You can finally junk that Oldsmobile, Jethro; in Beverly Hills you will soon be able to dial up a self-driving car and call it public transit. Buses are so yesterday, and streetcars so last century. The future of transit is autonomous vehicle (AV). An old-fashioned subway is being built that will have two stops in Beverly Hills and a city would normally feed it with buses or other forms of transit, but not Beverly Hills, they want shiny. In a city press release the Mayor explains:
“We can’t solve future or even today’s problems using technology of the past,” Mayor Mirisch said. “A.V.s will take private cars off the road, reduce demand for parking, increase safety and mobility for everyone, including the disabled, and solve the ‘first/last mile’ challenge for residents using the future Purple Line.”
The press release notes that "as envisioned, the A.V. shuttles would provide on-demand, point-to-point transportation within the City, with users requesting a ride using their smart phones." Because being Beverly Hills, the poor, the aged and everyone else has a smart phone.
TreeHugger has previously looked at how the promise of AVs has been used to avoid dealing with the need for public transit, and why they are dearly beloved by conservatives:
Though many predict networks of AVs will be publicly financed, they can also be privately owned, and by most projections will require far less government-funded infrastructure than rail. Unlike trains or buses, they’ll take you wherever you want to go, when you want to go there, alone if you wish. Driverless cars will, in many of the ways so central to American identity, still be cars.
Ken Avidor has also pointed out why so many people like cyberspace technodreams as alternatives to transit, in an earlier era when AVs on rails, or PRT, was the next big thing. Because it responds "to the peculiar American fear that everyone on a bus is either poor, deranged or both."
Can AVs do the job of public transit? Perhaps in rich, low density Beverly Hills, it might work. Even transit expert Jerrett Walker has noted that in certain areas they might be appropriate.
In many cases, people talking about driverless cars replacing transit are talking from an outer-suburban point of view, based on the experience of low-density, car-dependent places that are unsuited to high-ridership transit. In those settings, if density is not increasing, they are probably right. Driverless taxis will be more efficient than transit in these areas.
We are going to see a lot more of this, as municipalities avoid the responsibilities of building public transit that serves everyone. After all, why use those technologies of the past when the AV future is right around the corner?