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Very few trips really require a door-to-door service: disabled persons, hauling heavy luggage etc. In most cases, we can walk a little distance both at the beginning and at the end of the trip, if this is convenient for any reason. This will increase the efficiency of the motorized travel service that we use: public transport, Uber, parking location, even a friend giving us a lift ("I'll pick you up at the corner of the main thoroughfare, wait for me there"). It will also contribute to keeping local streets free from traffic. So, most residential streets, and also many streets in mixed use areas, could be completely pedestrianized, safe for allowing access to few authorized vehicles. In a community where most people can walk and do not normally carry very heavy loads, pedestrianization of local streets should be the norm, and not the exception. So why is it not so? Because, given the opportunity, no one will refuse to be picked up at their front door, or to park their car right in front of their house or office. The advantages of doing this are quite evident. But also the disadvantages of allowing motor-vehicles to use each and every steet of a town for travelling and parking are clear and well known. What is often misunderstood, is that while the advantages (or benefits - let's start talk economics) mostly accrue to to who does the action (park their car in front of their office, for example), the disadvantages (or costs) are distributed among anyone passing by (and being disturbed by the presence of the parked car). We all bear the same disadvantages (pay the same costs) because each one of us bears the sum of little parts the cost of the action of every other person who does this selfish action (unless I am the only one to park my car in front of my office, and everyone else leaves it at the parking lot 1 km away). this is a typical situation of "market failure" best known as "the tragedy of the commons": the person who performs an action which guarantees a personal gain and distributes the costs of this action among a community, still has an advantage in doing it even if the sum of the costs is much higher than the gain. The bigger the community over which the costs are distributed, the greater can the difference between individual gains and social costs. In short, I have convenience in doing an action that makes me gain 1$, even if it costs the community 100$, provided that the costs are distributed among at least 101 persons. Of course if all other 100 individuals think and act as I do, they will do the same "convenient" action that I did, dumping 99% of their costs on me and the other 99 persons. The result will be that the overall benefit for all the individuals will be of 101$ while the overall cost will be of 10100$. Each one of us is losing 99.99$! The bad thing is that we all think that by behaving this way, we are doing our good, and will continue acting this way, unless we agree all together to stop, or some superior authority, acting on the behalf of the community, prevents us from doing it. After all, what do we have to gain by being the only ones not doing it? If I don't park my car under my office, someone else will do it in my place. I will pay a share of their cost, but not get any benefit. I will get out of home a little earlier instead, so that I will park in my favourite spot before anyone else does it. If all this looks familiar, it is because it is. It happens continuously,everywhere and in every context: traffic congestion; occupation of public space for parking; forest cutting; overgrazing; depletion of natural resources; committing crime; mafia feuds; buying lottery tickets; standing up at a football stadium; raising your voice at a cocktail party, telling lies; occupying the toilet for longer than reasonable...
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About drivers unions opposing driverless vehicles: this is indeed a potentially difficult issue. However, in the CityMobil2 demonstrator we did in Oristano last summer, one of the partners was the local bus operator, which lended drivers to act as "on board supervisors" as required by the Italian DoT for this test (we are not ready for full automation yet). The supervisors were instructed beforehand, and the instruction also included a talk about the effect of driverless vehicles on occupation. Our argument was that by implementing driverless technology, the PT operators could deliver a better service with the same resources, increasing the efficiency without the need to reduce personnel. The supervisors, some of which were also union members, were not hostile to this experiment and generally agreed with our considerations. Their contribution to the demostrator was invaluable. Tomorrow morning early I will leave for Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss the next demonstrators of the CityMobil2 experiment. Among other things, I will propose exploiting cycling infrastructures for automated transport. These vehicles, in the current state of the art, do not mix well with motor-cars but we found they cope well with cyclists. Exploiting cycle infrastructures with other means of transport may provide a good reason to invest in high-quality infrastructures, that are generally questioned because of the little number of cyclists that will benefit from them.
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I appreciate very much that Peter Muller chose to comment my letter. We received Peter's review at an eary stage of the Masdar City PRT project, and we found his advice very valuable to improve the system. Indeed, many routes were extremely tortuous, but one must consider that we were facing several constraints: for example we could not modify the layout of the streets but only decide in which direction vehicles could travel. But on the other hand, we could advise the urban planners on where to put the buildings so we aligned the major generators/attractors along the most direct lines, leaving the tortuous ones to serve the small numbers on the O/D matrix. It makes little sense in fact to design a transport network assuming that all O/D couples are identically important. The PRT system of Masdar City did work, and it did deliver the required performance according to our simulations. But at peak hours, it did so only by applying a rideshare strategy to fill up the vehicles and therefore transforming itself in public transport. The congestion did not appear along the lines but at stations. Masdar City is very compact and space constraints prevented building stations with more than 8-10 boarding berths. By assuming that each 6-seat vehicle would carry 1.2-1.5 passengers, capacity was obviously reduced dramatically and at major stations the result was a queue of vehicles like the queues of taxis that you can see at major airports or train stations.
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Nov 30, 2014