I recently read a critic of PRT espousing the argument that automated cars would bury PRT because they would not require “new” infrastructure. I’m pretty sure the author hasn’t had his large front yard turned into 2 extra lanes and a median like I have, or he would realize that we are putting in thousands of miles of “new” infrastructure every day. Road construction is so “baked in” to the society that we no longer question or even notice it. I would wager that there isn’t a person in a thousand who has any idea of how much of their own personal money goes into road construction annually. When you find out you just might want to join the Tea Party movement.
More automation is coming to personal transportation. That is for sure. But with the current infrastructure that means trying to automate vehicles on icy roads, amongst texting teenagers and lost, darting pets. What will be the automated vehicle’s response to a downed power line? When it wants to go back to manual mode will the driver be available in time? Or caught looking something up?
Honest acknowledgement of the need for infrastructure that is safer for self-driving cars leads to a healthy debate about what it should be. Do we need it all to be big enough for trucks? Do we want to have to salt and plow it in winter? Do we even want it on the ground? Do we want it to enable fast vehicles or should we just slow down and save fuel? Do we want freeway-like non-stop service? If so, how is this best accomplished? Can we leverage what is already out there, in terms of existing roads and bridges? Should we limit the vehicle size since we know that people, given the chance, will choose obscenely oversized ones? What about the larger debate over urban planning and development?
Yes, we need new infrastructure, and yes, some of it will need to be ordinary roads and bridges. But roads are mostly used for single individuals going to particular destinations, and are, frankly, way overbuilt for this purpose. Even without PRT, it is time to re-examine our infrastructure requirements and consider putting down something that is less wasteful of taxpayer’s money. If we want a cheaper, minimum-footprint, longer lasting transportation infrastructure that is designed for fast, appropriately sized, automated vehicles, then we are basically talking about PRT. PRT is a logical outcome of a very logical debate.