Thursday, March 24, 2016

As Transportation Revolution Dawns Indianapolis Needs to Put Brakes on Mass Transit Plans

A couple years ago, the Indiana legislature authorized Indianapolis and adjoining counties to hold a referendum to increase local taxes to pay for a massive new mass transit system. Now, as Indianapolis leaders are preparing to move forward with the referendum. a new transportation era, indeed a revolution, is appearing on the horizon.  Indianapolis needs to put the brake on the referendum until we're sure which direction the revolution will take us.

How people will move from one place to another, particularly in an urban environment, will change rapidly over the next decade. The first salvo in the revolution was the explosion in the popularity of
Driverless Bus Used in Greece
Uber, the system by which people can use smartphones to book travel in private automobiles.  Next came the rapid development of driverless cars, an innovation which has been in the works for awhile but made possible by today's GPS technology. Several companies plan to introduce driverless cars to the consumer by 2020 and some may well beat that deadline.

We are quickly moving toward a future in which private car ownership, especially in cities, will be a thing of the past.  A BBC report from a few days ago describes:
Your current car (unless you’re a Domino’s delivery guy) is only in motion about 5 per cent of the time, on average. It is, however, depreciating in value 100 per cent of the time, which makes it a pretty bad investment. Personal ownership (with its insurance, maintenance and other hassles) will cease to make sense as autonomous vehicles reach saturation. You’ll be either paying by the mile (a la future-Uber) or subscribing on a monthly basis. You’ll pay based on the trim package of your robot ride, but also based on demand and congestion, and as soon as your car drops you off, it will disappear into the fleet....
That change will dramatically reduce if not eliminate completely the need for on-street parking.  On that score the BBC article points that out:
Autonomous cars don’t need to park near their drivers — who, incidentally, will be dropped off right at the door of their destination — so parking garages can be under a new city park, or an infill housing complex, or way out in the ‘burbs. And even if they remain where they are, garages will be much smaller, or hold a lot more cars, since autonomous vehicles can pack themselves more tightly....
A little more than five years ago, the City of Indianapolis entered into a 50 year contract with Dallas-based ACS for the privatization of its parking meters.  Of course, the contract obligates the City to pay ACS even if the meters are no longer needed.  That contract was an abysmal deal before the era of the driverless car.  Twenty years from now it will be looked upon as colossal mistake.

That transportation is about to experience dramatic changes is why Indianapolis should not repeat the ACS parking contract mistake.  Engaging in a large-scale built out of a system costing up to a billion dollars, and entering into the inevitable long-term contracts with vendors, removes the flexibility a city needs to respond to the rapidly changing transportation environment. It could well be that public transportation will remain important, though inevitably that will involve driverless, and most likely much smaller, vehicles. Indianapolis' plan to build out its mass transit system by buying large, heavy buses that carry 40-50 passengers may well not be the future. Instead it might be better to go with airport shuttle-sized, driverless buses such as the one seen above.

The fact is nobody knows what the future might bring.  Why not wait a few more years until we know where the new technology is going to lead us?


Nicolas said...

I agree with everything except the characterization of subcontracting parking meters as privatization. Those meters are private property like Hawaiian Punch is a fruit drink. Are politicians in commuter towns like Fishers big fans of government mass transit?

Anonymous said...

There are substantive and effective incremental methods of expanding the system in a cost-effective manner. Some fool has taken the kool aid and thinks a billion dollars for this boondoggle could be cost effective.

Anonymous said... Seems like every sentient being understands this proposed foolishness.

Racoon said...

Examine the assumptions that necessarily undergird your premise and conclusion. The revolution will more resemble an evolution as those alternatives slowly become assimilated. In the meantime, people in Indy will still benefit from (and need) improved bus transit.

Pete Boggs said...

It's statist / fascist corruption, inorganically counterfeited as "development."

Unigov said...

A base-priced Uber trip already costs only slightly more than an Indygo trip, once the Indygo subsidies are factored out. The average Indygo bus ride is about 6 miles, which costs about $12 from Uber. Indygo costs $1.75 but iirc, 80% of that is subsidy.

So why all the rush for rail and buses? Because of Uber and driverless cars, just as Ogden stated. We are at the forefront of a revolution in travel. Providing needy people with subsidized rides to/from work is the whole idea behind mass transit. Socialists HATE Uber, and want to build out as much old-school mass transit as possible before it becomes evident to everyone how stupid the idea is.

Pete Boggs said...

Economically- it's Crash Tran-sh*t!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Mr. Ogden. Who knows what the future will bring. It seems to me the people pushing BRT are more interested in shiny new things that suggest Indy is some worldly destination. If that's the case why not take a step back as you suggest, and investigate technologies that would truly put Indy at the cutting edge of transportation.

If it were really about moving people efficiently we'd try adding busses and improve our existing system to see if it has an impact. But It's not. And don't forget the biggest driver few are talking about - pushing transit oriented development to further enrich the downtown elitists. Personally I can't wait for driverless cars... Fewer idiots behind the wheel, and I don't give a damn about mass transit.