There are several reasons some people in the United States support the private ownership of guns. School shootings and the rest are unfortunate collateral damage of ensuring the principle of individual arms can be readily obtained.
The Second Amendment confusingly says
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
It is not clear on what arms people can have. Almost everyone agrees people should be allowed to have knives and muskets. Almost everyone also agrees no private nuclear bombs. I like the idea that original intent of the word “arms” means that no weapons invented since 1789 are implicitly constitutionally covered. The current interpretation of the second amendment is a modern one.
In addition to the “well regulated militia” rationale, there are other reasons people might want guns, including:
Committing crimes (some of which is self-defense while doing illegal things)
Over-throwing a `tyrannical’ government (which also relates in part to self-defense when rebelling against a well-armed opponent, as well as offense against the same opponent). This is also known as the “right of revolution.” It is discussed in this Federalist article.
I believe most gun supporters are, in fact, though most won’t admit it, about the last point. That is, their minds foresee a dystopian outcome when a fascist (or communist, but same thing) comes to power and must be resisted by weapons that have yet to be confiscated by a weak liberal regime.
The Civil War is a morally repugnant example of this kind of resistance, in that case by a south defending slavery; but one can equally imagine a world where a slightly less demographically and economically powerful north was resisting imposition of slavery by the southern states.
Or, their mind foresees the US being invaded by a foreign (or alien) army which somehow the military was unable defeat. Having grown up in the 1980s and seeing Red Dawn and V, I have some empathy for that view in principle. In practice, not so much.
Yet, if you are right wing, and believe the previous administration was the illegitimate dystopia that fuels your nightmares, where was your uprising? I missed it. If you are truly anti-fascist, where is your uprising now? You, gun-owners of America, are as well-armed as any citizenry in history. The US government’s ICE brown shirts are taking people from their homes and deporting them. Police officers are systematically killing people of color. And gun owners are not systematically challenging them. Hmm. Oh, I missed the part that it was the right of revolution for white people.
Which leads me to the conclusion that over-throwing the US government with the citizenry’s privately owned weapons is just not going to happen. Which means, we can strike the justification of needing guns for keeping the government in check. At this point in history, the US government can keep the populace in check, even if armed. At best you can take someone out before being killed yourself. You will not actually win.
The counter-argument is that it is the well-armed citizenry that is keeping the government in check, and thereby keeps it from confiscating guns (and eliminating other freedoms, but those are secondary to the guns). But if that were true, they wouldn’t be worried about the government confiscating guns. The reasoning is circular. The reason to have guns is to keep the government from confiscating your guns. If the government could confiscate your guns at any time with a change in legislation, the guns aren’t actually buying you your freedom. Instead it is that the government cannot effectively act without the consent of the governed.
Since the ‘committing crimes’ is also not really a good reason to keep guns, and ‘hunting’ doesn’t require sophisticated weapons, and ‘personal self-defense’ with guns is only necessary because everyone else also has guns and may be committing crimes, the US should just throw in the towel and follow the civilized world, or even Australia, and more significantly reduce access to firearms.
Professor Levinson adds: “One reason, I am told, that the government chose the Metro over trains for the new lines is that because it is a different technology, it will be easier to manage separately from Sydney trains (and will be privately operated under contract). It was a technology choice to achieve a policy aim of breaking the existing bureaucracy and labour unions.”
“To help ensure the political separation, the tunnels for the Metro line are just a bit too short, and the tracks too steep, for double-decker trains to use. This could have been remedied at little or no cost, providing future technological flexibility, but the government want to reduce the flexibility of future governments,” he continues.
“Flexibility would have been a potential benefit from providing compatibility. On the other hand, separation has some value from a reliability perspective, problems on the train lines should not cause problems on the Metro (except for crowding where people have a choice between the two), and vice versa.”
As Professor Levinson, professor of transport at the University of Sydney points out: the “game is the same. Just more territory is brought into the game.”
“Since the lines and stations for the Metro North West and City/South-West are already set, the landowners have already realised their price appreciation,” he says. “There is still a small fortune to be made on the Metro West line, since where the stations land is still not set.”
Full Interview below:
What are the problems with the current [Public Transport] system?
First, the rail system in Sydney, though like all systems engendering complaints, is actually really good, reflecting on the genius of Bradfield’s original rail plan. The evidence for this is the high public transport mode share in Sydney compared to other Australian (and similarly sized US) cities. That said, it is far from perfect. The signal system on the rail lines should be modernized to increase safety and throughput. The bus network needs to be completely rethought and streamlined, so the routes don’t go hither and yon. More on-street right-of-way should be designated exclusively for buses so they move faster and are less likely to be stuck in traffic. Tap-on, tap-off should be off the bus (at the bus stop) so that the buses can board and alight more quickly. The system as a whole needs more capacity in places. The rail stations should be modernized with more exits so the access time to and from stations is shorter, and so there are lifts for each platform.
Why has it taken this long to find a solution?
There have been fits and starts on expanding public transport in Sydney for decades (nearing a century on Bradfield’s plan, which is still not built out). The best theory I heard is the city exhausted itself with all the over-building for the 2000 Olympics, and then couldn’t get anything going until recently. These lines are on the maps and have been for decades, so it’s a question of money and willpower. The recent government has been far more keep to use the private sector for financing, and using asset recycling than previous governments. The advantage to private financing and control is that the infrastructure is sort of “off-the-books”, so since it is privately funded, users pay directly, as opposed to being intermediated through the political layer. This makes it easier to charge users more. This is especially the case for toll road construction as opposed to untolled motorways, but could be applied to public transport as well.
What has been confirmed / what are we still waiting to find out?
Sydney Metro Northwest is well under construction.
Sydney Metro City and Southwest, replacing the T3 Bankstown Line, is in engineering and early construction. What happens to service at the end of the existing T3 line (beyond Bankstown, e.g. Yagoona and Birrong) that is not served by Metro is unclear.
Sydney Metro West is in early planning stages, and the line has not been set, but some of the stations are locked in.
What are the challenges facing the new metro? Critics have pointed out that it is flawed – why?
The issue of Metros vs. Double-Decker Trains is a technology choice which has some practical tradeoffs. Metros have fewer seats (1 deck) and more doors, but a greater capacity, because they can run more frequently (because they can board and alight much faster, and because they are automated with modern signal controls). So for a short trip, fewer seats might be fine, since you save time. For a long trip, not being able to sit in rush hour, but standing for say 40 minutes, might be a bit tiresome for some people (noting that this is common in transit systems around the world). So one of the questions is whether this (Metro) technology is right for this (very long) corridor. I suspect there will be grumbling from people who want to sit and can’t.
One reason, I am told, that the government chose Metro over Trains for the new lines is that because it is a different technology, it will be easier to manage separately from Sydney trains (and will be privately operated under contract). It was a technology choice to achieve a policy aim of breaking the existing bureaucracy and labour unions.
To help ensure the political separation, the tunnels for the Metro line are just a bit too short, and the tracks too steep, for Double-Decker trains to use. This could have been remedied at little or no cost, providing future technological flexibility, but the government want to reduce the flexibility of future governments. See: link
Flexibility would have been a potential benefit from providing compatibility. On the other hand, separation has some value from a reliability perspective, problems on the train lines should not cause problems on the Metro (except for crowding where people have a choice between the two), and vice versa.
Sydney is the first Australian city to build a metro system. What does this mean for Sydney as a city? And for its inhabitants?
Not much. Note: Melbourne is also building a Metro. (Metro Tunnel). The distinctions between trains and Metro will not be terribly significant for most users, they will just see it as new and old trains. Now in the corridor that gets new service (especially the Northwest) this is new service (replacing buses rather than trains), so should increase people’s willingness to take transit for certain city-oriented trips. It will also encourage development in the corridor around stations.
What does this mean for property owners / property developers? Which suburbs will suffer and which will benefit? And how is current uncertainty over the lines affecting property / developers / homeowners? How does “value capture” come into play?
Value capture is way to help finance transport infrastructure by using property value appreciation to offset construction costs. This is not done systematically in Sydney, but should be. There are various techniques. (See my value capture study from about 9 years ago, still true)
Is the metro a game changer? i.e will it give massive buying opportunities for previously low density suburbs? Will only the long term gamblers benefit?
The game is the same. Just more territory is brought into the game. Since the lines and stations for the Metro NW and City/SW are already set, the land owners have already realised their price appreciation. There is still a small fortune to be made on the Metro West line, since where the stations land is still not set.
One cabinet paper stated the Metro West project would trigger a high-rise boom, from the sale of development rights around a dozen new underground stations – what does that mean for standard of living?
It means people who want to live in new high-rises near Metros (and the evidence is there are many such people) will have more opportunities and pay lower prices, and people who don’t will be largely indifferent. The neighbours of those new high rises will suffer more traffic, but have better restaurants and shopping.
Will Metro West deliver on the promise of housing, jobs, and business opportunities?
Jobs will come from construction, but Sydney is pretty close to full employment now, so if that remains so, it will attract workers for these jobs who otherwise would be working on something else, driving up the costs of construction and increasing inflation.
Sydney will not become significantly larger due to MetroWest (i.e. it won’t cause more babies to be born or increase national immigration, it might keep a few people in Sydney who otherwise would have gone to Perth or Hobart or wherever). However development with Sydney will likely concentrate around new stations to take advantage of the convenient accessibility the system provides, so station areas will attract housing and jobs that otherwise would have been more dispersed.
How does the new metro reflect on the building of new roads, such as WestConnex, largely funded by the tax payer? Why wasn’t the Metro West rail project wasn’t considered as an alternative to WestConnex.
I don’t know. The answer to these questions is usually “Follow the money.”
Each technological advance in mobility over the past 200 years increased the size of metropolitan areas. The ability to go faster, either owing to new technologies or more completely deployed and deeply connected networks, allowed people to reach more things in less time. The Underground drove the expansion of London, streetcars did the same for many American cities,[a] while trams and trains made Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane among others, and highways have exploded the size of cities everywhere. Historically, the time saved from mobility gains was reflected mostly in additional distance between home and the workplace, maintaining a stable commuting (home to work) time.
Will autonomous vehicles follow the path well worn by earlier technologies?
Fast, driverless cars that allow their passenger to do things other than steer and brake and find parking impose fewer requirements on the traveler than actively driving the same distance. Decreases in the cost of traveling (i.e., the availability of safe in-vehicle multitasking) makes travel easier. Faster roads arise because of capacity gains from vehicle automation (due both to closer following distances and narrower lanes, even more practical with narrower vehicles fit to serve the single passenger they usually carry). Easier travel means increases in accessibility and subsequently increases in the spread of development and a greater separation between home and work, (pejoratively, `sprawl’), just as commuter trains today enable exurban living or living in a different city.[b] Autonomous automobility reinforces the disconnected, dendritic suburban street grid and makes transit service that much more difficult (as if low density suburbs weren’t hard enough). People will live farther ‘Out.’
However, concomitant with automation is the emergence of the sharing economy, with at least some people transitioning from today, where the typical Australian owns their own car, to mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) — automated taxis. This is more likely in larger, central cities where taxis are common, auto ownership is already difficult, and parking scarce and expensive. In this world, while the total cost of travel drops as vehicle ownership costs disappear, the cost per trip might rise, as the cost of ownership is allocated to each trip. This reduces travel demand.
Driverless cars which can be summoned on-demand allow people to avoid vehicle ownership altogether. This reduces vehicle travel, as people will pay more to rent by the minute than exploit the sunk costs of vehicular ownership. By saving total expenditures on transport, more funds are available to pay for rent in cities, and more trips are by walk, bike, and transit. People who seek the set of urban amenities (entertainment, restaurants, a larger dating pool) will find these amenities increasing in response to the population. The greater value in cities with the new more convenient technology leads to more and taller development. (Hence the use of the word ‘Up.’)
At first blush, ‘Up’ and ‘Out’ appear to be contrasting scenarios; they are not exclusive, however. More people living in the outer suburbs or exurbs does not mean fewer people live in cities, because the overall size increases (with more people overall). Sydney for instance, is expected to grow from just over 5 million to about 8 million people over the next four decades.
Similarly, as the cost of travel decreases, people will be more willing to live in locations far from where they work. At safe speeds of 160 km/h on freeway lanes exclusively dedicated to automated vehicles, the commuting range expands widely. From Sydney in this new world, Newcastle can be reached an hour on road, and Kiama and Katoomba are even nearer.
Sydney planners have recently proposed the benchmark of the “30-minute city“, the idea that most people can find work, school, or daily shopping within 30 minutes of their homes by walk, bike, or transit. The threshold of 30-minutes is roughly equal to today’s one-way commute in Sydney (actually 35 minutes), shorter by car (26 minutes), longer by train (62 minutes) according to BITRE. The long times by train are because trains are designed to serve longer distance trips, and focus on the Central Business District.
The 30-minute city can be achieved through a combination of transport and land use strategies. On the transport side is the question of how fast and how direct the transport network is. On the land use side is the question of where desired activities are located relative to each other.
If the 30-minute city is defined for walk, bike, and transit as the relevant modes, with mobility-as-a-service easily available on-demand, the Up Scenario works best, though getting one-way commuting times for train users down from 60 to 30 minutes is a large ask. In contrast, the Out Scenario can continue to enable a 30-minute city for privately owned autonomous vehicles so long as jobs don’t centralize further in downtowns.
The interplay of AVs and road pricing is especially important. While autonomous vehicles may eventually double or quadruple road capacity, total demand will rise as well due to population growth, so long as people continue to work, shop, and play outside-the-home at today’s rates, even more if traditional patterns of induced demand hold.
It is quite possible that sharing remains a niche while most people choose to own their own cars — the ‘Out’ scenario dominates. Thus, exurbanization and AVs better leverage newly available capacity. But, in the absence of pricing, and with cheap energy, there is little to discourage tomorrow’s privately owned AVs from circulating empty on the road network rather than pay for high prices of parking, and thereby slow travel for everyone else. This possible outcome is so obviously bad, it suggests road pricing or similarly effective regulation in some form is likely.
As humanity leaves the dark ages, there will come a time when human-driven vehicles are banned from the road for safety reasons, at least somewhere. This creates a huge amount of stranded technology, viable existing cars that will suddenly be devalued. Some of these are of little interest, and some can be retrofitted with aftermarket kits. For ‘classic cars’, it is important that the vehicle itself remain unchanged, retrofits will devalue the car compared to its more authentic state.
This provides a use case for robots, actual I Robot-like robots, that look vaguely anthropomorphic and have two legs and two arms. They can sit in the drivers seat, control the accelerator and the brake with their metallic robotic foot, and with AV software implemented through a robot frame, be safer than human.
An actual robotic chaffeur, the way people have joked about in bad science fiction for decades, does have a use case.
I’m reaching out for a story I’m doing on possible cybersecurity and data privacy issues related to China-based dockless bikeshare companies entering U.S. urban markets. Cybersecurity experts have expressed concern over the possibility of U.S. rider data being made available to the Chinese government, given the lax nature of data sharing stipulations between private and public sectors in China. An individual rider’s location data may have value from a counterintelligence perspective, according to one former White House advisor I spoke with.
Do you think this is a legitimate concern that U.S. state or local governments should be considering as more dockless services enter American cities?
From the people who failed to prevent 9/11, led us into the Iraq War, and have foisted airport security theater on the American Public, we have the latest “Yellow Peril” from China … dockless bikesharing.
I would ask in return:
1. Where was their smartphone made?
2. Where was most of their electronics made (including routers, USB hubs, and so on)?
3. Did they use Russian made Kaspersky Lab software for cybersecurity prior to December 2017?
4. Does their EZ Pass transponder come from Kapsch AG?
5. Is their toll road owned by a company based in Australia, France, Italy, Spain, or anywhere else?
There is no privacy. Data is and will be stored and accessed by our “friends” and our “rivals”. Thinking otherwise is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. The US NSA will track the metadata on your phone call in any case even if the Chinese don’t get a fractional sample of some bikeshare users. One has to assume that US spy agencies have already been infiltrated, given how big a target that is.
Privacy cannot be legislated, data is never really destroyed. We still have cameras everywhere, and the state (or in this article, ICE) will just read license plates .
For possibly solutions, see David Brin’s Transparent Society. The key is not privacy but allowing sousveillance, everyone has access, not just the police.
We have a real threat on urban streets globally, the automobile and truck, both as a weapon of intentional terror and destruction, killing hundreds or thousands of people globally in actual terrorist acts each year, and more than a million in preventable crashes.
And this person is worried that China will know where some 20-something State Department intern lives, works, and clubs? Good old fashioned detectiving, like getting the State Department mailing list or looking at the White Pages, or hanging out on a corner in Foggy Bottom, or infiltrating the CIA, can get much of that information.
There are several solutions for this, including fake IDs for bikesharing membership, providing bikes to employees, or on-campus bikesharing for big sites like the CIA or NSA.
We have bigger fish to fry than dockless bikesharing.
How about an ambiguous hump to start your Valentine’s Day ? Pedestrian / street interfaces in Sydney are needlessly inconsistent. When is a Speed Hump (Speed Table) also a Pedestrian Crossing? When is a Pedestrian Crossing also a Speed Hump? When the traffic engineer felt like it.
Walking about Sydney, we see all sorts of cases. I propose a simpler rule: All high demand pedestrian crossings should be speed humps on the road (the should rise to the sidewalk level). All low demand roadway/sidewalk crossings should be speed humps so that these road and especially laneway (alley) crossings extend the sidewalk across the road (so the pedestrian is not lowering themself crossing the street, but rather the car is slowing and rising while crossing the sidewalk). I have photos illustrating good, bad, and ambiguous examples from Sydney.
A Sidewalk Talk Q&A with forward-looking transportist David Levinson.
It’s 2043. Few people in cities own cars anymore. It’s cheaper to rely on electric, self-driving taxis. Some vehicles are big enough to share; others are individually sized to make the most of limited street space. They have one button inside: Stop. Dynamic curbs—patrolled by enforcement droids—remain clear for deliveries, pick-ups, and drop-offs. Street parking no longer exists, and this space has been recaptured for better public uses.
That’s the future as seen by David Levinson, the University of Sydney transport professor who writes the popular Transportist blog and is co-author of the 2017 book The End of Traffic and the Future of Access. “Look back to the 1920s, and you have magazines that ask: What does the future look like?” he says. “Some of it is absurd. Why would we all be using blimps? But some of it’s still like: Why doesn’t the future look like that?”
The truth, he says, is that imagining tomorrow’s urban mobility raises far more questions than it answers. If we get used to the idea of using taxis, what other things will we no longer feel the need to own? What are the new things we now can do because robots can move around without supervision? What will we do with all the extra time we don’t have to spend driving? How do you allocate road space in a world with delivery drones?
“These things are unpredictable in how they play out,” says Levinson, who’s an advisor to the Sidewalk spinoff company Coord, which recently launched a data integration platform for urban mobility. Levinson spoke to Sidewalk Talk about the challenges facing cities today—and the innovations 25 years or so down the road.
You give a lot of thought to the future of transport. How do you see the biggest challenges facing urban mobility at this moment but also in the short- and longer-term future?
There’s the litany of automobile evils we all know: lack of safety, pollution, congestion, and so on. Those are all here and have been here for decades and will remain here for at least a little while longer. Trying to actually solve those collective set of problems, which can be done (a) through technology and (b) on the demand side, is the project for the next couple of decades.
On the technology side, the rollout of electric vehicles is relatively straightforward. The rollout of autonomous vehicles, which is more complicated technically, will probably be a little bit slower. There’s simultaneously the rollout of the transformation from an ownership model to a mixed model of fleet-owned vehicles. And along with this transition toward fleet vehicles there’s also the opportunity to right-size the automobile itself, so we don’t have these large, oversized vehicles holding only one person in them.
Moving towards the one-passenger vehicle has huge benefits, and that’s the biggest challenge we’re not recognizing. The electrification at this point is well understood. Only the oil industry has its head in the tar sands about that. On automation, people have an unreasonable expectation of how quickly we can deploy this kind of technology, but we’ve moved faster than I imagined we would. We’re getting to the point where we’re going to have passengers in cars where the only thing they have is a “Stop” button. And that’s great, but it’s going to take decades to fully deploy this, because such a big system has to be transformed. Remember a few decades after the mobile phone, and a full decade after the iPhone, just under half of homes still have a landline.
To get to a fleet of AVs with just a “Stop button” there’s so much data the car will need to have to make choices, or to offer you choices as a passenger. Do I take a toll road or free road? Do I get to stop here or not? Are streets classified in ways where maybe there’s surge pricing on some?
There has to be a real-time map of the environment at different scales: of the infrastructure, of the presence of other vehicles on that infrastructure. Then there’s a services layer that Coord is doing, a real-time map of road prices, curbside regulation and availability, and parking regulations and availability.
Then you have the question of the user’s value of time. How much are you willing to pay to save a minute, because Road X is more expensive but faster, and Road Y is less expensive but slower? That’s if you imagine we will have some kind of spatial differentiation—I’m not convinced we will. It might just be going toward a universal time-of-day pricing, where it’s higher at 4 pm than 2 pm, but it’s not higher on Road X than on Road Y.
Say on the freeway you’re charging more than on a local road per mile of travel because it’s faster. Then more people will use local roads, and that’s not what you want. But if you want more people using the freeways, are you going to charge a discount on the freeways? That’s counterintuitive. It’s going to look something more like a mileage charge with a time-of-day discount than a differentiation by route. That’s my sense of where this goes.
Would you say road pricing is fundamental to a better future of transportation?
It’s fundamental to a less time-wasting form of transportation. I think there’s significant gains to be had from automation and from refactoring the automobile. That is, if we can convince 90 percent of the trips that they can use a one-passenger car, we can double the capacity of roads just from splitting lanes. Then with automation we can double it again, because vehicles can travel closer to each other. That solves a lot of the problem in most places.
If you can double the capacity of the roadway, that alone buys you 40 years of population growth.
There’s a big question as to how curbs will be managed given the increased demand from new mobility services. Can that happen in the absence of road pricing?
I think curb management is very ad hoc right now. In big cities, this is a tension. Getting that data streamlined and making more rational policies has had no systematic thought given to it, Coord can improve the situation. There is a lobby for people who would be against on-street parking; that would be the people who own off-street parking. And there is the transformation towards shared vehicle fleets in cities; many fewer vehicles need to be stored on the road at any given time because most are in motion, and there are fewer vehicles around because they’re used more efficiently. So that opportunity to eliminate on-street parking and transform that space into bike lanes, bus lanes, and loading and unloading spaces is ripe, the time is right .
Information technology is making it so that we can track and enforce use of lanes in real-time with cameras. There are many ways this could play out. Maybe enforcement needs to identify vehicles by the license plate, which means the camera angle has to be right, which means cities might need a robotic Rita, meter maid. Every block could have its own little enforcement droid to make sure no one is violating the rules about parking their car too long or loading and unloading for longer than needed. And you can do all that without road pricing.
If we get rid of street-parking, do you envision the curb needing the same types of definitions it has now? This is clearly a loading zone. This is clearly a bike lane. Or could it be more flexible?
It could be more dynamic, for instance loading from 4 am to 6 am then it’s for movement from 6 am to 9 am then it goes back to loading. Something like a bike lane you’d want to make more permanent. And for a bus lane, when there are enough passengers to justify a bus lane, it should be a bus lane. You already have cities that have parking until 3 pm, then from 3-7 pm it’s a bus lane (called a ‘Clearway’ in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK). And they have at 3 pm a vehicle and crew making sure the street is clear and ticketing the vehicles that are there. It works well enough, though it is a bit labor intensive.
You can imagine once existing rules are in place and well documented with a systematic way of describing and mapping them, people can think more rationally about which of these parameters they want to adjust. Then it’s just exposing it, showing what the map looks like to someone on the local Curb Management Board, a new institution responsible for those regulations deciding how to maximize the value of curbspace for the community?
In this scenario, how would you envision pick-ups and drop-offs happening? Would they also be charged? Or they’d be directed to a certain place? I’m thinking of the scenario where you’re not driving, the car is driving.
Certainly they’d be directed to a certain place. You’d want to avoid loading and unloading them at an intersection. Maybe some midblock taxi stand equivalent. As part of your taxi license you get to pick-up and drop-off in whatever district you’re in, or maybe you pay on a per-drop-off basis. It depends how you’re collecting revenue from your taxi operators. In London, with the congestion charge, they exempted taxis arguing the price is embedded in the price of the license. That seems plausible if the license fee is large enough and you want people to use taxis instead of parking, then you want to encourage it and not put in another fee. And if you don’t unload at the designated place, that’s illegal and you get a fine, automatically assessed by camera or enforcement droid.
So how do we get to that place where we move away from the ownership model and toward the fleet model?
It’s a value proposition for the consumer. We already have taxi markets. But most residents say to themselves, it’s cheaper to own a car now than to get taxis every day. So if it costs $10,000 a year to own a car, that works out about $30 a day, and I’d pay more than that for my daily taxi, it’s cheaper for me to own a car. If the cost of taxis comes down to less than $30 a day, the value proposition says, I shouldn’t own.
Now there’s the out-of-pocket versus the fixed-cost question, but that can be dealt with through a subscription model. So just like my cell phone, and I have ‘unlimited’ data up to some threshold per month, I might have ‘unlimited’ rides up to some threshold per month, and then I go above that the taxi company charges me per ride.
The reason you should be able to get it under even $20 a day is that if you go toward automation and electric vehicles, the price of the vehicles should drop. Electric vehicles should be less expensive. To date they are not, but we’re moving in that direction pretty rapidly. Automation is the second thing. You’re saving on the cost of parking. That’s $30 a day alone in big cities. You’ve eliminated the driver so taxis are cheaper, so the marginal cost per ride is really low—cheaper than taxis are today.
But unless you can get that cost structure in place, people are not going to give up their car. And I don’t think public incentives are going to matter a lot here, because most cities won’t have the will or the money to subsidize shared rides just so there’s fewer private cars on the road.
So you see self-driving fleets that aren’t shared?
I see multiple models here. You have a taxi provider like Uber or Waymo providing what we would call a taxi service today, except it’s automated. You’ve got leased cars that are maintained centrally in some respects but you take them home with you, so you have them on-demand. Then you have privately owned cars, or less rigorous leases much more akin to today’s private cars.
In an urban area, I can have a car on-demand and some fleet manages it. In a remote area, a car on-demand is a 10-minute wait. Rural users are less likely to want a shared vehicle.
Do you have the same fear of the zombie or ghost vehicles—cars without any passengers in them?
There will be empty vehicles moving around in any case. There are passenger-less taxis moving around now. That’s probably on the order of 10-20 percent of distance. With a well-managed system, you get that down. With private cars, someone could say: I will drive into the city, then send it home to park, then have it pick me up in the afternoon. That would double miles traveled. That would be terrible. You’d need to have some sort of penalty for that. Road pricing becomes perfectly justified if that kind of behavior emerges.
What about the nightmare scenario where it circles the block for eight hours?
If people start doing that, road pricing is the obvious solution. But even without road pricing, you could make it a crime to circle the block more than once in a short period of time. You have road pricing by ticketing. If it’s automated with cameras, then it’s: we’ve identified your car on the same block three times in the past 15 minutes, that’s a $30 fine. People might complain a little bit, but cities will see that as a good way to disincentivize it, and they don’t have to go through the pain of implementing road pricing. Instead it’s a new crime, enforced using technology the way red-light running and speeding are now in some cities.
There’s going to be all sorts of new regulations. Teenagers will step in front of the automated vehicle to make it stop—we know this is going to happen. We will invent a set of laws and regulations, like ‘annoying a robot’, once these problems begin to emerge. Cities and counties are pretty quick at copying the regulations of adjacent jurisdictions. It’s a diffusion of innovation process. One place writes the rule, they get the rule right, then all the counties and cities around it just copy the rule.
Are there aspects of the future of transportation we’re not focusing on enough?
I think the curb space question is more generally the road space reallocation question. How do we recapture capacity we no longer need to move automobiles, and what do we do about it?
Doing the same thing better is the obvious first thing that happens. But what are the new things we can now do? It’s not just cars moving people. It’s person-less vehicles moving goods—and they’re not cars anymore. That’s going to change a lot about how we shop: what is the retail experience, what does it mean to want something?
Most discussions of shared AVs have an urban-centric viewpoint. How technology changes the world outside of cities is not well understood or much contemplated. It might be that the new transport’s impacts are less outside of cities.
The futurist’s job is to put trends together and paint scenarios, but in the end, we’re 25 years since the Mosaic web browser for the World Wide Web was released, and it has turned out different than was expected. Imagine in 1993 someone said: “Fake news being generated by Albanian teenagers for the purposes of getting ‘ad clicks’ on a social network called ‘Facebook’ from 60-year-olds would shape the outcome of the 2016 election and elect noted casino owner Donald Trump.” … This is not a scenario a futurist could have foreseen. 2043 could be very strange indeed.
This Sidewalk Talk has been edited for length and lightly for clarity.
David Levinson, a professor of transport in the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, said Sydney’s traffic was worse than other Australian city’s because of its population and topography, which concentrated traffic onto fewer routes.
Sydney is the 29th most congested city in the world, according to GPS provider TomTom, which listed Mexico City, Bangkok and Jakarta as suffering the worst traffic snarls. Los Angeles (12) and London (25) also had worse traffic congestion than Sydney, while roads were easier to drive in Paris (35), Auckland (40) and New York (49).
Driving conditions were also much better in Melbourne (58), Brisbane (96), Adelaide (100) and Perth (105).
“My first law of transport is that everyone complains,” Professor Levinson said. “In a small town, the complaint about the one traffic light on Main Street might seem ridiculous to someone from Sydney, but it feels valid to those who otherwise don’t stop at all.”
More public transport and increasing the cost of driving and parking were potential solutions to traffic congestion.
Professor Levinson said roads (and parking, trains and buses) had a fixed amount of capacity, but “more people try to use them than there is space for at the peak time, and people queue up, and they are much less crowded the rest of the day”.
“If we priced them properly, we could avoid the queues altogether and waste less time,” he said.
The full interview below …
His questions in blockquote
My answers in text:
– Is there a problem with parking and traffic congestion in Sydney? Is it uniform across the city or are some places worse than others? What is it caused by?
Yes. There are problems with parking and congestion, and in many places there is a scarcity of free parking, usually places of high demand (near workplaces without enough onsite parking, near recreational areas like beaches in peak times, near train stations and so on). The key word is “free”, everyone (rationally) wants something for nothing, but society (logically) cannot afford to give it to them. All transport is subsidised – both roads and public transport, and especially ‘free’ parking outside of the downtowns.
– How can you resolve conflict between residents and visitors over parking in areas such as Palm Beach and Whale Beach?
[I can’t comment on Palm or Whale Beach specifically]
Residents and visitors are often in conflict over on-street when parking is limited. It should be remembered that residents don’t own the street space in front of their house either. Some places use permit parking, so residents can purchase a permit and park, and visitors are time limited. And that works if the demand is not too great. There are other solutions that can be tried, but a really nice one is the Parking Benefit District. Parking is charged for (with meters) in places where, and times when it is scarce, for residents and non-residents alike. But the revenue goes back to the local community, instead of being swallowed up by a larger jurisdiction. It can be used for anything the neighbourhood feels is worthwhile, for instance improved sidewalks, or bike paths, or transit stops, or landscaping. Examples are found throughout the United States. The right prices ensure there is parking available when and where it is needed, but discourages people from camping out or leaving their car onstreet when it isn’t going to be used for a long time. People knowing they will pay for parking manage their demands better (e.g. carpooling, or taking transit, or traveling at less busy times, or walking or biking).
– Is the solution to traffic and parking congestion better public transport? Or multi-storey car parks?
A solution to congestion is public transport. So if prices are set right for driving and parking, fewer people will drive and park, and some of them will forego the trip, but others will take a different mode. It depends on the location as to what the right solution is. There are locations where parking structures are the answer, but I wouldn’t recommend one until the prices were set right.
– Are there other measures that councils or the government could adopt to solve parking problems?
– Or are people whingers? Is the traffic in Sydney worse than other large cities in Australia and overseas?
My first law of transport is that everyone complains. In a small town, the complaint about the one traffic light on Main Street might seem ridiculous to someone from Sydney, but it feels valid to those who otherwise don’t stop at all.
Traffic in Sydney is worse than other Australian cities (according to BITRE (see Figure 22)) both because it is larger, and because the topography concentrates traffic onto fewer routes. But it is not as bad as other cities, it ranks 29th globally according to GPS provider TomTom.
I don’t think anyone has ranked parking difficulty internationally.
Popular places are always crowded. If the stadium is full, we don’t say it’s congested, we say it is ‘Sold out!’ Some places are over-crowded because we don’t charge the right price. Stadiums have a limited number of seats, and set prices so that at peak times, say a rock concert, they are full, but not so people are hanging from the rafters. Roads (and parking, and trains, and buses) also have a fixed amount of capacity, but it is not allocated correctly, so more people try to use them than there is space for at the peak time, and people queue up, and they are much less crowded the rest of the day. If we priced them properly, we could avoid the queues altogether, and waste less time.
So I don’t think asking if there is congestion is the right question to be asking. Instead, it is better to ask about accessibility: How many places can I reach in 30 or 45 minutes? We looked at this for the entire United States (http://access.umn.edu) and it turns out the places that are the most congested are also the ones where people can reach more jobs in less time.
I got my copies, you should too … Now available for order: Metropolitan Transport and Land Use.
As cities across the globe respond to rapid technological changes and political pressures, coordinated transport and land use planning is targeted as a solution and is the subject of increased interest.
Metropolitan Transport and Land Use, the second edition of Planning for Place and Plexus, provides unique and updated perspectives on metropolitan transport networks and land use planning, challenging current planning strategies, offering frameworks to understand and evaluate policy, and suggesting alternative solutions.
The book includes current and cutting edge theory, findings, and recommendations which are cleverly illustrated throughout using international examples. This revised work continues to serve as a valuable resource for students, researchers, practitioners, and policy advisors working across transport, land use, and planning.
About the Authors
David M. Levinson is Professor of Transport at the University of Sydney School of Civil Engineering, Australia. From 1999 to 2016 he taught and served as Chair of Transportation at the University of Minnesota, USA, where this book was first crafted. He serves as the editor of the Journal of Transport and Land Use and is the author or editor of a dozen books.
Kevin J. Krizek is Professor of Environmental Design and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is Director in Environmental Design and serves as a Visiting Professor of “Cycling in Changing Urban Regions” at the Institute of Management Research at Radboud University, the Netherlands.
Access: The Fundamental Force
Getting Beyond “Stuckness”
Reviews of the First Edition
‘A lively, engaging book…which uses neoclassical economic principles…in a digestible format. The authors go so far as to draw from the film “Thelma and Louise” to show how game theory can be applied in predicting whether someone will drive or take public transit. This provocative, highly relevant book deserves to be on the bookshelf of everyone concerned with urban planning and transportation.’
Robert Cervero, Professor and Chair
Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California, Berkeley
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