Chris Frederick

Transportation

August 21, 2010

I just saw an article about a proposed ‘Straddling Bus’ Offered as a Traffic Fix in China. It’s a clever idea, even though it doesn’t appear that the illustrated vehicle could actually carry 1200 passengers: even standing 10 abreast, there would be 120 rows of people in a bus that is 6-8 cars long! The engineers and city planners would also obviously need to ensure that none of the other cars on the road was tall enough to slam into the top of the bus.

Reading this article made me think about the future of public transportation. One possibility is the widespread adoption of driverless cars, as shown in the 2002 film Minority Report. Another, and my personal favorite, is the construction of networks of moving walkways, as illustrated in the Isaac Asimov novel The Caves of Steel. These moving walkways are set up as a series of parallel belts, with each successive belt on the inner track slightly faster than its neighboring belt on the outer track, allowing people to walk safely from one location to another at highway speeds! Although this is an attractive idea for me, I don’t think that it will be implemented any time soon.

The most radical thought I had was related to the new smart elevators, such as the Miconic 10 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. Rather than choosing a floor after entering an elevator, passengers of these “new” smart elevators select a floor from a central control panel first, and are then directed to the elevator that will get them to that floor the fastest. Now imagine if this was how public transportation—and buses in particular—worked. Rather than figuring out which bus to take as well as where and when to get on, passengers would choose a destination from an electronic control panel at any bus stop. This would automatically send a request to a computerized bus scheduling system, which would automatically find the bus that could get the passenger to their destination the fastest and re-route that bus if necessary. A method like this could provide automatic passenger load balancing and ensure that bus operators always knew precisely how many people were waiting at any given stop as well as how many people were attempting to get to a certain destination, all in real time. Maybe someday…