Rail advocates who speak of streetcars, light rail, and other forms of rail transit as “modern transportation” are living in the nineteenth century. The next transportation revolution will have nothing to do with trains or transit but will involve making automobiles faster, safer, and more convenient than they are today.
Most experts believe that by 2020, or soon after, you’ll be able to buy a car that can drive itself in most situations. By 2030, auto makers will be selling cars that don’t even have the option of being driven by humans. Such self-driving cars will bring mobility to people who don’t have driver’s licenses, reduce traffic congestion by increasing road capacities, and dramatically increase highway safety.
Combine self-driving cars with car-sharing services and people will have access to low-cost mobility even if they don’t own their own car. Using a smart-phone app, people will be able to call a self-driving car to their door and have it take them to their destination. Such travel will cost half as much as transit, and if two or more people use the car at once the cost per person will be even lower.
Rail projects take years to plan and build and then have a working life of about 30 years. This means that self-driving cars are likely to have revolutionized travel before a rail line that is being planned today has reached half its service life. Why should cities build expensive rail systems that will be even more obsolete in a few years than they are today?
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