Containerizing People Transportation (Maxi Taxi 1)

We call this peculiar car a Maxi Taxi. Maxi Taxis are just a concept that was turned into this computer model by our intern Zach Davis (Harry Ottaway’s grandson!), but they are an interesting concept and have features that are pretty much available today.

The Maxi Taxi concept rests on the success of containerization and maybe a Maxi Taxi can be described as a people container. It is designed to hold seven people, and its goal is to transport people much more efficiently than we do today.

The car itself takes advantage of very rapidly emerging technologies such as battery/hybrid/fuel cell power, automated driving, ubiquitous web presence and GM’s Hy-Wire platform concept. These concepts are pretty much road ready, but are looking for an introductory application where they can be fully integrated into the transportation system. We are all interested in these concepts, but to properly introduce them in the most optimized fashion is very difficult because it needs to displace existing technologies.

With existing road transportation systems it is almost impossible to displace all the inefficiencies that exist today. Two of those inefficiencies are the inability to completely fill each car and the greatly varying width of all cars (and trucks).

Since all cars have different sizes, it is expensive and inefficient to build roads and parking spaces. Moreover, most cars are driven nearly empty and most cars spend most of their time sitting in parking lots instead of being used to move people.

These are important efficiency drivers. Our road systems are designed to accommodate many sizes of cars, but if all cars have the same width; we’d only need one size road. We’d end up using all of the road space all the time without waste, and parking spaces can be much smaller.

And what if cars were not all privately owned, but instead many are pooled? That would make transportation much more efficient. We actually experiment with that concept in car pooling systems and with the Zipcar rental concept. Buses and taxis also aim for some of those system efficiencies, but somehow we still prefer to have our own cars.

Weirdly Malcolm Mclean, the no. 1 promoter of containerization, asked himself these questions with regard to cargo. He too wanted to standardize but was struggling to displace the existing inefficiencies.

But what if we can introduce efficiencies in locations where efficiencies have the highest pay-off? This is exactly how containerization started. Malcolm Mclean identified routes where his standardized system had the highest initial pay-off and then saw the system go viral (a term that did not exist back then) when other places adopted it. Eventually containers ruled the world and we developed a truly efficient worldwide cargo transportation system.

What is needed is a Maxi Taxi killer app. New York City is one of those places. What if New York City only used one size car for everybody?

It sounds crazy, but maybe they called Malcolm Mclean crazy too. To get the system to work one would have to find one killer app first and then hope the system can go viral.

So maybe this is the killer app:

It is just a whole bunch of Maxi Taxis very tightly packed, but now imagine these Maxi Taxis packed like this on the deck of a 756 passenger ferry that does nothing but cross the Hudson River between points in New Jersey and Manhattan where the Maxi Taxis can drive on and drive off without interfering with existing traffic patterns. This ferry would be as specialized as a container ship and be pretty much useless as a regular car ferry, but it would be the magic ingredient in the Maxi Taxi start-up.

This is what would happen:

1.    I live in Morristown and I’d decide I want to be at 14 Wall Street in Manhattan at 0800

2.    I’d punch that info into my cellphone app, and am told to be outside my house at 0658

3.    At that time a Maxi Taxi comes and I get on. The MT may or may not have other people aboard who are going in roughly the same direction.

4.    The MT drives to the Hudson River’s edge, while picking up other people along the way, and automatically (and very quickly) drives onto the ferry.

5.    While the ferry is traveling across the river I am told to go to a different MT aboard the ferry. (This is a resorting of all occupants aboard the ferry to achieve the most optimal MT arrangement according to everybody’s final destination in Manhattan. This resorting concept is a vital feature to achieve high system efficiencies)

6.    The ferry lands in Manhattan, traffic lights reset and the MT’s drive off the ferry into Manhattan traffic in minutes.

7.    The MT I am on, drops me off at 14 Wall Street and when the MT is empty (This could be punned as: when the MT is MT), it parks itself into a charging station, or waits for its next call.

With just a few operating Maxi Taxis this system is not terribly useful, mostly because it will be difficult to achieve efficiencies such as high delivery predictability and high MT useage, but once the system achieves critical mass, the benefits are mind blowing. The trick is to achieve critical mass in specific locations and then allow organic and, next, viral growth.

Remarkably, it is the inherent flexibility and scalability of the water born link that could get this system to become initially viable and to get past its start-up barriers.

In other words, while we are talking about people and mostly road transportation, it is the maritime components that may just make this work. And that is just what happened with containerization!

This blog is numbered, and I plan to discuss additional system benefits of the Maxi Taxi on this blog when I have a chance, because it serves as a very useful thought experiment with regard to efficiency and sustainability.

Main Maxi Taxi page