Who knows what the kids are going to come up with next? Some of them think owning a car is a big bother and would rather rent or borrow one. Others don't even have a driver's license! Their smart phones are an extension of their brains, which makes grown-ups cringe when they get behind the wheel. Still, all that connectivity has tantalizing possibilities for modernizing how people get from place to place.
These were some of the thoughts tossed around at National Journal's "Affordable Mobility" policy summit last week, where automobile manufacturers and greenhouse gas emission specialists convened to talk about how to make travel more affordable and environmentally friendly. For the government, it's a delicate dance to nudge the transportation industry towards greener thinking without squelching innovation. And it's even harder to do without dedicated resources. "We can't control what kinds of discoveries are going to come on line," said Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board. "But we need to fix our infrastructure to give us the biggest bang for the buck."
What would a truly cutting-edge transportation system would look like? I imagine computerized traffic management, cars that drive themselves along my commute, elevated buses, automated trains.
The most advanced ideas need an up-to-date transportation grid to be anything but a pipe dream. The automobile industry has come a long way in improving gas mileage for its newer cars, in part because of a productive working relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department. Mass transit can't make those kinds of improvements without a commitment from government to support their innovations. So far, that commitment is lacking. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., recently told Politico that she wants the soon-to-be-antiquated gas tax to be replaced with a user fee that takes into account newer electric and hybrid vehicles. Good luck with that one, senator.
What are the best new ideas in transit and mobility? What new ideas in transportation are on hold because of outdated or crumbling infrastructure? How would the big ideas in transportation change if innovators were confident that they had government support for their ideas? Are investments in high-tech transit too steep to be worth it? What is a realistic forecast for the future of transit?