!

Cycling:
I've been cycling since 1956. I still do. I DON'T cycle into or through Central London any more - the attitude of many of the car-drivers is much too unpleasant, and cyclists are regularly crushed under lorries turning, without checking properly.
So I use the trains/tube.
Locally, I cycle. Locally, out-of-town, I drive.
For longer journeys, it depends on where I'm going as to the mode I use .....

207:

What has seriously delayed the Edinburgh tram system is two problems, basically -- the tram project was constrained by the number of historic and listed buildings in the way which they couldn't knock down to make way for the tramlines (although they did tear down a hundred-year-old pub next to Haymarket Station and relocated an adjacent war memorial) and the second problem was they didn't know what was under the ground for the route chosen.

Trams are inflexible, they can't divert around someone digging a hole to repair a burst water pipe unlike buses, taxis and other road vehicles. This meant several years of excavations along the route to move buried services from under the fragile tramlines, disconnecting and relaying water pipes, gas pipes, electricity feeds, sewerage, telephone, data fibres and such all without major disruptions to householders access to drinking water, heating, toilets, telephone, broadband etc. This cost several hundred millions, a lot more than was estimated because the records of who had buried what where under the Edinburgh streets for two hundred years were incomplete, missing or just fairytales. That didn't include the secret stuff like the WWII air-raid shelter at Haymarket which nobody knew existed until an excavator fell into the hole.

Because of these problems, for example the tram line does not have a stop at Waverley, the main railway station in Edinburgh since the route couldn't go up to the top of Leith Walk but instead swerves along York Place and then up past St. Andrews Square. In fact there will only be one tram stop at all on busy Princes St. compared to the two or three stops for any given bus.

There's a lot more problems with the trams but the money is spent and there isn't going to be any more. Interesting times.

208:

rickg:

Sorry, no. The Chevy Volt is nothing but a glorified Prius.
GM lied about the true concept of the car to appear as if they were getting away from their same-old-same-old concept that gets them into Chapter 11 every couple of years and thus be bailed out by the government.

Don't know where I originally read it, but here is what google spewed out:

http://green.autoblog.com/2010/10/11/gm-yes-the-volts-gas-engine-can-power-the-wheels/

209:

@ 184:

If you want to make a new society that walks, you're going to have to do more than make encouraging gestures about kids walking to school. You're going to have to put shops within walking distance of people's homes. You're going to have to add sidewalks/pavements to established developments, and in some places change the thinking of cops.

This runs up against the other side of the economic equation, literally, economy. The other side of the urban/rural split as far as accessibility is finished goods and services. Where I live, I can walk downtown in fifteen minutes where I can get all sorts of interesting geegaws, knick knacks and mathoms, this being a college town. The catch is, for anything like groceries or office supplies or car parts, they're either unavailable in the old city proper, or only available in limited selections at inflated prices. To buy, say, a new toner cartridge, I have to drive to some local big-box outlet like Staples. And while I can buy produce in season by walking to the farmer's market, if I want canned tuna or dried macaroni I have to drive to someplace like Aldi's or Hy-Vee.

Here's the rub: buying locally from small businesses is expensive. I can buy a decent scarf from one of the downtown shops for maybe $20, while the same type and quality item can be got for $10 from a department store like Penney's.

This is my long-winded way of saying that economies of scale matter. To have grocery stores within walking distance of most people in an urban area means that what they offer will be more expensive. Conversely, larger stores will be much less accessible, but they will offer both a greater selection and cheaper prices. Need I point out that in rural and suburban areas driving is not a problem? Or that lugging all your loot home on a bus or train is considerably less convenient and considerably more time consuming?

The question is, which scenario wins out in terms of out of pocket expenses and livability? Car+gas+big store vs no car+plenty of small shops?

More in a bit.

210:

Your fourth SF point (changing city infrastructure, cars come when you call them) made me think 'the Netflix of cars'. In the glorious technicolor future brought to you by Disney, we'll pay a monthly flat fee to a local garage. Monday through Friday I have a standing appointment for a two seater to take me to work. On the weekend, we can order the SUV or minivan for the family camping trip.

My wife and I live in San Diego, CA, where owning two cars and driving them daily is a necessity if we want to spend less than three to five hours a day traveling (Literally. My wife's commute is twenty minutes by car; by bus it might take two or three hours). I'm envious of any city with a marginal improvement in public transportation.

211:

@ 185:

A towable generator trailer? Hmmmm. I can see a few possible issues with that. Ok, a trailer with 300 kilograms mass on it is pretty heavy, but manageable. But it would be easy enough to steal, and you'd have to store it somewhere sensible when not using it, a bit tricky if you live in central Edinburgh.

The solution is obvious: beamed or broadcast power :-)

212:

@ 186:

The National Household Travel Survey of 2001 states that 61% of the car trips in the US are 5 miles or less. That is a highly ineffective distance for a car, so we might assume that there is a transportation option missing for those distances.

Unfortunately, a vehicle with a range of, say, 10-20 miles tops won't be proportionately less expensive to buy and maintain. One way to bring down those costs would be to have dedicated lanes where the speed limit was no more than 20 to 30 mph; then you'd be talking about something like golf cart with good suspension. So - surprise! - there's a trade-off, this time extra road space for slower traffic vs more expensive vehicles not limited in speeds of 30 mph. Note the extra road space is costly not just in terms of making and maintaining it, but in terms of the land it will eat up on either side. Not only will people's yards get smaller and closer to the street, but somehow they'll have to be compensated for the loss of their land.

213:

@ 191:

But to me this is pretty irrelevant since in my view the future of robotic cars lies in dedicated roadways. A dedicated roadway can be a source of electrical power, in an uninterrupted constant way through the track or induction loops, as the designers of most PRT systems (or dedicated smart roadways) envision it, or in a chronic way by means of fast-charging flywheels or fast-charging capacitors (as the UK's ULTRA designers envision it) that get juiced up at the passenger stations, while people embark and disembark from the vehicles and during a wait for riders.

Designing good infrastructure that lasts for the ages is really tough :-) This would be my guess too for anything modern and designed from the ground up. The problem here is capital investment. The amount of money for projects like this will be simply staggering. Sure, once they've been amortized out to 100 (or 200 or more) years you've got cheap, safe, reliable transportation that you can run on energy from carbon-neutral sources. But that first century is tough. In fact, it was just this scenario that initially prompted my comments on the urban/rural split.

214:

Paws4thot wrote:


You've noticed that a "Smart" (used advisedly; they're made by Swatch, yes the watch people) is very high for its length and ground clearance? This is so that the energy of the impact can be passed around the safety cell, which works very well as long as the likelyhood of a significant Ke impact between 2 "Smarts" is low. If that likelyhood becomes high, at least some of the Ke will have to be passed to the occupants of one or both vehicles, rather than being mostly absorbed by the non-"Smart".

Smart likes to say things like that at times; they don't jibe with physics and engineering reality.

The safety cage is, as any roll cage, a valid avoid-intrusion-into-passenger-compartment engineering approach, and theirs is engineered strong enough for that. But it does nothing to attenuate impact Gs, which will kill you right fine even if you aren't hit by the SUV's bumper intruding into your chest.

Smart's actual crumple zone strategy is the joking one referred to earlier by someone else with a Land Rover - "other cars". They assume that they'll hit softer things than they are, and use the other car's softness to cushion their impact.

Works OK when you hit most cars; lousy if you hit a big rig truck, and fatal at any significant speed if you hit a solid concrete object.

I like small cars; I like using a real safety cage. I don't like not having crush / crumple zones. Rate of onset and peak acceleration matter, and you get those by having soft and yielding front and back (and slightly, sides) to the vehicle that stick out a bit.

215:

I'm surprised to see Critical Mass described as "extremists": as I understand it they just want to ride on the public roads, which seems pretty moderate to me. They don't want to DDoS the traffic, they want to be part of it. "We are traffic", as their slogan has it.

That would be why they set out to block traffic and ignore traffic laws, yes?

http://www.blogto.com/city/2008/05/cyclists_shut_down_the_gardiner/
http://www.ibiketo.ca/forum/general/critical-mass-takes-gardiner
http://www.thestar.com/News/article/434806
http://www.straight.com/article-338056/vancouver/exnpa-candidate-sean-bickerton-slams-critical-mass

Maybe they're different elsewhere, but in Toronto and Vancouver they ignore traffic laws and basically hold up cars and pedestrians until they are finished. Seems pretty much a DDoS to me.

216:

Critical Mass have been going since 1992 and is an international movement; different cities have groups who do things differently. Note also that Bad News is Good News -- word of misbehaviour on a demo spreads far further and faster than any number of non-stories about regular monthly meet-ups where nothing goes wrong.

Frankly, I think bicycles and pedestrians should have priority over cars on all inner-city streets -- period. Keep them off powered-vehicle-only through-routes and highways except at designated crossings -- but "steam gives way to sail" is a rule that made sense in the 19th century and still makes sense today.

217:

What hundred year old pub next to Haymarket station?

Regarding the trams, I don't see what the point of them is. Some people say "Ahh, but they'll be really useful when oil begins to run out and stuff" to which I reply, so where are we going to get the extra 3 billion quid to put trams across the entire city then?
I can't think of any reason for getting them in the first place. Some say it was to punish car drivers for turning down the silly congestion charging scheme.

218:

It was called the Caledonian Ale House, and stood on Haymarket Terrace, the first building west of the station itself. Tiled facade, I seem to remember, and a long narrowish bar with wood panelling. Owned by the Caledonian Brewery.

219:

As someone else said, the Caledonian Ale House next to Haymarket station was demolished to make way for a viaduct structure to carry the tramlines up onto Haymarket junction from Haymarket Yards (the old railway goods railway yard that is now offices). There was a decent restaurant on the top floor too.

As for the reason for the trams project, the money was there, 500 million quid in counterbalancing funds, use it or lose it. The Crossrail project in London was getting ten billion quid so other regions of the UK got lumps of infrastructure cash as well. Edinburgh could have built a rail link to the airport or even an overhead monorail to avoid the services relocation mess but they went with trams instead, devastating shops and businesses along the route with road closures and excavations while planning to supercharge the business rates of the same premises because in theory having the trams running along their streets will bring them more business. In theory.

220:

Ahh, that pub, thanks. Not been in it myself, but demolishing a pub is a crime, although we do still have plenty of boozers left.

221:

A lot of retirement areas as well as other cities have golf carts that they use.

222:

WRONG In Europe, at any rate. There may be more passenger-journeys by car, but the big passenger-km winner is public transport (Rail, Metro, Tram, Bus)

I'd like to see your evidence for this assertion. According to Eurostat, in its most recent Panorama of Transport report, as of 2006 passenger cars provided 74% of total passenger-km of transportation in the EU-27. "Tram & Metro" (that is, urban rail systems) provided just 1%. Eurostat doesn't disaggregate transit buses from long-distance buses ("coaches"), but all buses and coaches combined provided only 8% of passenger-km of travel.

In Europe, the car is king, just as it is the U.S. And its dominance is growing (air travel, by the way, has been gowing faster than all other modes in Europe). Urban public transportation (or "mass transit", as it is usually called in the U.S.) has been in general decline in the industrialized democracies for half a century, and now comprises just a small fraction of total transportation. Advances in automobile technology, and especially the appearance of autonomous electric cars, will probably kill off mass transit almost completely over the next four or five decades. Maybe there'll still be a few subway services running at rush hour in a few of biggest, densest cities (London, Paris, etc.) but other than that I just don't see how mass transit will be able to compete.

223:

The National Household Travel Survey of 2001 states that 61% of the car trips in the US are 5 miles or less. That is a highly ineffective distance for a car, so we might assume that there is a transportation option missing for those distances.

How are cars "ineffective" for short trips? For the vast majority of urban trips of, say, a mile or more, cars are faster than any of the alternatives, including bicycles. They allow you to transport much heavier and/or bulkier cargo, such as shopping. They protect you from bad weather and extreme temperatures. They make it easier to travel with companions, especially children. They provide more privacy. And so on. Overall, cars are just much better for the vast majority of trips -- faster, more comfortable, more convenient, more flexible, more practical. This is why cars have become the overwhelmingly dominant mode, in Europe (and Canada, and Australia, and etc.) as well as in the U.S. That probably isn't going to change. Bicycles have their place, especially in countries like the Netherlands with lots of old, dense cities and towns with narrow streets and tightly-packed multi-storey buildings, but they're just not very practical for most of the travel needs of most people. Especially in the U.S., where we have huge amounts of cheap land suitable for urbanization.

224:

Rod, passenger-km is an inappropriate measurement because it conflates distance with number of journeys. In practice, all it takes is a small number of long-haul trips to inflate the signficance of a means of transport.

For example, if you calculated my personal passenger-km metric you'd conclude that 90% of my travel is by air, followed by 5% by automobile and about 2.5% by taxi or bus and 2.5% on foot. However, that's because in the past year I've made return trips by air to Japan and Australia. In practice, in terms of numbers of journeys I've probably made as many trips by car as by airliner (I'm weird that way), an order of magnitude more trips by taxi, and five times that many journeys on foot.

It's entirely possible that cars account for 75% of passenger-km travelled in Europe -- but entirely meaningless unless you account for number of journeys. It's a metric that grossly overrepresents powered vehicles used for long journeys relative to, for example, pedestrian or bicycle journeys. And I'd like to know more about the political agenda behind the folks who compiled those statistics (but right now I have other demands on my time).

225:

How are cars "ineffective" for short trips?

Depends where you live.

I live in a capital city's dense urban core.

If I want to drive to a supermarket, I have to get out of my home and cross a busy main road, then find where the car's parked -- usually within a quarter kilometre of my front door -- then drive (through congested streets that predate the bicycle, never mind the automobile) then find somewhere to park. Supermarkets, at least, usually have car parks: city centre shops don't, so it means either finding an on-street parking bay within walking distance of the destination (cost: £1/20 minutes in Edinburgh city centre) or a multi-story car park (£4.80 minimum fee for 1 hour; about £20 for a day) and then walking.

Or I could go for a fifteen minute walk which takes me right into the central shopping district of the city, and if I want to buy something bulky, I can pay a taxi to ferry me home.

I recognize this doesn't bear any resemblance to how and where you live, but it's a nice lifestyle in many respects; but owning a car is very much an optional extra, and not something you'd want to drive every day.

226:

Umm, what?

Advances in automobile technology, and especially the appearance of autonomous electric cars, will probably kill off mass transit almost completely over the next four or five decades. Maybe there'll still be a few subway services running at rush hour in a few of biggest, densest cities (London, Paris, etc.) but other than that I just don't see how mass transit will be able to compete.

I'm not sure you understand what you are dealing with in London and elsewhere. For example, the underground managed 8.6 billion passenger kilometres in 2008/9:
http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/public/annualbulletins/publictransportstatsbul09

which I have no idea how you can possibly put into London, even if you have nice efficient computer driven cars.
A rough back calculation from here:
http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/public/annualbulletins/publictransportstatsbul09

suggests that the underground has nearly 4 million passenger moving on it per day. How on earth do you propose to fit another 4 million car journeys into the badly crowded London? At peak times journey times by car lengthen by 2 or 3 times their normal length, and buses get caught in traffic jams which is why I usually took the tube.
So my prediction is that even if fancy pants cars come available, rail and buses will still exist everywhere, especially busy towns. Of course if we manage to get over the obsession with commuting that might help, or come by the kind of nano-wibble tech that SF authors like, then nobody will need to go anywhere to work and so automatic cars will indeed dominate, but somehow I don't think thats going to happen.
Even whilst car mileage has been increasing, rail use has as well, as have buses. Its a general function of a society with lots of spare energy and complexity, so as peak oil and other issue start biting I fully expect car use to fall.

227:

Frankly, I think bicycles and pedestrians should have priority over cars on all inner-city streets -- period.

I'd agree with you there. When driving downtown I usually park at the first lot I find and walk from there, even if it's a 45 minute walk (or park at a subway station and take the subway downtown). And Toronto is more car-friendly than Edinburgh.

Critical Mass in Toronto and Vancouver, though, seems to have been taken over by bicycle couriers (or people who ride like that).

Personally, I'd be riding with the Critical Manners folks:
http://criticalmanners.wordpress.com/
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-04-14/news/17240618_1_critical-mass-cyclists-red-lights

228:

when one talks about transportation how come no one ever talks about all the particulate matter from the tires on the hi-way? we would rather have a cigarette than breath car air any day, or garage air.

229:

Thome: "Now, if we were actually still fighting a war for oil, then where is the subsequent reduction in the price per barrel which accompanies the old adage "to the victors goes the spoils"?"

Why do *you* expect to see even a dime of such profits?

You and I will see about the same share of those profits as Paul Pike-pusher saw in previous wars.

230:

tp1024: "GM lied about the true concept of the car to appear as if they were getting away from their same-old-same-old concept that gets them into Chapter 11 every couple of years and thus be bailed out by the government."

I've lived in southeastern Michigan for all but 6 of the past fifty years. Bankrupcties of major car companies are noticed, and make headllines.

I've only noticed on such bankruptcy of GM. Could you please provide the dates of the others?

231:

I'm less young, less fit and less healthy than I used to be, but have to cop to all three. Sorry if I wasn't clear: cycling, if you're physically up to it, is the best way to get around Edinburgh; if you're not physically up to it, you have to choose between various substandard options.

I totally agree with you about Edinburgh drivers, of course. Psychotic nutters, the lot of them. I take comfort in the fact that though I'm more likely to die under the wheels of a car in the short term, I'm likely to have a longer-than-average lifespan in the long term (read this in several places, Google's not turning any of them up right now).

Robert Prior: I'm sorry to hear that Canadian Critical Mass riders are wankers. FWIW, I try to obey all traffic rules while cycling.

232:

This is a ridiculous comment:
"The Edinburgh tram problem is mainly because the Lawyers were let loose on an engineering problem [ AAARRRRGGHH! ]"

I think your point is that the construction contract is manifestly inadequate from the employer's POV and the technical side of the project is a farce, both of which I would agree with, but you seem to be conflating these issues (unless you actually know of some lawyers moonlighting as engineers).

IMHO if there had been some decent (i.e. non-public sector) lawyers, or even lay negotiators of reasonable intelligence, involved in the original procurement and contract process then us taxpaying residents would not be in the mess we are now (unless perhaps you were a shareholder or insurer of the contractor).

233:

I was specifically rebutting Greg Tingey's claim that "In Europe...the big passenger-km winner is public transport." That claim is simply not true. Cars provide by far the most passenger-km of any mode of transportation. The data, by the way, are from Eurostat, the EU statistics agency.

You say that passenger-km is an "inappropriate measurement," but it is certainly appropriate for comparsions of the efficiency and environmental impact of cars vs other modes of motorized transportation. Energy consumption and emissions for each mode are broadly proportional to distance of travel.

But cars are also the overwhelmingly dominant mode if the unit of measurement is "trips" rather than "passenger-km." As you yourself pointed out, the average car trip is relatively short (you quoted 5 miles for Britain). It is simply not the case that the passenger-km figure for cars is skewed in comparison to other modes by a small number of long trips. Even in New York City, which has the highest rate of mass transit usage in the United States, and is more like a typical large European city than a typical large American one in travel behavior, trips by private automobile outnumber subway trips by three to one.

The point of all this is that the idea that substituting public transport for car travel could produce significant environmental benefits is not remotely plausible. Per passenger-km, public transport is on average only modestly cleaner than today's automobiles, and is very unlikely to be even modestly cleaner than the autos of 20 or 30 years from now. Even if public transport were cleaner, it is such a small component of our total transportation system that it could not plausibly substitute for more than a small fraction of the traveling we do by car.

234:

232
WHY then is the Edinbught-tram project a disaster, whilst Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester and Croydon been roaring successes?

235:

One of those "facts" picked up from the Internet, I have no idea about its derivation or source but it claimed that in the UK in 1950 the average amount of daily travel was 5 miles per person. By 2000 that was up to 28 miles per person. If it is even remotely true then an increased population is routinely travelling further regularly by car, bus, taxi, bicycle, on foot, by plane.

236:

As I said, in a few large dense cities like London, even after the automobile fleet has become largely or wholly autonomous, there may still be some subway services at rush hour. But I think even that is unlikely. Here are some key points you seem to be missing:

1. Autonomous vehicles will greatly increase the effective capacity of roads and parking facilities, by allowing vehicles to move and park much closer together. The estimates I have seen suggest that effective capacity will be more than doubled from this effect alone.
2. Autonomous electric vehicles are likely to be significantly smaller than today's average vehicle, further increasing the effective capacity of roads and parking facilities. This is especially true for urban commuter and taxi vehicles. Think of vehicles about the size of a smart car.
3. Autonomous vehicles will not require parking space adjacent to the endpoints of trips. They'll be able to pick you up, drop you off at your destination, and then drive off and find parking elsewhere. This would further increase the efficiency of land use for parking.
4. An autonomous taxi fleet would require much less parking for a given amount of passenger-km of transportation than does a fleet of vehicles with a single private owner, because the taxis will spend much less time parked and much more time on the road transporting passengers.
5. The population of London has grown in recent years, but the long-term trend is towards lower urban densities. People and jobs have long been migrating out of dense urban cores and into much lower density suburbs and exurbs. Telecommuting and other forms of remote working are also likely to grow dramatically in the future. If everyone who commutes into London today worked from home just one day a week, commute trips into London would decline 20%.

Remember, the reason people without cars use buses and trains rather than taxis for most of their urban travel is not because buses and trains are faster or more convenient or more comfortable. It's because taxis are much more expensive. But autonomous electric vehicles will dramatically reduce the cost of taxis. The labor cost of the driver will disappear. And fuel costs and other operating costs will be much lower. If people can a get a door-to-door taxi ride for less than they pay today for a bus or train ticket, why will they bother with buses and trains?

237:

I agree, whilst I tend to cycle when I can the underground is nothing short of a miracle. And by miracle its a semi-reliable way of moving sardines from one place then belching them out at another.

Though perhaps with self driving cars things will be slightly different. Flocking behaviour (i.e. 100 cars drive as a flock of 100 cars not as 100 individual competing cars) may massively reduce congestion or the tube itself could have its trains removed and become an underground road system that cars can join and speed along. Who knows really!

238:

None of the cities you mention are World Heritage cities; they have been blighted by inappropriate development over the past fifty years and more and the construction effort required to put in a tram system could do no additional damage. In Edinburgh's case they had to perform large construction works in one of Scotland's major tourist cities, opening and closing roads and rerouting city-centre traffic through residential areas and past schools as they dug up and filled in holes repeatedly to relocate services.

Basically the tram scheme has consumed 500 million quid and created years of traffic disruption and travel chaos to replace the 22 bus service except that the 22 actually stops near Waverley Station and the trams won't.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yOqU4-zE5w&feature=related

It didn't help that the traffic forecasts justifying the trams were based on thousands of highly-paid Hooray Henry financial-services types commuting daily from the new residential areas such as Ocean Terminal down in the Leith docks area out through the city to the big business parks in the Gyle and Area 51, sorry RBS Gogarburn and then on to the airport. After the housing bubble burst in 2008 the dockside residential areas sprouted for sale signs as did the Gyle's business park buildings and the traffic forecasts nosedived. Best guess is that the money will run out and the only part of the scheme to be put into operation will be the airport to Haymarket route, about six miles of track in total but not before 2013.

Believe it or not there was no real problem with road traffic in Edinburgh before the trams; the council-owned Lothian bus service was the best in Britain (and it's still damn good today even after all the disruption caused by the trams). The only time Edinburgh city centre has ever been gridlocked was when traffic was rerouted around Princes St. to allow tram works construction to go ahead.

239:

While self-driving cars are all very neat and clever, there's a problem... those of us who, through necessity, live outside of cities.

I have no doubt that an automated vehicle will be able to leave the nearest depot to arrive at my door at 4am on a winter morning (though the nearest depot will be quite some distance away), I have no doubt it will be able to find it's way along unlit country roads. It might even know to slow for the patch of black ice that regularly forms at a certain point.

But will it be watching the edges of the road well enough to spot the eyes of the wild boar hiding in the undergrowth and slow so as to be able to brake in time when he launches himself across the road?


I quite like the idea of a car that can drive itself on the motorway or in cities, but I'm not quite ready to trust a machine in such unpredictable circumstances as my daily drive to work just yet.

Humans are still far better than machines at responding to a non-controlled environment.

Automation is already here, tractors are just about able to work the fields by themselves (mostly through GPS), but still need a human presence. Cars are very nearly able to drive themselves on motorways (cruise + distance radar + lane guidance) but as you add complexity the ability of the machine to cope with the task drops rapidly.

To those who think we should all just move to the cities... food has to come from somewhere.

240:

A plausible reply, thanks for taking the time on it, but I'm afraid I'm just not quite convinced. We'll have to wait and see how the technology and energy supply issues turn out.

On the Edinburgh trams, I didn't see why we couldn't just have made all the buses and taxi's battery powered. That would have improved the air quality at a stroke. (Although the bus exhausts now are definitely better than they used to be, but annoyingly noisier)

241:

While self-driving cars are all very neat and clever, there's a problem... those of us who, through necessity, live outside of cities.

If you're in the UK and you live outside of a city, you're in a tiny minority -- less than 1.5% of the population live outside towns and cities; we're an overwhelmingly urbanized society.

(As for where food comes from: farming is an industrial process these days.)

242:

It wouldn't really be called a 'Tram way ' as such but you can include the U.Ks North Eastern Metro in that list of successful public rail borne systems ... though up here we did have trams once upon a time and those trams were supplanted by buses. Anyway, hereafter a System ...

http://www.newcastlegateshead.com/site/plan-your-visit/maps/metro-map


which is not a successful replacement for private motor vehicles for the Very Good reason that we are NOT talking about Reason here but rather trying to rationalize an Addiction. Once a person is hooked on the concept of a personal space mode of comfy convenient travel from their very own door then they are HOOKED and nothing else will do. Moreover a motorist is as reluctant to share their car with a stranger as they would be to share their underpants with a stranger. Car share with a colleague to split costs in traveling to work .. if it is convenient, and IF the colleague is socially compatible, then maybe, but in my modestly 1930s era middle class street of semi detached houses there are several case examples of the difficulty that auto controlled automobile idealists will face.

First there is no plot of land near at hand large enough to hold all of the locally owned cars - and each owner Would want his/her own car ..its a motorist thing. Any remotely controlled car would have to travel to its master/mistress from where-ever and this would take time and so no spontaneous hitting the road from the doorstep would be possible. If you had to call Fido from it's lair in the mass car kennels it would take time for your faihful car to reach you it's one and only master/mistress.

Oh, did I say car? Forget the simplicities of just the car. Across the road from me is a household that has two cars and a van whose owner is a specialized engineer who is on call from home. The engineer needs his van, his wife - something in social services -needs her little hatch back and he needs his sizable four door mid-range car to go to the golf club ... you just can't take your van or your wifes little car to the club now can you? They are by no means the exception to the rule hereabouts. At the end of my street there is a family that has four cars ..husband wife and three daughters. I could go on.

It is usual these days for people to drive up to their house in my street and park on the pavement just outside their front door all the while complaining about these grass verges that get mud on the car ..the council should DO something !

The only odd man out in my street is me. I don't have a car because I never became an addict. My own lack of car addiction isn't down to virtue but rather to my decision many years ago that I couldn't afford to own my own home and run a car on my modest salary.

Over the years I have discovered that the thing that all car owners have in common is that they are either in the higher income brackets or they are in eye watering levels of debt and would far rather,say, fail to tax and insure their car than give up motoring.

I'm afraid that the only thing that will make a difference to levels of individual motorcar ownership is not gee wiz technology in remote control of individual cars but rather swinging Taxation on private motoring, and there technology could make the difference, if it were politically possible.

Even now in the U.K there are effective car identification systems that can recognize un -licensed and taxed vehicles, and we do have systems like London's highly controversial Congestion Charging Zone, but we also have politicians ... " On 20 October 2010, the Mayor announced his decision to remove the Western Extension of the Congestion Charging zone and to introduce a number of other changes to the remaining scheme, which take effect from 4 January 2011. " All very political despite the fact that the Government desperately needs cash to lower the U.Ks financial deficit and cars would be an Easy source of revenue. Raise Taxes on private motoring and all of our financial problems would be blunted eh wot?

Chance will be a fine thing! Look at the howls of rage over this simple situation ...

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23859873-london-traffic-cameras-pound-2m-fines-in-three-months.do

Ah well .. wot the hell, its not so very many years ago that motorists were howling over drink driving laws. At one time it was quite common place for drivers to rail against these new anti alcoholic motorist laws on the grounds that " I drive better when I've had a pint or two " and then there's that dreadfully intrusive legislation that introduced seat belts whilst, just lately, there is the latest vile imposition on individual freedom the laws against driving whilst using a mobile phone. I've several times over the past couple of years had close encounters with phone using motorists .. once I was on a pedestrian crossing and a couple of weeks ago I was on the pavement when a phone using motorized cretin mounted the pavement with his giant four wheel drive tank.

It's hard to think of another topic that cuts so quickly down to the limits of individual freedom and the power of the state as car ownership.

I'm sorry to have to tell the car tech idealists this, but this is not a problem that is amenable to simple high tech fixes but rather that technology can contribute to the problem. Who would have thought that mobile phones could prove to be such a problem in road safety?

243:

I'm also puzzled by comments suggesting that safe, fully autonomous vehicles will require human-like intelligence that is far beyond current technology. Exactly what driving situations is this supposed to apply to? The DARPA Urban Challenge a couple of years ago required vehicles to drive autonomously in a simulated urban environment, sharing the road with other vehicles, executing complex maneuvers, avoiding obstacles, and obeying lane markings, road signs and California highway laws. Google's autonomous vehicle testing included 140,000 miles of driving on real city roads in real driving conditions. Occasionally, the human occupant intervened, but according to Brad Templeton it's not clear that any of these interventions were actually required to prevent an accident. Rather, Google was just playing it safe and intervening in circumstances in which it thought there was a risk, such as when a cyclist ran a red light and entered the path of the vehicle.

Someone told me he thought an autonomous car would not be able to handle a situation where a stoplight was out and there was a traffic cop standing in the intersection directing traffic by hand. This seems to me very implausible. Even cheap digital cameras now have software that can recognize human faces. Microsoft's recently released Kinect accessory for the Xbox 360 can reliably recognize and interpret the movements of players' heads, arms and legs and distinguish between different individuals. This isn't even cutting-edge technology. It's a $150 consumer product. The 2010 Volvo S60 has a pedestrian safety option that will track the movements of pedestrians by radar and video, alert the driver when it determines that a collision is likely, and apply the brakes to stop the car and prevent hitting a pedestrian if the driver doesn't respond.

So even if the technology isn't quite ready yet for fully autonomous driving, it seems to be very close. It's also important to remember that autonomous vehicles do not have to be perfectly safe to prevent deaths and injuries. They just have to be safer on average than human drivers, which is a much lower bar.

244:

I think the first step on the road to autonomous vehicles will be that cars will come with the pedestrian safety/anti collision feature as standard because it lowers insurance premiums, then it will become mandatory for all new vehicles a few years later, and finally will be a legal requirement for every vehicle to have one fitted.

However even that little change will take twenty years to implement. So unless there's some radical tech around the corner, which there usually isn't (after all thats why many of us read scifi, to enjoy the idea of radical change), the pace of change for cars will be rather slow.

245:

@ 236
WRONG
Even at inner-suburban speeds, tains and tubes are FASTER than any other mode - except, sometimes, cycling.
Car and bus are slowest.
It's called CONGESTION ...

@ 238 and EVERYBODY
Edinburgh HAD trams.
They were got rid of in the early 1950's along with the same in most British cities (Glasgow and Sheffield were the last to go) because it was UNFASHIONABLE, and certain interests made a lot of money out of scrapping the trams and building buses and cars and roads.
Elsewhere, this US-led fashion did not take hold, which is why most German cities, and Amsterdam and Antwerp are such civilised places .....

246:

On the traffic-light/cop objection to self-driving cars ...

Face recognition is computationally expensive. However, traffic lights are much more standardized than faces! And recognizing a traffic light with no lights burning should be a much easier image recognition job. Ergo, it's a situation where a self-driving vehicle can identify a hazardous situation and slow down or request human intervention.

247:

My take on the traffic-light/cop thing - what about giving the cop a little battery-powered light that shows red in all directions, to stop the automatic cars? Here in Western Australia, the lights fail to "flashing orange" anyway, which covers all situations short of complete power failure (and traffic light mowed down by idiot driver, but that's kind of the point of the autonomous vehicles).

You might not be able to handle exceptional situations as well as a human driver, but if you can detect them it's almost as good.

248:

Elsewhere, this US-led fashion did not take hold, which is why most German cities, and Amsterdam and Antwerp are such civilised places .....

That, and the RAF and USAAF (and Luftwaffe for the last two) had helpfully removed large pieces of the existing infrastructure.

249:

Surely all you need for the traffic policeman thing is not facial recognition but a small radio reciever tuned to a specific band that allows some device the policeman has to talk to the car and say things like "Slow down accident ahead" or "Please stop while we arrest your occupants" (I can see this being quite popular in the early days before thieves learn to hotwire the cars) or "traffic lights out please stop/ go".

Then of course you'd end up with bootleg versions of them and people trying to play with cars, but thats why it would be encrypted and stuff.

250:

Is this a good time to point out that the Manchester "tram" is nothing of the kind, but actually a light rail system using city streets for part of its route? Real trams do not require station platforms for ingress and egress to a 2 or 3 part coupled vehicle.

251:

there may still be some subway services at rush hour.

There will, with 100% certainty, be complete reliance on mass transit, just as there is now. This is completely space-colony vat-girl mad-headed. Where on earth would these vehicles park?

252:

If that is a the definition of a tram, then I'm not sure the Edinburgh ones merit the descprition either, since the demo one has an entry platform. Although I suppose in that case it is to allow disabled and oap's easy access, when healithier people could just climb the step.

253:

Sample pictures of the sort of thing I'd mean by a tram, some old enough for them to be in service (so no later than 1962). http://www.trolleybus.net/g1.htm

254:

And also hereafter as " Old Trams in Sunderland Tyne & Wear " ...

http://www.wearsideonline.com/old_trams_in_sunderland.html


Which gives an idea of what the things looked like on the streets.

My mother was a conductor on the trams during the Second World War after my grandfather insisted she return home from her clerical job in Manchester to the safety of Sunderland, a move that proved to be less than sensible since Sunderland was at that time a center for Shipbuilding and thus a major target for German bombing.

255:

The Birmingham tram is also only a single line running on existing rail lines out to Wolverhampton. Plans to extend the tram through the city centre have been floating around for years, but I mentally file those with the semi-annual schemes to make Birmingham New Street a civillised place to travel through. The only visible change is a front page article on the Birmingham Post, after which nothing happens.

The Munich tram network, which I get to use fairly regularly, is splendid and extensive, and has a mix of lines separately down the middle of wide roads and tracks sharing not-especially wide roads in the old city. The only UK scheme I've seen which has managed to retrofit something similar to an existing city plan is Nottingham's (I avoid Manchester, so have no idea about its network). Between the tram, the U-Bahn and the bus networks, Munich is not as appalling a city to drive through as, well, any comparable UK city. To that extent, it works.

(On the platform thing, Munich tram stops have a very modest platform to make the step up slightly easier.)

256:

But of course, more complex tasks will be automated last. 2110 may not, in fact, see a world where all motorised transportation is automated. But it will feature a lot more automation than we have now.

I think a lot of people here are getting confused by a century-broad prediction about technological trends because they think it's a proscriptive design document for the next 15 years.

257:

The car would presumably need to coast to a safe stop if the user doesn't intervene, or otherwise drive somewhat safely. What if the user is asleep? Unless there's a law stating that they must be awake and alert, I don't think you can rely on it.

258:

Cheers. I have a slight Glasgow bias here because I am just (literally just) old enough to have seen the very last of the "Glesca caurs" in service, and, in fact lived just round the corner from the depot, which was converted into the city's Museum of Transport, and I visited at least once a week for several years until my parents moved (and the museum subsequently moved too, and is now moving again, as I type).

259:

@250 / 253
They are TRAMS in Manchester.
They run on-street, as well as reserved sections.
"Light Rail" IS tram...
Newcastle Metro is the next stage up, completly off-street, like the DLR in London.
"Sub-Metro might be a good word for it?

So "Trams" in your definition HAVE to be all-street-running with trolley-poles do they?
WRONG.
I suggest you start here and then rejoin our discussion!

@ 255
You are out-of-date.
The Brum/Wolverhampton trams have just had an on-street extension authorised, to run to New Street. And they run on-street at the Wolverhampton end, already.

260:

Prague has an excellent tram system, and almost entirely escaped aerial bombing in World War 2 - the one bombing raid it suffered appears to have been the result of a navigation mistake.

261:

If only eccentric capitalisation was a sign of accuracy.

The bulk of Line 1 is on pre-existing railways or a separate trackbed, and precisely none of it in Birmingham is on-street. A tram extension in Brum has been "authorised" for years, although the exact length of it has varied. I know this because my office building would have been distinctly affected by one of the proposed plans, and I would have had a splendid view. I will be genuinely impressed when the damn thing actually gets built, not least because Centro have been startling unsuccessful so far.

262:

My dictionary omits any description beyond that they must run at least partially on-street, and must be electrically powered. Manchester is the only place I've been where they've run a 3-car set, and actually needed stations with substantially raised platforms to enable access and egress to the cars though, which looks more like a light railway than any other actually functioning tram system (Edinburgh excluded by reason of not functioning) that I've seen.

263:

If you're not all of the above, cycling around Edinburgh is a great shortcut to a coronary. Certainly the oldest cyclist I know is a fit and wiry fifty year old; it's not a feasible means of transport for anyone who is older or not in top cardiovascular condition.

Take out the "older" - I know more than one Edinburgh cyclist in his late sixties. But definitely "good cardiovascular condition", largely because they've all been Edinburgh cyclists since childhood!

It's possible to cycle round Edinburgh while unfit - you just can't cycle fast and have to be prepared to push up hills...

264:

Another factor to consider is declining working class incomes, "Enormous Money" seems to think the laborer is not worthy of their hire, and there's limits to how long an older car can be patched together. So there may be more favorable conditions for public transit as incomes fall below used car level. BTW, I'm not far from Kansas City, where the city government seems to have weaseled out of a (Passed.) ballot initiative for a light rail line between KCI and the plaza shopping district.

265:

Charlie,

In terms of trips (rather than pass/KMs) in the UK the percentages are 63% as car/van driver or passenger, about a quarter is walk, bus 7%, Rail 3%, Bike 2%. (From British National Travel Survey 2010). So, reluctantly, I'd agree that car probably is indeed king if you look at the overall numbers.

But... that UK wide. The denser urban areas are a bit different, particularly London (from memory something crazy like half the rail passenger journeys in UK are on London Underground and the rail lines that feed London from suburbs and home counties).

In London - car is only 37% of all passenger journeys and has been dropping for years (compared to 41% for public transport). (from TfL - Travel in London Report no. 2). Public transport usage in London has been climbing for years - showing what happens when you actually invest in public transport to make it a viable alternative (and, to be fair, don't invest in roads for private transport and make parking really, really, difficult and expensive).

Don't know inner Edinburgh, but presume it a similar environment. But if you build low density, diffuse land use with employment spread all over the place and retail in sheds with giant parking then the car is the practical way to support it. All down to how you build your cities. Personally I'd rather be in London than LA, but some do differ.

266:

@221:

A lot of retirement areas as well as other cities have golf carts that they use.

Most of the roads that aren't main thoroughfares in my town have a speed limit of 30 mph or lower, and those that don't have at least two lanes in each direction. One solution that wouldn't take any extra roadway is to simply designate the outer lanes speed-limited to 30 mph. This would accommodate not the electric runabouts but bikers as well.

Unfortunately, there's an enforcement problem . . . Now, I don't like public cameras anymore than the next person, but this is one of the few areas for which I would make an exception. We already have cameras at the downtown intersections which seem to be highly effective, judging from the angry letters to the editor on the subject[1]. The main complaint - like with the instant replay in basketball - is that it works. No comments about irony please.

[1]Weird, but it seems that the typically law&order types who don't have problems with giving the police even more authority and unaccountability than they already have are the same ones who are complaining about an "invasive Big Brother government" when it comes to these cameras.

267:

Robert,

Data from British National Travel Survey goes back to early seventies (trying to find exact source, this year's not as easy to navigate as previous year's releases, you have to dive into Excel sheets) and it shows distance average person travels in a year (excluding air) increasing by 50% from beginning of seventies up to millennium, and it can be presumed to have been trending updwards for decades before they started national travel survey - conceivably back to introduction of steam trains.

Interestingly it has been flat since turn of millennium (although would still be climbing if you allowed for air travel, but possibly surface growth has stopped. Or could be temporary, UK only fluke). Or may just be because we have stopped building many new roads. NTS data also suggests that while distance travelled by the average person in a year has climbed considerably the amount of time spent travelling has stayed constant. This has led to lots of discussion about a "constant travel time budget" - the idea that (on average over a life time) the amount of time people are willing to travel is pretty constant, and may have been constant for a very long time.

The effect of increased speeds (be it car/rail/etc) is to result in people travelling further. It doesn't lead to people spending less time travelling in the long-term. So if we build lots of roads (or indeed high-speed rail) what you'd expect over the long-term is average speeds to go up, total passenger kms to go up, but the time the average person spends travelling in a year to stay constant.

I find this quite interesting.

268:

London has absorbed hundreds of billions of pounds in investment in traffic infrastructure over the past fifty-odd years and the result is millions more people commuting into and through the same small area causing more crowding as they use up any extra capacity added to the system. The excellent public transport network in London is best described as an attractive nuisance; any new money spent to improve things will simply cause more crowding.

Edinburgh is different. Unlike London there is a lot of private accomodation as well as affordable rental properties in the heart of the city -- I live in a flat overlooking a main-line railway station a mile from the Castle and Princes St. Because of this residential abundance there is a lot less commuting from outside the city to the centre. Many of the big employers have moved out to the business parks to the west beside the ring road, the airport and Edinburgh Park railway station. The big financial offices (Scottish Widows, Standard Life) that are left are within easy walking distance of the major railway stations and well-served by the excellent bus service. The trams aren't going to improve anything and the disruption caused by the necessary excavations and construction work have blighted the city centre for years.

269:

@ 241:

If you're in the UK and you live outside of a city, you're in a tiny minority -- less than 1.5% of the population live outside towns and cities; we're an overwhelmingly urbanized society.

(As for where food comes from: farming is an industrial process these days.)

That goes back to my original comment about people living in ruraltania. Here in the States, go back fifty or a hundred years and there was plenty of work outside of the cities; in particular, farming was not the agribusiness it is today.

Nowadays, not so much. And iirc, it appears to be the case that average age is rising in these spots faster than the national average age. I suspect that in the last quarter of the 21st century we'll look a lot more like our European counterparts in this respect - especially given that what supports a lot of these little oases are what are euphemistically called "transfer payments".

270:

@224:

It's entirely possible that cars account for 75% of passenger-km travelled in Europe -- but entirely meaningless unless you account for number of journeys. It's a metric that grossly overrepresents powered vehicles used for long journeys relative to, for example, pedestrian or bicycle journeys. And I'd like to know more about the political agenda behind the folks who compiled those statistics (but right now I have other demands on my time).

This seems to be the case, though I haven't been able to research this as completely as I liked:

• Nearly half - 46% - of households have a relatively low annual mileage of 1-5,000 miles, while 10% travel more than 15,000 miles per year.

That's just for the UK. But it seems that if you look at the statistics per person, that car usage is rather far down the list, and that it is the usage patterns of a relatively small percentage of people that drastically skew the numbers: If nine people travel 2,000 miles each but don't use a car and one person uses only their car to travel 20,000 miles, guess what? There's going to be 1,800 passenger miles by rail, bus, or metro per person, and 2,000 passenger miles by car. Iow - big surprise - people living away from the cities and perforce driving many more miles will skew the statistics.

Iow, yes, most people travel most of the time by transport other than car, these statistics not withstanding. And also what I took the original poster to mean, also not surprisingly.

271:

One of the main charms of the UK's ULTra system is that you don't need to build its dedicated roadway/guideway from the ground up. You can easily convert an existing road. You just have to dig up a tiny bit of it to put down the cable sending the guiding signals. The biggest cost comes from making the roadway dedicated, that is putting fences and other obstacles for keeping other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and animals off it, or making a trench or tunnel or elevating it for the same goal.

In that sense the photo in the Wikipedia article is very misleading since it shows concrete barriers around an ULTra vehicle and the caption describes them as being part of the guideway. Actually they are not guiding anything since the vehicle never touches them, and the cable which sends the guidance signal is buried under the asphalt.

In fact having an extremely cheap guideway/roadway is a basic principle in PRT design, even though it has been often forgotten and/or transgeressed in a very brutal way. The cheap guideway/roadway is what makes the personalized point to point rides possible, economical. You can see it in ULTra but it's also very evident in the Danish RUF design or the University of Minnesota's ultra-light pods.

http://www.ruf.dk/

272:

[1]Weird, but it seems that the typically law&order types who don't have problems with giving the police even more authority and unaccountability than they already have are the same ones who are complaining about an "invasive Big Brother government" when it comes to these cameras.

Typical psychology of authoritarian followers. See Robert Altemeyer's work. I blame it on future shock ...

273:

Jumpdoors. Support your local Caliban.

274:

Prime example for why people shouldnt be allowed to drive, a 15 minute drive to the nearby trainstation took me 25 minutes (making me miss my train and each subsequent connection) because of somebody a few cars in front who kept slowing and accelerating at random times. Every car behind did the same though not in sync causing us all to travel in a haphazard slow manner. If we all drove as one autotrain how much less agro that could cause!

275:

I think that this comes down to the question of future scientific discoveries and the ability of an author to write a good tale which brings about a ready suspension of disbelief.

If Charlie Stross writes up a good novel with a story full of robot cars, hey, I'll buy it, even if I don't think we currently have the scientific knowledge necessary to eventually develop the software and hardware making safe autonomous cars possible. I don't see any sign that this scientific breakthrough is at hand since all scientific breaktrhoughs are totally unpredictable, unlike technological breakthroughs.

It's like FTL travel. I hear scientists declaring that's it's impossible, invoking Einsten et alia. But I see others writing that it might be possible given certain conditions. So, I buy novels that have FTL travel in it if the story is good.

I've been following the DARPA tests for a long time and they don't convince me that safe, civilian autonomous vehicles are at hand. Those things need a constantly awake, vigilant driver, just in case. But when you're in an army it's OK to kill a few people now and then. Heck, during the Vietnam war more soldiers died because of the new, badly designed Ford-made Mutt jeeps than from all the combined attacks by the Viet Cong. What did that English king say? "Soldiers are cheap, arrows are costly." It was the one played by MacGoohan in Braveheart.

Our biggest airliners have some of the most sophisticated machine intelligence systems for their autopilots and auto-landing systems. Yet, each airliner must have a pilot and a co-pilot, with one of the two fully awake, constantly watching the systems. Both have gone through a pitiless selection process which weeds out the biologically and/or medicallly unfit and, after that, gives the lucky few years of training leading to a final selection. When you're talking about the lives of hundreds of people you strive for absolute perfection in safety. You can't aim for just a slightly better result than the average.

When I look at huge petrol lorries (the UK word for tanker trucks?) racing like mad on motorways and think of the humongous explosion that would happen if a small car rammed into one I want designers to strive for absolute perfection in an autonomous vehicle and I want rigorous laws for its users. This means a trained driver and co-driver near two steering wheels, constantly watching the system.

But that's in reality. I don't mind if there's a totally driverless robot car in a well written science fiction story.

276:
If Charlie Stross writes up a good novel with a story full of robot cars, hey, I'll buy it

He already did -- the taxis in Halting State are autonomous.

277:

239: While most of the questions here are already answered in my essays at http://robocars.com and associated blog, your question about the animal at night is one I have been meaning to talk about.

Turns out that spotting eyes at night is one of the easiest problems around. You know why if you have used a cheap digital camera -- the retina is a pretty bright reflector to red and infrared light. If you have an IR camera with an IR LED on it the eyes of people and animals that are looking at you shine out like a beacon.

In fact, this is now a common technique for gaze detection, and it can be used to make "eye contact" with a robot. I propose that when the robot detects your gaze fixed on it, it responds with some signal, like a quick flash of a certain colour of light at you, or a wink or something else -- or even a fake robotic eye that gazes back at you. That can give the dynamic that currently exists between drivers.

This is not enough of course. You still want all your other systems -- cameras, LIDAR and radar -- to be spotting people, animals and everything else, especially everything else that moves, identifying them and making predictions about them.

Fortunately lots of work is already going on in that area unrelated to robotic cars, and those tools keep getting better and better. Similarly work in facial expression recognition is doing well.

Of course, Google built cars that have gone 140,000 miles without any of this. The actual need for it is pretty rare, but should still be addressed.

278:

WRONG Even at inner-suburban speeds, tains and tubes are FASTER than any other mode - except, sometimes, cycling.

You keep telling me I'm wrong (I mean, WRONG), but you offer no evidence to support your assertions. You previously claimed I was wrong that cars dominate passenger-km in Europe, so I cited the Eurostat data to disprove your claim. Are your assertions based on any familiarity with actual transportation data, or are you just making them up out of thin air?

Regarding your latest claim above, it is certainly false for transportation in the United States, and I'm pretty sure it's false in almost every other country too, including Britain. Assuming "tains and tubes" means trains and/or buses, they are certainly much slower on average than cars. This is true even for commutes, where public transportation is at its most competitive with driving (because buses and trains tend to run more frequently during commuting hours, and roads are more likely to be congested). In the United States, commutes by public transportation take on average twice as long as commutes by car. New York City has both the highest share of commutes by public transportation in the country, and the longest average commute time. The relationship between transportation mode and travel times has been studied extensively by researchers in the U.S. Here's Ed Glaeser, a Harvard economist, for example, from his paper Sprawl and Urban Growth:

We found that public transportation appears to involve a fixed time cost of approximately 16-20 minutes, regardless of length. After this fixed time costs, cars appear to be about 50 percent faster than buses and roughly as fast as trains. It is this fixed time cost that makes public transportation so costly. The time spent walking (or driving) to the station or bus stop plus the time spent waiting for the bus or train plus the time spent walking or driving to the final destination appears to take up as much time as driving ten miles. As time has gotten more valuable, the time costs of public transportation have become more severe and the population has continued to move entirely towards the automobile.

For some trips, public transportation is faster than driving. But they are the exceptions. In general, cars are simply much faster, which is one of the reasons why cars have come to overwhelmingly dominate the transportation systems of almost every industrialized nation.

279:

Iow, yes, most people travel most of the time by transport other than car,

No, they do not. I've already given you the data for Europe showing that people travel far more passenger-km by car than by any other mode of transportation. Cars also beat all other modes when travel is measured in units of trips rather than passenger-km. I don't have the data for Europe to hand, but here is the National Household Travel Survey for the U.S. The data is in Table 7 on page 17. As you can see, private automobile trips vastly outnumber trips by any other mode. Americans make ten times as many trips by auto as on foot, and fifty times as many trips by auto as by public transportation.

280:

Sigh. Rod, remember what you're supposed to do before I talk to you? And on that note:

Here's Ed Glaeser, a Harvard economist, for example, from his paper Sprawl and Urban Growth:

Glaeser is known, of course, as something of a libertarian crank. Put this together with Rod's style of ignoring what people write . . .


281:

I think we would need modified golf carts here because it rains and snows regularly. A lot of the towns that are really set up for it are mostly sunny. (When I was leaving the grocery store today, I heard a man telling his son "I don't want any snow this year. None. Nothing." I doubt he'll get his wish, but it should be less than last winter.)

282:
think we would need modified golf carts here because it rains and snows regularly. A lot of the towns that are really set up for it are mostly sunny.

Oh, very much so. Better wheels and better suspension for one thing. Better electronics to properly match torque to speed. And those amenities like a heated cab or air-conditioning would be nice too. But remember, the more you add, the more your little go-car is going to cost. And heating? In a battery powered car? You'd best just dress warmly if your tootling around Terre Haute in the winter.

This is why the costs of these sorts of vehicles don't scale very well. Golf carts in Miami, very cool. Golf carts in Boise? Maybe not so much.

283:

This whole discussion keeps reminding me of a post I read on the Usenet Risks newsgroup about 15 years ago.

An Airbus A320 (fly by wire) was headed toward a mountain and the pilot tried to pull the plane up sharply and turn away. The software overrode him, said no! no! this climb angle will cause us to stall, and flew the plane into the side of the mountain.

I'm an embedded systems guy. I see, roughly, three ways for automobile control software to function. Each car is autonomous, the processor drives it as a human would, and makes the same kinds of mistakes that a human can because it is not all seeing.

A second way is for a centralized processor to control many vehicles thus it knows where each one is. It does a pretty good job of keeping them from hitting each other, not so good about objects in the environment. (There is a variation of this where the local processors network together and collectively make the decision. Has its own unique set of hazards.)

The third way is a combination of the first two and works better under most circumstances. The gotcha is that there will be circumstances when either the local or the remote processor should have control and the algorithm the programmer will has coded makes the wrong choice.

Back to the initial anecdote. The software is not omniscient and depending on how you embody it can make a different set of mistakes.

284:

I'd agree that car probably is indeed king if you look at the overall numbers.

Yes, indeed.

But... that UK wide. The denser urban areas are a bit different, particularly London

Yes, but (central) London, and dense urban areas in general, represent the urbanization forms of the past, not the future. The basic layouts of central London and the central areas of other old European cities were established in the era of horsedrawn vehicles, with lots of narrow streets and closely packed buildings. They can't really be adapted to support car-based lifestyles for most of their residents with current technology. There just isn't enough land available for roads and parking. Hence the higher share of trips by walking and public transportation.

New urban development doesn't look much like central London. It is much lower density and much more conducive to car travel. Even in England (which I think now has the highest population density in Europe, higher even than the Netherlands), most new development is in car-oriented suburbs and exurbs. This is increasingly where people live.

But also, because autonomous electric vehicles will greatly increase the effective capacity of roads and parking areas, they will allow much more car travel even in dense urban areas like central London. Possibly to the point of eliminating almost all demand for buses and trains. Autonomous operation and electric propulsion are radical, game-changing automobile technologies.

285:

It's rather silly being Top Gear but they did conduct an 'experiment' comparing different modes of travel across London:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/topgear/show/episodes/series10episode5.shtml

286:

Tram systems are hugely disruptive to construct.

While tram vehicles can switch over to light rail networks where they exist, once you get them onto the streets, trolley-buses can be a much better option. No rails to lay in the street, just the masts supporting the overhead wires.

From the point of view of the customer, both have a huge advantage over buses. They can't vanish at the whim of some local politician or corporate bean counter. The capital investment in the route will limit the routes built, but they'll be there for a long time.

Modern trolley-buses often have at least some off-wire mobility, either batteries or a small diesel generator, with some being full hybrids.

287:

@ 261
"Midland Metro extension approval : Trams are set to return to the streets of Birmingham after the Government this afternoon approved plans by transport authority Centro to extend the Midland Metro through the heart of the city from its current terminus at Birmingham Snow Hill through to Birmingham New Street station via Bull Street and Corporation Street. The GBP127.1 million project survived cuts of 14 per cent at the Department for Transport and is expected to be completed by 2014.
Work to lay tracks should begin in 2012 but the scheme is already underway with a total of GBP9 million already spent on creating a viaduct which will carry the tracks from the existing Metro terminus at Snow Hill to Upper Bull Street.
A fleet of new and bigger trams will also be brought on to the tracks to increase passenger capacity and frequency. A commitment was also made to support the complete redevelopment of the station."
OK?

@262
The raised platorms, rather than a simple tram-stop is a result of insane "Elf-'n-safety" panics, especially before/during construction, and that Britain had got rid of almost all its trams in the 1950/60's period, and we couldn't possibly learn from how those nasty coninentals did things, could we?

@265
Those are the numbers that the wealthy road-lobby (remebemer Marples, whom I mentioned way back up top?) always quote.
But a huge number of those journeys are ridiculously short.
I'd walk or cycle for most of them.
Longer ones (such as any journey into central London (7-9 miles in my case) will be by train/tube + all the daily commuters. My local tube station recorded 7.16 million passengers through its gates last year, and the ex-BR station 11.06 million.

@ 270
Precisely!

@ 275
"That English King" would have been Edward I, and someone who was the equivalent of a chess grandmaster wouldn't have been that stupid.
But,the film director was that stupid. It was one of the worst historical films ever made.
Look up who the real claimant to the Scottish throne was, after John of Balliol (Toom Tabard): it was the Red Comyn - who was deliberately murdered by Robert de Bruis, so that he could become king ....

@ 278
I'm using, erm, European figures?
We are not in the parochial little navel-gazing USA now, remember?
There are planty of trials out there, hell, even a BBC TV programme ("Top Gear"?) did a comparative test, and so have the various cycling campaigns.
On flat ground, cycles win over short distances, then trains/tubes/trams/ then cars, then usually, buses last (but not always).
The ONLY time I can even get near public-transport times to the opposite side of London, by car, is between the hours of 01.30 and 06.00.
Mr Dalton, you are an amusing ignorant American troll, so I think we'll humour you for a bit longer, and see how many other not-relevant to British-cities stories you come up with?
Ditto @ 279 ...
& @ 284
Sigh
Yes, because the idiots who erm, "design" these suburbs don't think of public transport, at all. It has been deeply unfashionable since the aforementioned crook, Marples. So people are FORCED to use their cars, because there isn't any public transport, and no provision for it.
That is what is called "planning" in this country.

@ 285 Thank you

288:

Stuart, please provide a citation (at least a flight number and year) for that plane crash?

(I'm aware of one A320 crash attributable to CFIT due to pilot error where the pilot mis-programmed the height above sea level of the destination airfield, mis-identified the runway, put the plane into the wrong flight mode for a low-speed fly-by at an air show, and flew into a forest -- but no mountains and no failure to climb above such. That was AF296, and there's some, shall we say, controversy over the cause of the accident: Airbus and Air France blamed the pilot, the pilot blamed the fly by wire system, and there's a chunk of evidence pointing to the engines -- which are used widely on 737s as well.)

289:

About ten years ago, I took a course in software testing
and we spent about twenty minutes discussing this very incident. Since then, I have met five or six airline pilots and this incident was well known to them. They all stated that they preferred flying Boeing planes because they didn't trust the Airbus fly by wire system.

290:

Rod: Yes, but (central) London, and dense urban areas in general, represent the urbanization forms of the past, not the future.

You're being an idiot now: go look at Mumbai or Sao Paolo or any of the global mega-cities. They bear little or no resemblance to American-style urban sprawl because -- guess what? -- population density and geography (not to mention the development model) don't favour urban sprawl.

Attention conservation notice: You're turning into a one tune band. Which is annoying us. I strongly suggest you drop this topic right now, walk away, and resist the temptation to keep coming back just because "someone is wrong on the internet". This is a polite hint; if you want it in soccer terminology, you've just been shown your yellow card.

291:

Rod, I think you've misunderstood. Scentofviolets is talking about the distribution within the population, not the aggregate numbers - which can be skewed by a small number of people making lots of journeys (or long journeys) by car.

I'd be seriously surprised if most European trips are made by car, by the way - by and large, our cities are walkable/cyclable and have working public transport, unlike most American cities. But then, I was surprised by how far ahead cars came in terms of passenger-km (Eurostat data here, for those following along).

292:

I've just spent some time looking at the Aviation Safety Network database, and cannot find any accident which matches your description.

Searching on CFIT-Mountain, I find that since 1988, when the A320 was introduced, there has been precisely one such incident involving an A320 (approx 4450 in series produced so far), and 8 involving the nearest equivalent - the Boeing 737 (approx. 5880 produced). The one A320 incident is the famous Air Inter one in 1992, which was caused almost entirely by the crew. "The key event in the accident sequence was the start of aircraft descent ... at an abnormally high vertical speed (3300 feet/min) instead of approx. 800 feet/min, and the crew failure to correct this abnormally high rate of descent."

The exact reason why was not determined, but the investigators preferred a user-interface problem - the crew selected the wrong setting themselves. User interfaces have been contributory in a number of accidents, most famously the British Midland 737 which went down on the M1 at Kegworth.

Could you be thinking of the very famous first ever crash of an A320 at an airshow in Mulhouse, when it went into the trees? That one usually gets blamed on the computers by people who haven't looked at the report. In that case, the pilots ignored the flight plan they had devised, and were not flying at 100ft as planned. Instead they were at an altitude lower than the surrounding obstacles (the woods). Even if that were not deliberate, the investigators concluded that the crew must have not been aware of their surroundings, with it being an unfamiliar field (and they had a crap, paper, map, too). They were also slow to react, applying engine power far too late for it to do anything.

Admittedly both these accidents were in France, and a remarkable number of French accident investigations seem to conclude "Il êtait le pilot, qui est mort". This might well be because, in so many crashes, it was the meat up front that cocked up.

293:

I just went through Wikipedia's list of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft, and could find only two incidents involving an Airbus crashing into a mountain: Air Inter flight 148 in 1992 and Garuda Indonesia flight 152 in 1996. Neither involved fly-by-wire systems over-riding the pilot, but flight 148 did involve user error setting the autopilot settings: they'd input "33" meaning "3.3° descent angle", but the autopilot understood it as "3,300 feet of descent per minute".

294:

"So people are FORCED to use their cars, because there isn't any public transport, and no provision for it.
That is what is called "planning" in this country."

It might be relevant here to mention why it is I have a driving licence at all. I managed to do perfectly well without one until just over 4 years ago, after all, and I am decidedly middle-aged these days.

For decades, I was perfectly happy travelling by train, but they've been getting much worse - no faster, less comfortable and substantially more expensive.

I needed to go to Oxford for the weekend, from Edinburgh. This is a natural candidate for a railway journey - about 400 miles/600km. It cost me £70 or so (about the same as the fuel would have cost at that time to drive), but it took 7 hours, and there were no seats available, so I spent that 7 hours sat on the floor in the corner of the buffet. The return trip was a little better. It was the proverbial final straw.

When I got back, I immediately acquired and sent off an application for a provisional driving licence ("learner's permit" in the US). I then went abroad for much of August (my passport suggests Australia) and, on my return, the day after my 40th birthday, took my first driving lesson.

I still don't drive much and will prefer other, more relaxing ways to get places - and even in these days, flying is still more relaxing than driving. I resent having had to throw a shitload of cash at learning to drive, but feel forced to do so by government transportation policy.

And then I went to Japan. Twice. I now know that in a country with a sensible railway system, Edinburgh - London would take 2.5 hours, not the 4.5 it currently does, and First Class fares would be slightly less than Second Class ones are now (which is why I usually fly into LCY if I must go to London)

295:

Note that the incident you are discussing appears to be fictional, and as I mentioned above, since 1988, Boeing 737s have had 8 times the number of CFIT-Mountain incidents as the A320 series (and there have only been about 25% more 737s built).

CFIT ("controlled flight into terrain") incidents are always the crew, usually the crew being somewhere unfamiliar in really shit weather, and being too damn macho to divert.

296:

Feorag @ 294

Yeah, shit isn't it?
I prefer to travel by train if I can, but, as you say, there are places you can't get (any more - thank you Marples/Beeching) and it can cost horrible.
Unlike Germany, Netherlands, Belgium etc ....

297:

Feorag@296: and being too damn macho to divert

The one time I've experienced a go-around was at Keflavik with Icelandair. The captain came on the PA to say that he and the co-pilot "hadn't been comfortable" with the original approach. That's *exactly* the attitude I like from my aircrew!

298:

Train travel here is so awful in terms of cost! I have a 16-25 railcard and on friday im travelling from London to Guildford (a journey time of just over 30 minutes) and its still going to cost ~£13 for a return. Not to mention the £100+ price tag on some cross country journeys

299:

When it comes to "aviation stuff", I'm about as bad as Charlie is, and I've never heard of an "Airbus s/w stopped the pilot taking evasive action" crash either.

That said, I've heard reports that the Air Inter crash (qv) couldn't have been averted from the situation the crew had got themselves into because the s/w wouldn't have allowed the pull-up they needed because of the likelyhood of a stall. My view is that if they were that far into the hole, the only difference a steeper climb would have made would have been whether they went in "flying forwards" and nose first, or belly first in a deep stall!

300:

That cracks me up. The software team that wrote the Airbus fly by wire software ALSO wrote the flight software for the Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft. Source: I knew the team leader for the software project. (The contractors were a BAE subsidiary, no one in the US could match the QA guarantees or hardware/software integration at the time).

But this is getting away from autonomous cars. Sorry Charlie. Hope you found Novacon relaxing.

301:

Not sure if it qualifies as "fly-by-wire" error, since this crash never got off the ground ... but?

302:

To be clear, the Habsheim accident was the *opposite* failure mode to the story most people will tell you about it. The crew attempted to display the aircraft in a more spectacular fashion by making a low approach with the landing gear and flaps deployed, and then initiating a go-around. Specifically, they seem to have expected that the ALPHA-FLOOR stall protection would be activated, which would advance the autothrottles and pitch to the best rate of climb once the angle of attack was back within limits.

For reasons that ought to be obvious, ALPHA FLOOR is locked out below a specific radio altitude when the landing gear is deployed and the aircraft in LAND control mode. As a result it didn't happen, and by the time the crew responded and activated the TO/GA switches, it was too late to achieve a positive rate of climb before the trees.

The display was indeed more spectacular:-)

Rather than the Evil Computers interfering and crashing the plane, the Evil Computers functioned as designed and did not interfere, while the crew did nothing, expecting the computers to interfere.

303:

@ 294:

I needed to go to Oxford for the weekend, from Edinburgh. This is a natural candidate for a railway journey - about 400 miles/600km. It cost me £70 or so (about the same as the fuel would have cost at that time to drive), but it took 7 hours, and there were no seats available, so I spent that 7 hours sat on the floor in the corner of the buffet. The return trip was a little better. It was the proverbial final straw.

This is of a kind with the traditional chicken-and-egg problem of public transport: people don't ride the metro/trolleys/buses because of poor service, which includes erratic schedules, long waits, and inconvenient stopping points. When the planners are asked why service is so bad, they typically respond that ridership levels aren't high enough to sustain better service.

Here in my home town for example, midday bus service only runs once an hour, the buses can be as late fifteen minutes or more (with no way for the rider to know what's going on[1]), and the routes are severely circumscribed; after disembarking you might have to walk a mile or two more to get where you're going. And - of course - a lot of the roads in our fair city don't even have sidewalks. Which then generates those angry letters to the editor about tax dollars and buses carrying only ten passengers during the middle of the day, and how funding ought to be cut until the transit authority can get its act together.

Of course, if the buses ran every fifteen minutes (ten would be better) and the street coverage was better, more people would ride, which would mean more money coming in to service more connections, etc. Like I said, a chicken-and-egg problem.

[1] What would be very helpful would be to install some sort of cheap indicator lights at all the marked stops, say a red light for a bus more than twenty minutes away, a yellow for a bus less than ten minutes away, and a green light for a bus who's next official stop is at your kiosk.

304:

In that centre of effective public transport called London, they've got timings available on LCD screens in bus shelters, at least in the busier parts of town, so you can tell you have 3 minutes for a bus no. 23.

305:

@ 291:

I'd be seriously surprised if most European trips are made by car, by the way - by and large, our cities are walkable/cyclable and have working public transport, unlike most American cities.

As I've just mentioned, in many areas in my city there aren't even sidewalks - and the owners on either side of the street fight tooth & nail to keep them from being installed (it's often easier to widen the street for automobile traffic, sigh). This is an inconvenience in and of itself for pedestrians, though not an insurmountable one. However, if I want to deploy a little two-wheeled cart to lug home groceries or whatever, well, I'm out of luck. I can still use a backpack if I'm so inclined, but that's not an option for a lot of older people or people who have some sort of disability.

But then, I was surprised by how far ahead cars came in terms of passenger-km (Eurostat data here, for those following along).

That's the one I used after Rod's link failed to properly download. The problem with this is that it doesn't conveniently aggregate for some questions. I had to go looking for car ownership statistics and the amount of miles people traveled. I can't prove it yet, but I've established to my own satisfaction (with the Eurostat data and a few other sources) that for most people (in particular, urbanites) the automobile is a relatively insignificant means of transport. Per my earlier example, the numbers are skewed by non-urbanites who drive more and drive longer distances - of course they do, because their destinations are so spaced out! Iow, including non-urban areas in the aggregate isn't really all the helpful when comparing the types travel in those two categories. Have you found any good sources for car ownership broken down by area? I've had to rely on news articles and whatnot.

306:

the Remember Ken Livingstone board, aka Countdown. very useful. can't wait for the TfL API so I can consult them before leaving the office...

307:

@ 290:

They bear little or no resemblance to American-style urban sprawl because -- guess what? -- population density and geography (not to mention the development model) don't favour urban sprawl.

This a riff on my take on What Things Will Be Like as the 21st century wears on into the 22nd. The trend will be towards more urbanization, not less, while populations in the hinterlands will age and wither.

The idea here is that the key concept for the 21st will be infrastructure. Forget the model where everyman owns a castle and commutes 200 miles or more daily in fifteen minutes or less in his flying car (of course, if we get those teleportation booths or fusion reactors the size of a cell phone all bets are off.) Your typical township or burg or whatnot is livable only to extent that it is supported by decent infrastructure. You need good roads, or more generally, a good method of transporting people and goods. You need a good information network, you need access to hospitals, courts, libraries, schools, etc.

And the sad fact is, these sorts of things are much harder to provide for a widely dispersed population. Growing up in the country, we didn't have electricity[1] or running water for the simple reason that our house was built before such things were readily available and because we lived in hilly country so that bringing those amenities in was both fairly difficult and fairly expensive, particularly since us country folk didn't as a rule have a lot of money to spare. It's possible to electrify rural areas, witness what we (the U.S. that is) did:

Electrification History 2 - Rural Electrification

In the 1930s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the solution of this hardship as an opportunity to create new jobs, stimulate manufacturing, and begin to pull the nation out of the despair and hopelessness of the Great Depression. On May 11, 1935, he signed an executive order establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). One of the key pieces of Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives, the REA would provide loans and other assistance so that rural cooperatives—basically, groups of farmers—could build and run their own electrical distribution systems.

In any event, building up decent infrastructure is expensive. It requires decent, coordinated, nonpolitical, planning, dedicated revenue streams lasting for decades, and some assurance that projects won't be summarily abandoned in mid-construction, such as what happened with Todd Christie canceling the N.Y.-N.J. rail tunnel. In the U.S., this doesn't seem like it's going to happen again any time soon. Look at the problems we have just setting up a decent broadband network that operates at reasonable speeds.

So automated cars on smart roads is doable - as an urban project. I'm guessing that in the future as transportation networks get more sophisticated that they'll gradually specialize to the extent that one system will be just for people and people-sized items and one will be for raw materials and finished goods. This is where I make my usual pitch for some sort of automatic delivery service: You shop by website (or something more sophisticated), punch in your order, and have it delivered either in-house by pneumatic tube or down the street at the service center in a matter of minutes.

[1]Actually, we did have electricity of a sort after a while. But when I tell the story people tend not to believe me :-)

308:

I knew that that FDR's "New Deal" had been big on giving people jobs working on infrastructure projects; I hadn't known that power distribution was one of them. Useful for arguing with neocons elsehwere!!

309:

I knew that that FDR's "New Deal" had been big on giving people jobs working on infrastructure projects; I hadn't known that power distribution was one of them.

A *huge* one. The Rural Utilities Service in USDA, successor to REA, is still a key agency in Obama's broadband plan.


Meanwhile, weird infrastructure: did you know that Claas, the German company that makes big green-and-orange pig slurry distributors and combine harvesters and whatnot - owns an A-GPS network down the eastern half of the UK? For farmers who want to know precisely where their nitrogen is going.

310:

Scentofviolets

For uk data National Travel Survey is great if you can burrow down to data ( on depertment for transport website). Previous years releases has data by region and differing types of area ( rural, inner city etc). This year's release seems partial and badly laid out, you may need to dig out previous years.

Am on the road and commenting by Iphone or would dig out sone links.

I think you'll find car use in UK higher than you think by both kms and trips, although I largely agree with your arguments.

311:

@ 310
Also there are now readily-available statistics on the number of passengers through railway stations, via, of all people BTP's web-site:
Start HERE - go up a level for "BR" and out-of London stations.

312:

Whatever you've heard is pure urban legend. Here's the BEA report into the accident. Check the recommendations it makes concerning the automatic systems - they're all user interface recommendations, except 44.6, which is to improve quality control on a bit of hardware, and is only there because of a hypothetical problem, not one that was actually significant.

The only other relevant recommendation concerns all types of aircraft and the desirability of having Ground Proximity Warning Systems fitted and working, and appropriate alarms sounding when needed.

Not a saucisse about the systems preventing the pilots from getting themselves out of their own merde.

313:

In Seattle they're all fun and games, until you're on a bus where the driver forgets his route, and makes a wrong turn up a steep hill with no masts(none of the pure-electrics have backup power units). Or the windy season, when the driver has to get out every other turn and reattach the hooks with an insulated pole.

When I was living there, Metro was using dual-modes for a few routes but all of them required a stop to let the driver unhook the masts and start the diesel. Even the underground transit tunnel now uses hybrids, since they had to rip the wires out to support the new light rail.

314:

DC Metro area bus shelters are getting the LCDs, too.

315:

go look at Mumbai or Sao Paolo or any of the global mega-cities. They bear little or no resemblance to American-style urban sprawl because -- guess what? -- population density and geography

Mumbai and Sao Paulo are in the developing world, where most people are still too poor to afford a car. In the industrialized world, the overwhelming trend for the past half century or more has been suburbanization and sprawl. The populations of most major western cities peaked in the early to mid 20th century and have been in long-term decline since then. Metropolitan Area populations have grown, but almost all of this growth has occurred outside the central cities, in low-density, car-oriented suburbs.

316:

Oh they may make driving easier for you, but for everyone else on the road theyre a form of torture. On Rural roads the gap in my vision when one of those extra bright bulbs comes the other way seems to be several seconds rather than a fraction of one till my eyesight is fully back in gear. I hate them with a passion

317:

Rod, I think you've misunderstood. Scentofviolets is talking about the distribution within the population, not the aggregate numbers - which can be skewed by a small number of people making lots of journeys (or long journeys) by car.

Cars dominate travel in the UK (and even more so in the U.S.) measured both in passenger-km and in number of trips. The vast majority of households in both countries now have at least one car. There is no evidence that car travel is highly concentrated in a small segment of the population.

I'd be seriously surprised if most European trips are made by car, by the way - by and large, our cities are walkable/cyclable and have working public transport, unlike most American cities.

In the UK, 64% of all trips were made by car in 2008. The UK's motorization rate (number of cars per thousand people) is below the average for the EU-15, (and about the same as the EU-27 average.) England is also one of the densest nations in Europe. Given that almost two-thirds of trips in Britain are made by car, despite its lower rate of car ownership and dense population, it seems unlikely that cars are not also the dominant mode in trips in other European nations. Cars are certainly the dominant mode in every EU nation in passenger-km, as shown in the Eurostat report I provided earlier.

318:

You need good roads, or more generally, a good method of transporting people and goods. You need a good information network, you need access to hospitals, courts, libraries, schools, etc. And the sad fact is, these sorts of things are much harder to provide for a widely dispersed population.

Travel times and congestion tend to increase with density and decrease with dispersion. Lower densities mean a larger share of trips can be made by car, because there's more space available for roads and parking. Cars are so much faster than walking, biking or using public transportation that travel times fall even though travel distances increase. Low-density, car-oriented development may have certain costs compared to high-density development, but its benefits clearly outweigh those costs for most people. The costs of living in dense urban environments -- higher land and housing prices, more noise, more pollution, more congestion, more crowding, more litter, less privacy, and so on -- have been inducing people to move from cities to suburbs in both the U.S. and Europe (and Australia, and Canada, etc) for decades.

319:

@ 315
Oh, our car-mad ("Public transport is EVIL ") US troll has reappeared!
Right:
START here ... as they say.
Urbanisation is increasing, and will continue to increase. Your wished-for model is false.
OK?
Got it yet?

@ 316 and others ..
The new blue-white ultrabright auto bulbs are illegal in older cars. They should only be fitted to newer vehicles, which have self-adjusting headlights.
I can't fit them to my L-R, for instance.

US Troll @ 318
"Cars are so much faster than walking, biking or using public transportation that travel times fall even though travel distances increase.
How many times do we have to tell you, before the message gets across?
Have you ever been to London, or Paris or Berlin or Manchester, or ....?
The "mass-transit" (in US-speak) is much fater than anything except the bicycle, and even then, if the traffic is really bad, the rail-borne system will win - never mind the safety hazards of cycling in London.
Low-density, car-oriented development may have certain costs compared to high-density development, but its benefits clearly outweigh those costs for most people.
Do they?
Really?
Power and sewerage and water and telecomms ditribution costs go well up, as population density decreases.
Polloution from cars goes up since they are used more, the death-rate on the roads will go up (again "mass transit" is probably the safest mode on the planet) etc ...
Move to the suburbs, maybe.
But I suspect your definition of suburb is not ours.
The Borough in which I live touches open country, mostly to the North; in fact a safeguarded Forest, thanks to the City of London. It's population density, overall is: 14,891.4/sq mi (5,749.6/km2) and there are several large parks and open spaces within said borough, including a strip of preserved wetland/flood-plain on the W. side, and a sliver of said forest on the East.
Now, that probably counts as "inner-city to your prejudiced, unheeding and parochial eyes, but hey, this is England, not the imaginary frontier of some supposedly "libertarian" USA, that never existed, and never will.

320:

#various on use of different modes of transport - I'd reckon on about 50/50 car and walk (excluding trips that go travel to station, take train somewhere, travel to destination, where a typical breakdown is walk, train, [walk or sometimes taxi] for a single direction). I'm treating trip classification as "which is the primary mode of transport by journey (and related waiting) time?" Reasoning - I live 100m walk from one local shop and maybe 400 from the other, but it's a mile or more to drive because of where the road goes: OTOH I live 12 miles from work (for cause), and go to work every day, but don't go to either, never mind both, shops every day: I'm also treating "broken journeys" where I might do "work - non-local shop - home" as one trip.

321:

Thanks, but I don't see how that contradicts "even at full emergency power the aircraft coudn't accelerate fast enough to avoid a stall at the climb angle that would have been required"?

322:

#319 ref to #316 et al -

My original reference was to Quartz-Xenon bulbs, and not Plasma Discharge units. QX bulbs in 55W single filament or 60W/55W (main/dip) filament are not illegal, and there has never been any suggestion (beyond maybe your posting) that they are.

retrofitting PD units is a bit more contravertial, (sp, and I can't find it in a dictionary) but the official statement from the UK DoT on the subject is presently that an aftermarket fitment is not illegal, but should conform to the same standards as OEM installations (self-leveling, headlight washers and elipsoidal lamp units. Note that that is a recommendation, not a statement of law, which would say "must" or "shall" rather than "should".

323:

Towable diesel generator? Old hat.

You want a gas turbine as your backup. One moving part (exaggeration), runs on most fuels, good efficientcy. The US military has been fitting them to tanks for decades.

The downside is that their fuel consumption at idle is almost as much as their fuel consumption at full chat (great design flaws: lack of a small APU in American tanks).

The new Jaguar concept hybrid uses two small turbines (and has its motors in the wheel hubs); they've also invested in the turbine company...

Google "Ultra-Lightweight Range Extender", or try:

http://www.bladonjets.com/

And from my equal-favourite blog (crawler)...

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2010/09/turbine-electric_jag

324:

For that to be true, they have to be failing to count the inevitable journey by foot to get to where one's car is parked. Every single trip I make by car is necessarily accompanied by two foot journeys - one to/from the street where the damn thing is parked and one to/from the car park at the other end. These trips are often longer than journeys I make entirely by foot, such as to the shop up the road.

If your survey does not count these trips, it's bollocks (technical term).

325:

The costs of living in dense urban environments -- higher land and housing prices, more noise, more pollution, more congestion, more crowding, more litter, less privacy, and so on -- have been inducing people to move from cities to suburbs in both the U.S. and Europe (and Australia, and Canada, etc) for decades.

You know what puzzles me? It's the way that everyone is apparently moving from the city to the suburbs, and yet house prices in the city keep going up.

Also, as Greg points out, something with the population density of a typical US city would probably be called a "suburb" in England and a "forest" in France...

326:

It wasn't the software at fault there. By the time the pilots reacted, it was too late, pure and simple. The only type of plane that could have possibly got out of the situation would be a (software-controlled) jet fighter, or a specialised aerobatic aircraft.

Your urban legend specifically concerns the software. The real world found a number of factors, none of which were the software.

327:

Could you cite your sources for those claims, please?

328:

The broader point is that left entirely to to their own devices businesses and residential development will move out to where the land is cheap i.e exurban locations. But it is only cheap because they aren't paying for their externalities.

Rod is arguing that dense cities are an archaic development form that doesn't get built anymore. I'd argue we have a choice. We can build dense walkable cities if we choose. Or we can allow low density car centred development.

It's partly a lifestyle choice, but also partly about being sustainable. Living a western urban lifestyle in a rural location is really expensive, but the costs aren't borne by those living the lifestyle.

The growth in London's population, combine with dropping car use, over the last decade seems to me to empirically disprove a large part of Rod's arguments.

329:

Which I'm sure was exactly my point; whether the s/w would let them or not, they didn't have enough power/lift to maintain the climb. Excuse me for thinking that PPrune and a couple of mates at ETPS might possibly know something about flying. ;-)

330:

I'm now confused because you seem to be insisting that your point is now the exact opposite of the point you originally made. Please make up your mind.

331:

I thought paws4thot's original point in 299 was that the pilots put the aircraft in such a position that it had two options - a) fly into the terrain at a low nose-up angle, or b) pull the nose up, stall, and fly into the terrain anyway. The only difference being which part of the plane hit first.

It was broca who trotted out the "It woz the software wot did it" myth.

332:

Rod: go away.

Any further postings by you on this topic will be deleted.

(Stuck records are not amusing and you're annoying the regulars. Also, based on first-hand observation? You're wrong.)

333:

Count your blessings, Mr. stross. You can just ban this idiot. Us Yanks trying to get our country out of the rut have deal with his ilk in the government.

334:

(last posting on transport statistics I promise, and I'll stop criticising Rod's views on city planning now he can't respond).

Feòrag,

Don't know Rod's data but British National Travel Survey only counts walk trips if they are over 50 yards. They think walking is under reported in their travel diaries, but do make efforts to correct for this (Whether this includes your walk to your car depends on how bad parking in Edinburgh is).

However... they then generally give a breakdown by "main" mode, which would exclude your walk to car in any case. It's this breakdown by main mode I quoted earlier that gives walk as about a quarter of all trips ( http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/nts/how-mode/nts0301.xls ).

Depending on your viewpoint this is either making walk sensibly comparable with the other trip types or contributing towards systemically undercounting walk to reflect the pro-driving attitude of the Department for Transport...

335:

Ah, the mixed pleasures of winning libertarian SF awards...

336:

@333:

Count your blessings, Mr. stross. You can just ban this idiot. Us Yanks trying to get our country out of the rut have deal with his ilk in the government.

It was obvious from pretty early on that he was going to go full-on libertarian at some point given all the usual conversational tics. Also - and in the spirit of performing some public service - another way to spot these guys is by who they refer to as some sort of authority.

Now he might not be as well known as Friedman or Greenspan, but trust me, Ed Glaeser is another one of those Freshwater-type nutbar economists. His particular hobby horse is that he thinks the problem with cities is too much regulation; in particular the sort zoning regulations that won't permit a cement factory to be built in a residential neighborhood.

337:

Just FYI: I'm about 90% sure that "Rod Dalton" is actually Mixner, a noxious troll who infested the comment section on Matthew Yglesias's blog for months on end. Not only are the talking points almost exactly the same (mass transit is bad, big cities are obsolete, etc.) but even more tellingly, the writing style is also the same. It's a lot easier to change handles than to change the way you write.

I strongly suggest against engaging with this individual in any way.

338:

#331 - Thanks, that was exactly my point.

339:

Well, given that the A320 has FADEC, it is I suppose possible that software was limiting the engines' spool-up time, so it *might* have been possible to accelerate faster without it.

On the other hand, overspeeding your engine and blowing up the HP turbine tends to have a deleterious effect on thrust...

340:

@ 322
You are correct.
Quartz-Xenon bulbs are legal for me, it's the discharge type that are a bad idea!
Got confused there.

Charlie @ 332
Really? Please, let him in again - we were having such fun winding him up, and poking him with sticks.

@ 334
YES.
I used to work, briefly, for two transport-planning consultants, and walking is knwn to be seriously under-reported, in fact all modes other than car are, to some extent.
My wife confirms this.

@ 337
Oh dear, maybe my comment at 332 wasn't such a good idea?

341:

Charlie, I must say I am rather disturbed. You can ban who you want from your own blog, of course, but nothing I saw from Dalton came even remotely close to the sort of material I would normally view as cause for banning. I don't know who he is but his posts (other than 278 which was overly harsh in response to harsh) were calm, with citations of facts.

It would not matter if the posts were correct or not; what bothers me is that the correct response to reasonably polite posts you don't agree with is to refute with facts.

342:

"Now he might not be as well known as Friedman or Greenspan, but trust me, Ed Glaeser is another one of those Freshwater-type nutbar economists. His particular hobby horse is that he thinks the problem with cities is too much regulation; in particular the sort zoning regulations that won't permit a cement factory to be built in a residential neighborhood."

I just got back from Austria, where I saw a cement factory in the middle of every other town. If instead of zoning them away to where they can pollute out of sight, you put them where they can't pollute at all, you do even better by the environment because their product travels far less on heavy, polluting trucks.

343:

Brad, it's the behaviour pattern. He's a classic troll: subtype, attention-grabbing sock-puppet. (See Josh G's comment #337 for more.) We get them through here on a revolving door basis every few months and I've learned to spot the symptoms.

344:

Recently in my town a 19yo woman was killed after she was mown down by an SUV ("down" specifically, because if she had strayed in front of my car she'd be *up* on the bonnet with a broken leg, as opposed to under it with mortal wounds), and the local paper printed an article saying they thought she was dead because she'd been listening to an iPod. I'm pretty sure it was getting mangled by a 4WD that did the trick, but noes, 'ware the iPod!

Once the first computer controlled cars get on the road, we can dispense with the 1-300 excess kW that cars are built with these days. Turns out you only need about 5kW to hit 50mph in any reasonably un-brick-shaped vehicle. I will not mourn the loss of the pollution-puking child-killing trade-deficit-widening ugly un-parkable non-cornering non-braking heaps of redundantly four-wheel-driven SUV tiny-dick-palliation that currently afflict the roads.

345:

@ 344
Careful whom you tar with an "evil" label.
iPods on pedestrians and cyclists in traffic are an instant recipe for squashed human. And, yes, I have seen cyclists using them, and pedestrians step out, oblivious to anything except their plugged-in jingle-jangle.
I realise that "SUV's" are HORRIBLE EVIL 4x4's - except, some of them are not. I have one, because I don't want to ever change car again, and the one I have, in the long-term is thus going to be cheaper to run than anything else. If I need to move stuff, unless it is really large, I don't need to hire a van, either ... etc.
The real killers though, apart from people on silly amounts of drugs, including alcohol, are the mobile 'phone and the shat-nav.
So-called "drivers" relying on the moronic computer-directions of sat-navs are really dangerous.
I've learnt to spot the symptoms: speeding up and slowing down for no apparent reason, starting to make turns, and then aborting at the last moment, and of course, paying attention to the little screnn and not the road. If possible I try to get in front of them, if I can't do that, then drop well back.
Worst, and most dangerous of all are the mobile-phone users. If caught, it's "3 points" on your licence, but huge numbers of people do it.
Recently, I came up behind one, on a 5-lanes-each-way, 50mph dual carriageway, speed erratic, lane-discipline ditto: yup - on 'phone.
What can you do?

346:

Actually, iPods aren't the problem; it's mobile phones.

I listen to music while walking ... on pavements. Crossing roads is another matter, and demands alertness: but there's this thing called a "pause" button.

Many's the time I've had to dodge to avoid some oblivious pedestrian with nary a headphone in sight, eyes fixed on their phone screen as they thumb-type away at full-tilt. That includes dodging on foot -- and hitting the brakes in my car, because texting pedestrians are a major traffic hazard. Something about writing and walking just doesn't work. (I say "writing" because those pedestrians I've seen reading books or newspapers seem to still be minimally aware of their surroundings.)

There was a survey reported on earlier this year that suggested mobile phone use was far more hazardous than listening to music: news report here.

(Personally, I set my phone to flight mode or switch the ringer off while I'm driving. And if I get a call or text while walking, I don't cross road intersections while handling it -- or continue walking, if the pavement is anything less than deserted.)

347:

#344 thro 346 - According to Police statistics in the UK (the last I've seen; Charlie's #346 makes me think this figure may now be even higher) of something like eightysix percent (typed number so there's no prospect of a typo misrepresenting it) of vehicle vs pedestrian impacts is "pedestrian entered carriageway without looking properly". I don't want a "speed kills" flame war here any more than Charlie does I'm sure, but if you step in front of a vehicle that's 10 feet away from you and doing 20mph, that vehicle will hit you.

#340 ref #322 et seq - No problem. I don't see the subject arising here very often (if ever again), but if I mean plasma discharge lamps I specifically say so.

#341 - Since he didn't say so himself, I'll point out that this is Charlie's "place", and he pays all the bills himself, to the extent that he doesn't even accept voluntary donations, so if he want to ban someone for trolling (in his O, which IMO is rarely wrong on the subject) he has every right to do so!

348:

#347 Para 1 - Missing words. "...even higher) of something like..." should read "...even higher) the main cause of something like ..."

349:

but if you step in front of a vehicle that's 10 feet away from you and doing 20mph, that vehicle will hit you.

It needn't always kill you though. See http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/pub/HS809012.html for figures from a 10 year old study - the fatality figure appears to be about 5% at 20 mph. It's going to hurt, quite probably badly, but unless you're elderly, you will probably survive.

But it's a valid point that there's fsck all a driver can do in the circumstance of someone stepping out right in front of them - the best the driver can do is to try to avoid it happening at all. I learnt to drive in Dundee, where the Dundonian Suicide Granny is (or at least was - for obvious reasons, there may be none left) a known hazard. These are little old ladies who step out into the road without ever looking your way. So your strategy is always to keep an eye on anyone close to the kerb.

350:

In fact, I was coming home from my doctor yesterday, slowing down to be in the line at the red light, when a guy on a bicycle and using a phone dashed out from the other side of a van next to me and in front of me. I wasn't braking quite that hard so I had to stand on them to keep from hitting him.

(But a few minutes later, I was in Old Town, first at a red light, and there were four squirrels who kept dashing up and down a tree and standing about six inches from the road munching on something. I still moved when the light changed, but I watched them until then.)

351:

Ah, well, I have no idea if he's somebody who runs around changing his name to post multiple times (I actually defend one's right to use pseudonyms in different places as long as you don't try to fool people in the same community into thinking you are two people.)

However, what he was saying about public transit, well, he got some of that from me, and as far as I know it's correct. And I know it gets people upset because they "know" in their hearts that transit is green, even though many transit systems (most commonly in the USA) are quite energy inefficient (worse than SUVs in the worst cases,) and none, not even Japanese rail, are as efficient as lightweight electric cars and scooters -- something people in the west rarely ride but which become much more practical if robotic and self-delivering/self-recharging/self-storing.

People get quite upset when they see the numbers because we've had the belief in the efficiency of shared vehicles inculcated since youth. In addition, there is a mathematical bias -- most people think of transit cars as full of people because by definition there are more memories made of full trips than light ones, but the real average load factors tell a very different story. In reality those 150,000lb light rail cars are hauling more iron per passenger (and starting and stopping to pick up and discharge) than the cars are when you factor in their all-day-average load. Lightweight single passenger electric vehicles always move the same weight per passenger (unless doing an empty move.)

Now this math is complex, and there are a lot of subtle details within it, and a lot of detailed arguments that can be made to shift the numbers one way or another, and which we should not get into here. However, all of the arguments can't shift things enough to change the basic conclusion, that the energy efficiency numbers for transit and petrol cars are within a modest range of equal in the USA, and the transit is better in Europe and Asia, but not so much better as to beat out the most energy efficient electric vehicles we might use. That's because they have to run light in off-peak hours to satisfy the public, and their very high rush hour efficiency comes hand-in-hand with their poor light-load efficiency.

This is actually one of the big reasons I am going out boosting robocars. The lifesaving is still first, but the ability to enable truly efficient private transport that outdoes a train or bus is quite interesting, and could mean a serious (as in 50%) reduction in the amount of petrol burned.

352:

@ 351
Still wrong, Mr Templeton.
OVERALL efficiency, remember?
Not just the energy-conversion efficiency of the individual vehicle.
And you also have to include lifetime and durability into the equations.
A well-made tram/metro/undergound/train carriage will easily last 40 years. And how often do you replace cars?
I note you also don't address the congestion problems inherent with cars, even small ones, in large non-sprawl conurbations.
Even the thinnest-populated London Boroughs have average densities of over 5000/sq mile, and that's because they have "open country" inside their borders.
Look up "London Borough of Hillingdon/Havering/Harrow" on wikipedia for readily available statistics.
And even those three would sieze up, if it were not for the rail (and road) public transport services, especially into the centre of town.
For longer journeys, up to 3-4 hours, provided (pace Charlie's original comment (!)) there is a direct train service, road and air are nowhere.
I went to Stoke-on-Trent from London on Wednesday:
145 miles in 85 minutes (and we were early).
You just can't beat that, with anything else.

353:

A well-made tram/metro/undergound/train carriage will easily last 40 years. And how often do you replace cars?

That's because cars are treated as consumer goods, Greg. The car industry wants to keep it that way, because it's more profitable to convince people to change their wheels every five years than every forty.

(There is an economic argument to be made for driving an Aston-Martin rather than a Ford. After all, 50% of all the Aston-Martins ever manufactured over the past 80 years are still road-worthy! If you depreciate a DB6 over its half-life, it works out cheaper than a Ford Fiesta ...)

Anyway, if energy efficiency were the be-all and end-all of transport we'd all be riding recumbent bicycles.

354:

@353
Or my Land-Rover (again)

355:

[TROLL DELETED BY MODERATOR ]

356:

A well-made tram/metro/undergound/train carriage will easily last 40 years. And how often do you replace cars?

That's because cars are treated as consumer goods, Greg.

No, Charlie, that is not the only reason. When your vehicle turns steel wheels on steel rails, and is scaled up for more than 50 passengers, it is very easy to design the motor not to shake itself to bits. When you have to compact the motor for a 4 person vehicle, you can only do that at the cost of energy efficiency. That's not to say that planned obsolescence isn't part of the auto industry's strategy for turning a profit, but the entropy-driven truth is that a well made tram car will always outlast a well made motorcar that is not an insane gas guzzler.

357:

It was rather amusing having a French flatmate earlier this year, in London, who was amazed that some of the underground carriages she saw were from the 80's.

Then I pointed out the Jubilee ones which dated from 1967...

Of course the problem is that they go through a lot of spare parts over the years, rather like cars, but probably a bit better maintained.

The only problem with the Aston Martin comparison is that I doubt that they are doing 20,000 miles a year. I know a lot of modern cars, especially some american ones, are pretty knackered after 100,000; my cavalier reached 164,000 before it started needing too many repairs but if I'd known what I was doing and could do work my self it could have easily lasted to 200,000; and a lot of continental ones can do 300,000 and more, or so I understand. It is partly down to good design and manufacture in the first place, but even so I have trouble believing a car could do 40 years at 10,000 miles a year.

I wonder what the turnover due to accident rate is?

358:

What do you think about slugging?

359:

Can't agree with you here. Too much beauty in being able to drive into the hills of California ad-hoc and alone. I'll take the risks of death for that, to be sure.

As for commuting, it's definitely a hassle. I'd rather use a train, but for getting rained on.

360:

@ 355
Oh not again!
How many times do we have to ask about your defintion of suburb, and what population densities are we talking about?
Look at my comments in 352, above, as well.
IF your model is correct, then one would expect "mass-transit" figures to be dropping.
They are not - in fact, they are rising, even through the last 18-months recession.
You are like a religious believer, persistently ignoring the facts.
Just look at the mileage and ridership numbers of (especially) rail-borne public transport systems, anywhere at all in Europe, and, dare I say it, elsewhere?

@ 357
Actually the oldest "tube" stock in use in London is on the sub-surface (almost main-line gauge) Metropolitan line, built in 1959/60. 50 years old, and still going strong.

361:

Brad @351 Two points - First - the all day average load doesn't have to be that low - you will always get peak period tidal flows but good city planning - particularly mixed use rather than uni-purpose zoning - can produce flows that spread the demand flows and time periods to much better use the capacity. Things like educational and leisure uses can attract flows at different times to employment.

Secondly - the same trends to lighter more energy efficient cars could also improve rail energy efficiency - an awful lot of the weight of trains is about crash survivability - given the incredibly low likelihood of the things crashing there is, at the least, a debate that could be had about whether we should be building lighter trains - this runs into public perception issues (a passenger train derailment at low speed with no-one seriously hurt leads the evening news while the 5-10 casualties per day on the UK roads barely merits a mention).


Rod @355 - The "short-term" trends you speak of are for car ownership (as a proportion of the population of London) remaining flat since at least 1988. More fundamentally car use has been dropping as proportion of both total trips (main mode) and journey stages while public transport has been rising - this is a trend going back to the mid-nineties. Again not a short-term trend.( http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/Travel_in_London_Report_2.pdf Tables 2.2, 2.4 and 5.3)


Saying the population is only rising because of immigration is so silly I don't really know how to respond. Is a population rise only worth consideration if we bred the new citizens ourselves rather than attracting them to move to the city?


Looking at one city matters because London is a good comparison for what happens when you invest in producing a viable public transport alternative to the car. Passenger KMs across the public transport network in London are 70% higher in 2009 than in 1992. Bus patronage is up 93% over the same period. ( http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/Travel_in_London_Report_2.pdf section 2.9)

Had the investment that produced this (and it hasn't been cheap) been spent building dual-carriageways, flyovers and grade separated road junctions there would have been a completely different outcome. The point is that there is not some inevitable long-term force controlling this stuff - it's a choice for a city or a society about how it wants to live and build.

362:

And, of course there are OTHER REASONS why people might want to prefer train over motor-car travel over longer and business journeys.
Do look at the link, it's quite good for a laugh.

363:

Greg, please do not feed the troll.

364:

This is a complex debate, and I don't want to get into all the vagaries of it here, since I already have them written on my own web site, but I tend to take the approach that people will do what they want, not what they "should," and can only be redirected mildly by city planners. And even though we might hope to design cities the way we "could" design them, for now we have what we have and we can only tweak it slightly.

And we certainly don't want to tweak it to meet a goal that's not even the best goal, or is a sub-goal. Our real goals are things like sustainability, low pollution, convenience, excitement, privacy and security. Various transportation options and city design options are means to those goals, not goals onto themselves.

As a side note about the durability of the transit vehicles. Today's very heavy cars use the equivalent of about 3,000 litres of petrol to make them, and burn around 8 to 12 times that much in their life. So at most the lower inherent energy cost you might find in a longer life vehicle gives it about a 15% advantage. I've looked at all these various factors in some detail. The simple numbers don't include them, by virtue of being simple, but there's a reason -- they don't change the equation a great deal, and don't change the overall conclusions.

This is particularly true when you start looking at the potential vehicle made practical by robotics, namely the lightweight single person electric car. Such vehicles can move people around cities for around 300 to 800 power plant BTUs/mile ( depending on luxury, and to use the US units) and there's no transit system which approaches that, though East Japan Rail at 1,400 BTUs/passenger-mile and NYC subway at 1,800 are among the best.

Today nobody would buy such small single person city cars, they would worry about their safety and range and feel they only met a subset of their needs. In a world where cars can deliver themselves on demand, charge themselves, and not have accidents you can travel much of the time in "the right car for the trip" which only has range for that particular trip and that's a very efficient (and inexpensive) vehicle as it turns out.

What you're reading here, though is a short summary of an argument that I otherwise take a book-length set of essays to make.

365:

@ 364
And, even with the miniumum-size, say two-person (side-by side) electric (or other propulsion) car - how big is it? How much road-space does it take up? Now compare with a train, especially one designed for suburban use, running onts' own segregated tracks, free of road congestion, and carrying how many people?
How, evn with these cars, are you going to physically handle the approx 11 million passenger-journeys that ny local "tube" station handles per annum?

Your's using one of the (I think) hitchiker arguments: you have a desired goal, and are now arguing for/towards it, without doing anyhting else - and it shows.

366:

Answers can be found to these specific questions in my newest article at http://robocars.com/congestion.html and answers to the other questions are at articles linked from there.

I would anticipate most 2 person cars would be face to face rather than side by side, so you can look at the person you are talking to and socialize. This is also more aerodynamic and smaller on the road.

Trains are terrible in this regard, they tend to run on headways of 3 minutes at their very best, and usually longer, while human driven cars run on 2 second headways and robot driven cars can do a bit less, and once they start platooning (which is a ways down the road) they can run a tiny headways.

Anyway, the two person face to face car is probably around 1.3m wide and 4m long, but many designs are possible.

The truth is, with robots, there is a huge traffic capacity on the roads even without group transit. Add group transit (ad-hoc buses that cover brief high-demand stretches when it is detected that 60 people are all taking the same route in their single person cars) and you can in theory put a million people an _hour_, not a month, down a highway or a couple of ordinary streets (with lane redirection and temporary standing "parked" car repositioning). Not that you would ever get up to that theoretical value or even try to. You don't need to. It's explained in more detail at the link.

As I've said, this is not a simple issue, there's a lot of stuff possible once you presume robots that just hasn't been in the typical transportation plan.

Robots make possible a happy accident -- the thing that people want (personal door-to-door transportation with minimal waiting, no parking hassles and low cost) happens to also be the most efficient and sustainable thing, which is really the only way you ever effect big change in the world.

367:

#365 - Taking a real BLMC Mini (not a BMW MIDI), or a "Smart FourTwo" as our baseline for a "small car" with some sort of crash protection we'd be talking in terms of about 10 feet (say 3.2m) by 4'6" footprint. Even reducing the "car" to a Messerschmitt Kabinenroller we still finish up with a fore and aft layout 2-seater needing 2.8m by 1.2m of ground plate, or an Isetta side-by-side with your legs as the front "crumple zone" (only 2.29 m (7.5 ft) long by 1.37 m (4.5 ft) wide) I really don't think we have the ground space to handle a "Tube" service even in the London "suburbs", never mind "in town" where some of the larger stations have 10 or 12 platforms, each handling a train carrying several hundred people every 3 to 5 minutes.

368:

Thank you 367
Brad TYempleton hates railways, it is obvious, and is using procrustean methods to promote his false arguments.

OK, it's London ... how many passengers a DAY do the central London rail termin handle? Remeber, this leaves out those using the tube, who don't go to these termini, or those on "Thameslink" either ....
The figures given (source in my earlier e-mail) are per year, so we need to assume, say 50 weeks in a year, and even then thr figures for rush-hours will be higher than the average, but lets keep the calculations easy, huh?
Rounded to the nearest million, in each case, and added:
236 million journeys.
4.7 million + per day
PLUS the others mentioned above.
And you are going to do this with road-vehicles?
Really?
Stop wasting our time, please?

369:

Pretty much in line with my guess that an "average Londoner" (even allowing for people who never use rail in any form) makes at least one BR (main line or Thameslink) or Tube journey every single day. With a population of 7.5 to 12 million (depending on which definition of "London" we're using) I think we really have achieved gridlock!!

370:

In a bid to inform an evidence based discussion can I suggest googling "uk dmrb road capacity' and looking at the table on page 11. It shows actual urban road capacities in terms of vehicles per hour.

Now consider that a tube style metro rail has a peak hour peak direction line haul capacity of something like 30,000 people (assuming 1,000 capacity trains at a two minute headway).

Without grade separated junctions even roads 4 lanes wide can't really achieve more than 2,100 vehicles an hour in the peak direction unless you grade separate the pedestrian crossings.

Now you can see the actual scale of capacity improvement our robot cars will have to deliver to compete with metro rail type solutions for major urban centres. Given that much of the capacity constraint is actually throughput at junctions I'm not sure how much robot cars help. You've still got a speed limit and a certain amount of green time for each arm of the junction and for pedestrians.

That's before we address the capacity of where we find the kerb space to get everyone in and out of these vehicles.

371:

@ 364:

This is a complex debate, and I don't want to get into all the vagaries of it here, since I already have them written on my own web site, but I tend to take the approach that people will do what they want, not what they "should," and can only be redirected mildly by city planners. And even though we might hope to design cities the way we "could" design them, for now we have what we have and we can only tweak it slightly.

I didn't want to go there since anyone can look at your web page and other appearances to decide for themselves, but . . . are you a libertarian? You seem to manifest a lot of the usual ticks, though they're not definitive in and of themselves, of course.

372:

"The car industry wants to keep it that way, because it's more profitable to convince people to change their wheels every five years than every forty"

Despite the car industry's best efforts, cars now last about twice as long as they did twenty five years ago. When I was growing up, my parents' cars were worthless clunkers at 70k miles.

Part of the big decline of American car sales has been the decreasing volume of vehicles sold despite increasing driver miles. By improving reliability and longevity by leaps and bounds, car makers have been putting themselves out of business.

Electric cars with far fewer moving parts will only add to this reliability (though it still boggles my mind that the Prius is one of the most reliable cars in the world).

373:

Well, at least a sensible start has been made.

374:

worthless clunkers at 70k miles.

Whereas I note that Vauxhall (the British division of GM) now provide a 100k mile warranty.

I broke my first car (an ancient Vauxhall Chevette as it happens) at 98k.

375:

...subject to various conditions, including that said warranty is not transferrable to the second registered keeper of the vehicle.

376:

My first car had to be scrapped after about 80,000 or a bit more miles because of rust. It was an H reg volvo 340, and this happened back in 2002 or so, so it was 1991 or so manufacture. It was low mileage to begin with but I think that year had a really bad batch of structural sealant since many others before and since were still running.
My second, an M reg (1995) cavalier, got too expensive at 164,000 miles or so, when it was 12 years old. Rust wise it was fine, so was the engine, but everything else was starting to fail.
So vauxhall's have been quite good for a while.

377:

Indeed so. But it would been fully used up by my wife's last car, which she ran from new till she realised that last year's scrappage scheme valued it at twice its residual value.

(Or it would have covered it if she'd not decided she hated the Vectra, and bought a Primera instead.)

As for my last car, I traded it in at 140K. I'd driven it for 80K after being side impacted by a BMW 520 which wrote itself off in the process. (I really appreciated Audi's engineering after that. Rebuilding the driver's side wasn't cheap, mind, and it wasn't far off being an insurance write-off.)

Both cars still worked, were fully road-safe, and could have gone on for quite a bit longer. What would have been surprising to the younger me was that neither had any appreciable rust on them.

378:

I have a 24-year-old Chevy Astro minivan with 121K miles. The city values it at $100 and doesn't charge me taxes for it.

379:

#376 and 377 (and I suppose 378 since we're all talking about localised GM product) - ISTR another of the restrictions on the UK "100_000 miles" warranty being 10 years. Given that most UK Vauxhall new sales tend to be to the car hire firms who typically move them on after 12 to 15K, lease firms who move them on after 3 years ot 60K, or private owners who still change every 2 years, I'm just not sure they're really giving that much away.

Oh and for the record, my 8YO Skoda Octavia (Marilee, think rebodied VW Golf) is on 97k, and with regular servicing could well go on to 500k if it doesn't rot out or have terminal electronics failure first.

380:

Yes, the warranty isn't an unlimited one, and yes, a lot of private owners currently do swap their car at 3 years. But historically, they're swapping because that's the point when warranties would have run out, MoTs became required, and suddenly maintenance costs became unpredictable.

If their warranty actually holds till the car is 10 years old instead, then one of the drivers to change the vehicle suddenly goes away.

(Not all reasons, of course - there's still fashion, or changing requirements, or general unwarrantied shabbiness.)

381:

Or buy one with one previous owner, whihc when they came to the 96000-mile service, didn't do the sump drain plug up properly ....
So a Recon. engine in 1996 car.
Now at 112000 miles - provided I (1) keep rust out of massive ladder chassis and (2) change the cambelt every 60000 miles will go on for at least half-a-million.
Should see me out.

382:

I haven't had any trouble with rust, but the paint started peeling about five years ago and I had it taken off, the van zinced, and new paint. Not very expensive and there hasn't been any hint of rust anywhere else. (The shop that does the state check every year looks underneath for things like rust.)

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