Not too long ago only a small proportion of humanity had access to vast resources (which actually equates to access to energy). Although the very rich could travel by ocean liner between continents, poorer people’s action radii were very much smaller. For most of humanity’s existence a human might be tied to a very small patch of ground, which was accessed by walking. There were nomadic tribes, but even those tribes moved slowly and seasonally. Somewhat more recently, sailors started to move over vast distances, but they did so on a commercial level and not on a personal level.
Today, a much larger proportion of humanity travels much more, and over much longer distances. This is due to low cost and readily available energy. While this makes life interesting, it is also an efficiency trap and Maxi Taxi, instead of reducing energy use, may simply increase our mobility for the same energy dollar and not result in overall energy savings.
It may simply increase the suburb effect. Inexpensive car transportation has made it economically viable to live far from work and to use personal cars to travel to work. In a few metropolitan areas, public transportation has compensated for this inefficient trend, but building better transportation infrastructure, and thereby reducing individual transportation cost, simply allows urban sprawl to continue and increase. It is a system design fact that urban sprawl radia are tied to the cost of fuel and to transportation fuel efficiencies. Reduce fuel prices; and people will opt to live further from work. Increase transportation efficiencies; and people will opt to live even further from work.
Maxi Taxi, by reducing fuel costs and improving other system efficiencies, could very well result in another wave of urban sprawl, and it is urban sprawl that makes the United States an inefficient nation on a per capita energy use basis. (Actually New York City is, per capita, as energy efficient as any Western country)
In other words, the Maxi Taxi concept inherently will increase transportation efficiencies on a personal and per mile level, but as a negative consequence will probably increase sprawl radii. This is a very powerful effect since, for example, Maxi Taxi automated driving will also increase individual productivity by allowing riders to perform productive work while commuting to their office. Therefore, an individual commuter will not mind a longer commute as long as she does not have to drive herself and can work productively instead.
Furthermore, since Maxi Taxis will not be much more expensive than a personal car, for wealthier commuters, a personal Maxi Taxi may be the most optimal solution and soon any efficiency increases that the system promises by car pooling will be lost.
This dynamic points to a very important concept in sustainability: There are very few sustainability concepts that do not rely on some level of moderation. Moderation is the introduction of blockers to reduce the effect of dynamic trends. (Moderators are used to keep a nuclear reaction from going critical). We discussed boundaries in the five foot wide Maxi Taxi blog which showed that the trick to efficient and sustainable design is to introduce appropriate constraints. Maxi Taxi has a width constraint, but this discussion indicates that Maxi Taxi should also function under other, less physical, constraints to keep it from simply adding to wasteful and mindless use of resources.
Somehow we need to introduce a moderator in the Maxi Taxi concept. In theory, we could introduce a moral moderator (Thou shall not waste), but moral moderators tends to be difficult to apply consistently and market driven moderators may be more effective. Since the aim is sustainability, which is tied to moderation in energy use, the most direct approach is to charge a per-person fuel use tax on transportation systems. In principle, this can be simply enacted by charging a huge tax on any energy beyond a certain limit that is used on a per person basis for commuting. In practice it may be more difficult to apply, but within today’s transportation/information networks this can be effectively accomplished and actually exists in many places with road tolls, bridge and tunnel tolls,and inner city transport fees.
Introducing moderators takes political courage, and needs to be recognized at the inception of an innovation, since getting the cat back into the bag is just too difficult.
There is another cost of efficient transportation and that is start up cost. The Maxi Taxi startup cost is surprisingly modest (Just like containerization, it is within the means of private investment instead of public investment). This does not mean that massive amounts of money will not be expended on adopting a system like Max Taxi on a nationwide, or world wide, scale, but the initial proof of concept investment is relatively small. This is in very strong contrasts to some other transportation systems that are presently being considered such as high speed rail. High speed rail takes a massive initial investment and then depends on the ability to actually fill the seats that have been built on a massive, per seat, cost.
Such infrastructure investments are very risky since, today, our technological innovations move so fast that often a high initial investment start up like high speed rail may be obsolete before the system is even in full operation. High speed rail may very well be rendered obsolete by automated driving. Automated driving would provide very similar benefits to high speed rail transportation. While high speed rail may be faster point to point, a Maxi Taxi could probably beat such a system on automated highways on a destination-to-destination basis in the vast majority of cases. Instead of driving a car to a high speed rail station, taking one’s belonging into a station, waiting for the train to make its scheduled stop, traveling at high speed to the destination station, walking through the destination station, and arranging for local transportation, chances are automated driving will be more convenient, burn a similar amount of fuel, and be just as quick.
Ironically while the high speed trains may fail before they turn a profit, the railroad tracks can be converted into excellent Maxi Taxi high speed artery roads.
Automated driving will change the world. The trick is to think through it and to plan so it will change the world for the better, without unnecessary waste.
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